Tag Archives: nordic food

Sienisalaatti

…or mushroom salad, if – like me – your knowledge of Finnish is less than fluent…

This was a little dish that I came across as a part of the Most Amazing Organic Breakfast at the Klaus K hotel when I was in Helsinki last summer for a wedding. It was hidden in amongst the breakfast goodies, and at first, it did not look all that dramatic. In terms of appearance, it was clearly overshadowed by bright orange buckthorn and vivid purple blueberry juices, cakes, cheeses, rolls and similar, but I’m a mushroom lover, and decided to take a little of it, just to try.

I must admit, this was with a slight twinge of reluctance, for their version was rather finely hacked, and a couple of us were looking at it for a while to work out whether it really was mushroom salad, or some disguised tuna mayo to catch out unwary visitors. Luckily, it was tuna-free, and it was delicious. So delicious. Utterly delicious! I kept going back for more, and by day three, I was piling the breakfast plate high with the stuff.

Given how good it tastes, this really is a rather simple recipe – sliced mushrooms, mixed with a savoury cream sauce. The only “trick” is that the mushrooms are boiled for a minute or two after slicing, so they take on a texture which is not quite raw, but they’re not as tough as they can been when they’ve been cooked for ages. They keep a little bite, but they are not too fragile. However, if you prefer your mushrooms fresh, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t skip the cooking step and go raw.

I was pretty confident that I could work out a recipe for this salad myself – surely I just had to work out how to combine mushrooms, cream, salt, pepper and some chives. Well, I was more or less right on that. However, I checked a few sources, and was being recommended some horrific levels of salt. Two teaspoons to three tablespoons of cream! My brain was yelling to me that this was clearly far, far, far too much, so I decided to follow the method (cook the mushrooms in water with a squeeze of lemon juice, then make the sauce), but let myself be guided by by own sense of taste – just a little salt in the sauce, and then round it out with a dash of sugar and some freshly ground black pepper. This is also a good rule of thumb when you see a recipe, either in a book or online – read it, and think about it – does it work? Does it have everything you’re expecting? If someone promises the lightest, fluffiest cake but there is nothing in the method or the ingredients list to provide the necessary va-va-voom for lift off, are you really going to follow it blindly? Exactly!

With the mushrooms done and the sauce mixed to my taste, I combined the lot, and the flavour was almost perfectly as I remembered it. Substantial, earthy and intensely savoury. It reminded me a little of walking in the forest on a damp day – which is, in itself, a rather Nordic thing to do. But something wasn’t quite there. Then I remembered that I had not added any onion – it just needed a tablespoon of very finely shredded onion. I added it, and that did the trick – it just added that tiny extra tangy touch to finish off the dish.

So there you have it – a light, simply Finnish mushroom salad that you can enjoy when spring and summer finally get here, and a nice savoury contrast to the sweet Nordic goodies I’ve looked at recently (creamy semlor buns and cinnamon rolls). There has been a lot written of late about how this year we’re going to see Scandinavian and Nordic food become more popular, and frankly, it’s about time too! There are some real culinary gems in there waiting to be discovered. Think of dinner outside on a warm evening when the sun hardly sets…and given I am writing this as I see pouring rain and trails of water flowing down the glass, that cannot come soon enough for me!

To make sienisalaatti:

• 300g mushrooms (12 large-ish button mushrooms)
• Squeeze of lemon juice
• 3-4 tablespoons double cream
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• pinch of sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion or spring onion
• fresh chives, chopped, to serve

Wash the mushrooms and slice finely. Bring a pan of water to the boil, add a squeeze of lemon juice, then boil the mushrooms for 2 minutes. Drain and pat the mushrooms dry with some paper towel.

While the mushrooms are cooling, make the sauce – combine the cream, salt, sugar, pepper and onion. If too thick, add a dash of water. Taste and adjust the seasoning as required, the mix with the mushrooms. Just before serving, put into a bowl and sprinkle with chopped fresh chives.

Worth making? The only thing that is annoying with this reicpe is just how long I waited before making it. The flavour is absolutely delicious, the method is very easy, and it makes for a wonderful addition to dinner as a side dish, or as part of a breakfast spread. Highly recommended.

