The Nordic Cookbook, written by Magnus Nilsson, is an impressive 5 1/2 pound book showcasing the cuisines and cultures of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland in over 700 recipes. You will find some well-known dishes (Hasselback Potatoes, Gravlax, a variety of meatballs, Cinnamon Buns, Danish Pastry, Gingerbread, Princess Torte) along with some that are not as common outside the region (Fish and Rice Casserole, Seal Soup, Falu Sausage Gratin, Swedish Beer Soup, Norwegian Minced Meat and Cheese Grilled Sandwich, Rosehip Soup).
Magnus Nilsson is a Swedish-born chef. He started his culinary career in Paris as a sommelier at L’Astrance and is now the head chef of Fäviken Magasinet in Järpen, Sweden. He has been featured in the PBS series The Mind of a Chef and Netflix’s Chef’s Table. His first cookbook, Fäviken, was published in 2012.
Chapters are divided based on food type: Eggs; Dairy; Vegetables; Freshwater Fish; Saltwater Fish; Marine Mammals and Seafood; Poultry; Game; Pork; Beef and Veal; Lamb and Mutton; Hash and Minced Meat; Blood and Offal; Sausages and Charcuterie; Grains and Cereals; Breads and Savoury Pastries; Pastries, Biscuits and Sweets; Cakes and Tortes; Desserts; Basics and Condiments; Jams, Cordials and Sweet Soups; and Drinks.
This huge book, which even Nilsson notes is only a fraction of Nordic cuisine and is far from fully inclusive (all of the research he compiled could have easily been turned into five large volumes), still does an amazing job at providing an insight into the area’s history. In addition to the large amount of recipes, he includes a closer look at the culture with information such as food storage, the growing season, imported spices, meal patterns (as often as 6-7 meals during the labor-intensive summer period), alcohol consumption, holidays, hunting (take note that traditional marine mammal hunting with photos and recipes are included), and culinary differences between the countries.
Every recipe includes a headnote with background information, variations between the countries, and tips. The name of the recipe is listed in English and the original language with the country of origin. Measurements are provided in US Customary and Metric (though Metric is mentioned as being preferred for more accurate results).
Nilsson took the photography of the gorgeous scenery himself and Erik Olsson provided the full page photos featuring the finished product of many recipes, often with a few dishes arranged in a single photo. Illustrations of various techniques such as the types of shapes for Saint Lucy’s Day Saffron Buns and segmenting an orange are provided by Samantha Dion Baker.
The book finishes with a glossary of ingredients that may be lesser known to some. Descriptions are provided and information on where to locate the product. There is also a directory to websites in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and International that sell specialty Nordic ingredients and goods.
This cookbook is a great choice for those wanting to learn more of Nordic cuisine. The recipes are authentic and traditional, so not for those looking for something unique or overly flashy. They range from simple meals perfect for a weeknight to more complex. Most of the ingredients are readily available to the average American cook, but a few may be more difficult to source (grouse and other less common meat, golden syrup, lingonberries, pea flour, blood). Special equipment is also required to complete a handful of the recipes, particularly the baked goods. Nilsson notes that a small percentage of the dishes are simply not possible for the home cook, but are still included for historical purposes.
I like to think that I have a fairly basic knowledge of Nordic cooking and recognized many of the recipes. One recipe that I was definitely not expecting in a book devoted to northern European cooking was the Swedish Tacopaj (Taco Quiche). Tacos were introduced to Sweden and Norway during the mid 1980s by spice companies and have become a popular Friday night meal. Over time the flavors have been combined with other dishes, such as pies, and the Tacopaj was born. It is often served with salsa and tortilla chips.
This dish reminded me a bit of a cheeseburger pie that I often had as a child, but taken up a notch. A pan is lined with a thick pastry dough and filled with ground beef spiced with taco seasoning. The top layer is a combination of creme fraîche, egg, grated cheese, and mayonnaise.
Use commercial mayonnaise for the topping. Homemade doesn’t have the stabilizers necessary to keep everything together during baking.
I used Cheddar for the grated cheese, but a Tex-Mex blend or colby-jack would also work well.
I used this recipe from The Girl Who Ate Everything to make my own taco seasoning.
I also made Vaffel (Norwegian Waffles), Macaroni Casserole (Makaronipudding in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden/Makaronilaatikko in Finland), Tea Buns (Teboller in Denmark/Tekakor in Sweden), and Tiger Cake (Tigerkake in Norway/Marmorkage in Denmark/Tigerkaka in Sweden).
The Vaffel was perfect for breakfast. The batter is seasoned with cardamom or vanilla sugar and allowed to rest for an hour before cooking in the waffle maker. I served them with jam and whipped cream. Nilsson recommends them with brown cheese, sausages, and cured meats. For waffle lovers, there are plenty of recipes to choose from: Crisp Waffles (Vohveleita, Sprøde Vafler, Frasvåfflor), Egg Waffles (Äggvåfflor), Faroese Waffles (Vaflur), and Icelandic Waffles (Vöfflur).
I made the Finnish version of Macaroni Casserole (Makaronilaatikko). Ground beef is cooked with chopped onion and tossed with macaroni. It is baked in a creamy cheese mixture until golden and bubbly. It was an easy and delicious meal, perfect for a weeknight. In other Nordic countries, diced cured/smoked meats such as ham, salt pork or sausage are used in place of the ground beef.
Tea Buns (Teboller/Tekakor) are small yeast buns optionally seasoned with some crushed cardamom seeds. I enjoyed them with honey, but they are also served with butter, marmalade, or cheese.
Tiger Cake (Tigerkake/Marmorkage/Tigerkaka) is a sponge cake marbled with chocolate. The base is a plain sponge cake and cocoa powder is added to half of the batter. The chocolate batter is poured over the white batter and the handle of the wooden spoon is used to create the marbling (tiger) pattern. It was light and perfect for an afternoon snack.
Disclaimer: I received a PDF copy of this book from Phaidon in exchange for my honest review. I have not seen the hardcopy version of the book. All comments and opinions are my own.
Tacopaj (Swedish Taco Quiche)
Adapted from The Nordic Cookbook
200 grams (7 ounces, 1 3/4 cups) pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 generous pinch salt
50 grams (2 ounces, 3 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
100 milliliters (3 1/2 fl ounces, 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon) whole milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
500 grams (1 pound 2 ounces) ground beef
1 packet taco spice mix (~2 2/3 tablespoons)
1 cup water
300 milliliters (10 1/2 fl ounces, 1 1/4 cups) creme fraîche
100 grams (3 1/2 ounces, 3/4 cup) grated cheese
2 tablespoons commercial mayonnaise
Grease and flour a 9 1/2 inch (24 centimeters) springform pan.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a dough blade or a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix in the butter, then the milk until dough comes together.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a circle. Transfer to the prepared springform pan. Press into the pan so nearly all the surface and up the sides are covered in an even, thick layer. Refrigerate while you prepare the filling and topping.
In a large pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring to break apart, until browned. Mix in the taco seasonings and water. Simmer until most of the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together creme fraîche, egg, cheese, and mayonnaise.
Preheat oven to 345 degrees F/175 degrees C.
Remove the springform pan from the refrigerator. Pour in the taco meat. Evenly spread with the topping.
Bake in preheated oven until the edges are golden and top is bubbly, 35-45 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.