Nordic Cool

I know it still shocks old-school Minnesota-Scandinavians when I add Thai curry paste and coconut milk to an otherwise standard recipe for ärtsoppa (Sweden's traditional Thursday night yellow pea soup). Add fresh ginger and orange zest to someone else's recipe for Swedish meatballs and you are bound to step on more than a few toes.

But food, like all of our best cultural attributes, is dynamic. In America as in Scandinavia a unique combination of ethnic cultures contribute to our foodways, which makes food a compelling tool for telling the immigrant story. 

Our first deluge of immigration to Minnesota began with a bunch of Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, and other European immigrants. It took some effort but eventually we became neighbors and friends. My great-grandmother never had lefse in Sweden, but she bought some from a Norwegian neighbor and for one hundred years it has had an honored place at our holiday tables. The German bakers in the Twin Cities understood how to make a decent rye bread, and few people appreciate a rich dense bread as do Scandinavians and Finns. Regardless of our backgrounds, our communities shared a love of pickled herring, beer, sausage, and coarse mustard. At the table we understood one another a little bit better; ingredients we had in common as well as flavors we hadn't tried before.

Modern Minnesota draws a more diverse ethnicity than we began with. Along Lake Street you'll find numerous Mexican stores and restaurants, on the stretch of University Avenue we've got Vietnamese and Thai dining, and the storefronts along Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis are loaded with Ethiopian, Somalian, and Sudanese restaurants and Halal grocers. The foods of our new immigrants help tell their stories. It is up to us old immigrants to take a plate and listen.

So I add new flavors to old recipes, hoping to tell some stories, learn from our new neighbors, and honor the ingredients they bring to our communal table. Old recipes are great, but they can be made better, and adding a bit of ginger and zing to your grandma's meatballs makes them perfectly Nordic cool.

My recipe for Nordic Cool Smörgås is relatively traditional as open-faced sandwiches go, but there is a crunchy bacon pecan topping that may surprise your taste buds, and you'll find my Thai inspired recipe for updated yellow pea soup is at Called to the Table.

Nordic Cool Smörgås

Denny’s on 5th Avenue Bakery Danish Pumpernickel bread (available at Ingebretsen's) or similar rye bread, sliced thin

Cream Cheese Butter Spread:
3 ounces cream cheese, softened

¼ cup butter, softened
Zest from half and orange
1 tablespoon minced dill

Stir together all ingredients.

Orange-Pickled Cucumber Salad:
½ cup sugar
½ cup distilled white vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dried dill
1 cup ice
Zest and juice reserved from orange that has been sectioned
1 large cucumber, sliced thin
1 orange, sectioned and membranes removed

In medium saucepan bring sugar, vinegar, and salt to boil; simmer until sugar dissolves. Add dill and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in ice, orange zest and juice, and cucumber. Chill until ready to use. Add orange slices just before serving

Assemble sandwiches: 
Spread bread slices with Cream Cheese Butter and layer Orange-Pickled Cucumber Salad over spread. Garnish with bacon and pecans.



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