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Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Dream a little dream…

As you may have worked out by now, I have a bit of a thing for Scandinavian food, so I have turned my hand to making a Swedish specialty called drömmar (droo-mar).

The name translates as “dreams”. As you would expect from something with that sort of name, they are very light, melting little morsels. You’ve probably got a little bit of Mama Cass going around you head by now…

Now, the lightness really is their star quality.

These are really quite simple biscuits – just butter, sugar, flour and a dash of vanilla. The magic comes from what you add to make them rise. Not normal baking powder, but ammonium carbonate. This difference matters – it doesn’t just give baked goods a little lift, it releases a lot of gas so things get very puffy indeed. It was a bit of a saga to find this stuff, so I was quite excited to finally try making a cookie that I associate with my time living in Stockholm.

However, this magic powder has a downside. It stinks to high heaven!

I found this our pretty quickly. I made the dough – a breeze, took no more than five minutes (helpfully no need to bother chilling the dough) – shaped the biscuits, and put them into the oven. Boy did they rise!

Then…when I opened the oven to remove them, as expected, there was a horrid pong of, well, ammonia fumes that filled the kitchen for a moment. All I can say is that I am very, very glad I attempted this on a bright, breezy summer day, as all the windows were open and so the stink was quickly dispersed.

Having experienced the stink issue, but with the house once again fresh-smelling (i.e. not of ammonia), the cookies were ready.

They look good and strangely (given the earlier experience) they actually have a pleasant butter-with-a-hint-of-vanilla aroma. And they taste very good. Like shortbread, but with a very airy texture. You can see from the picture below that there are massive air pockets in the cookies, so they really are light as a feather – when you pick them us, they just don’t weigh anything. Most odd. Quite dreamy indeed.

When just baked, drömmar are crisp and light, but left overnight, they become a little softer. Either way is delicious, but which you prefer is up to you. Every Swedish mormor or farmor (grandmother) will have their own recipe, so this is just one version. There are others out there, and I make no claims that this is the only way to make them!!!

Biscuits made, I did a little research on this stinky but effective raising agent. Ammonium carbonate was originally known by the more poetic name salt of hartshorn, and was apparently derived from the horns of the male red deer (!). If you’re worried this might be cruel, I’m happy to note the antlers appear in the spring and are naturally shed each year, and in any event, these days you buy the chemical powder in stores. It inevitably features in German and Nordic baking, given that these are the areas in which the red deer might be found wandering in the forest, and in a lot of recipes, nothing else will really do if you want the requisite lightness. If you’re a curious Londoner, and don’t have deer roaming in the back garden, then you can buy it here.

The only limit on using this raising agent is that you need the stinky stuff to be expelled from the biscuits during baking – so it’s fine for small cookies, but you wouldn’t want to use it for a large cake. And just a couple of wise words to conclude – don’t eat the raw dough, as it tastes nasty until you bake it, and in case you are wondering – all the chemical stuff turns to gas, so there is nothing left in the cookies once they have been baked, and they are just sweet-smelling and tasty. And don’t we all like a bit of culinary alchemy?

If you’re still not happy using ammonium carbonate or just can’t find the stuff, use baking powder. You’ll get some lift, not as much as with the real thing, but still tasty.

So…relax, stick on a bit of Mama Cass, make a cup of tea and enjoy a couple of drömmar. Happy baking!

To make drömmar (makes 30-35):

• 200g unsalted butter
• 170g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons vanilla sugar or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon ammonium carbonate
• 250g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°C). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy. Fold in the vanilla and ammonium carbonate.

Work the flour into the mixture until you have a soft dough.

Take tablespoons of the mixture and roll into balls. Place on the baking sheet (don’t flatten them), leaving at least 5cm (2 inches) between them.

Put the cookies into the oven and bake for 15 minutes. The balls will flatten down and then puff up, but will stay very pale.

Worth making? I was dubious about using ammonium carbonate in baking, but actually the outcome was great. The biscuits are lighter than anything I have ever made before, and there is of course the novelty factor of the stinky baking process. The mixture is ready in about 5 minutes, and can be made in less than 30 minutes from start to finish. As they say in Sweden – lycka till!

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Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things