A potato pancake topped with lox and dill is the perfect way to tap into the Nordic food trend.
Pine needles. Moss. Funghi. These are three things you might happen upon while walking in the woods, or find on your plate at the hottest dining destination in the world this year, the restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark. There, head chef René Redzepi coaxes traditional Nordic flavors out of the foraged and locally farmed ingredients that have made his menu so popular.
Noma opened in 2004, and has slowly but steadily ascended to the level of worldwide prominence once occupied but that other European gastrolab, Ferran Adria’s now-shuttered elBulli. And as the Danish restaurant attracted more and more attention, so, too, did the cuisine of Scandinavia, characterized by its use of such ingredients as game meats, cured fish, wild berries and root vegetables. Scandinavian-inflected food is everywhere these days: at Aska in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; at The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis; at Pläj in San Francisco.
But there’s got to be more behind this megatrend than just one man. After years of being ignored, why is Scandinavian food so hot right now? To find out, I called up Helene Henderson, author of the cookbook The Swedish Table. Henderson grew up in Sweden’s subarctic north, where she cooked for her family, then at a small French bistro in town, before traveling to Los Angeles and to become a caterer to the stars. Today, Henderson lives in Malibu, California with her husband, the actor John Stockwell, where she runs a working farm that supplies the ingredients for her Malibu Pier Café and special farm dinners. Henderson said that one reason Nordic cuisine is taking off right now is that in some ways, it’s an extension of older trends.
“I think part of what we’re seeing here is a variation on the ‘small plates’ trend that has been around for so long that it was bound to die,” Henderson said. “The Swedish roots are in the smorgasbord — multiple offerings of small bites, all at once,” she explained.
“Personally, that’s how I love to eat — I always feel hemmed in by a big plate of dinner.”
Another factor Henderson identifies is a variation on the farm-to-table trend, which has also been popular for so long that it needed some kind of twist to keep it new.
“This cuisine is an expansion of taking it from the farm,” she said, noting how the newer Scandinavian restaurants are making use of wild and foraged ingredients. “The next step is going out into the woods.”
When asked to identify a few treasured Nordic ingredients, Henderson was quick to answer.
“Potatoes,” she said. “In the north of Sweden, people are potato-obsessed.”
Another common item? Gravlax, or salt-and-sugar-cured salmon.
“That’s very popular,” she said.
Sound familiar? It should, because gravlax is the same food as lox, the bright pink, tender slices of fish we Jews can’t resist atop a bagel with a schmear. Both “gravlax” and “lox” trace their lineage to the German word “lachs,” meaning salmon).
If there’s anything that Scandinavian and Eastern European cuisines have in common, it’s their prodigious use of pickled, brined and cured items, traditionally put away to help secure the food supply during the long, cold winters.
So with Scandinavia — and Ashkenazi Jews — in mind, I created this mutt of a dish that’s perfect for Hanukkah: a large potato galette (that’s fancy talk for “big latke”) elevated by a dollop of crème fraîche, ribbons of lox and a sprinkling of fresh dill. Try it, and bring a taste of the Nordic table to your holiday feast this year.
Lauren Rothman was born, raised and still resides in Brooklyn, New York. Her fondest food memories are of Passovers spent at her Grandma Laura’s table, slurping the best chicken noodle soup with knaydelach and unraveling stuffed cabbage to eat just the filling, please. You can read more of her work on Serious Eats and follow her on Twitter @Lochina186.
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