On The Loose: “Cassoulet” in a Slightly-Toulousian Style

The fortified Berber village of Ait-ben-Haddou in the Moroccan Sahara
The fortified Berber village of Ait-ben-Haddou in the Moroccan Sahara

Sup everyone! Been vagabounding quite a bit lately, visiting Morocco, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and various parts of France with my trusty travel companion (aka my brother). While we have definitely gotten into

Urban Sprawl in Frankfurt, Germany
Urban Sprawl in Frankfurt, Germany

many arguments and dealt with a constant storm of drama, the trip has still been totally worth it because I get to spend time in one my favorite places ever, Nimes. I have certainly written about this gem of a city before, but to quickly recap, Nimes is an ancient-town in the Southern-French region of Languedoc-Roussillon, and we have had the pleasure to own a second home here for the past three years. This is perhaps the most time I have spent in the apartment, and the amount of life buzzing around here lately has done nothing but make me love it even more. The struggle is going to be real when we have to return to reality on Monday (via Paris).

sausagesNaturally, I love experimenting with French flavors whenever I’m here. When I’ve got the energy, I will walk into town to shop at the Marche des Halles, but the local Carrefour around the corner can suffice when one is too lazy, which is usually the case on Sundays. Perhaps it was a better choice, for it means that one does not need an open-air market to obtain the ingredients used in this recipe.

Cassoulet is a meat and bean casserole from the city Toulouse, located in the set tablesouthwest part of France. Before I continue, I must put out a disclaimer that I have never been to Toulouse, nor have I had this dish before. My desire to try it out at home only came when I spotted a package of Toulousian-style sausages sitting in the meat section. Immediately inspired, I ran around the grocery store picking up ingredients that would probably be needed: cannellini beans, tomatoes, carrots, and a bouquet garni of rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves. Stewed together for a little under an hour without any of the other traditional cuts of pork that are typically featured, this really isn’t anything near to the original. Slightly Toulousian in name, but possibly a little Tuscan in character, this hearty meal has gotten itself a spot now on my list of Sunday lunch favorites.

cassouletRecipe: Cassoulet

A CookingFever Original

  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium carrot, sliced
  • 14 oz can tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, optional
  • 1 bouquet garni (assembled with a couple of sprigs of rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf)
  • 2, 14-oz cans cannellini beans, drained
  • 3 Toulouse-style sausages, chopped into inch-sized chunks
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Methodsaute

  1. Heat up some olive-oil in a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat. Once warm add the onions and sauté for about five minutes, until translucent
  2. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute longer, followed by the carrot, tomatoes, bouquet garni, and cumin, if using. Cook for about five minutes more, until the flavors have blended together.
  3. Add the beans and enough water to submerge them. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Cook the sausages over high-heat in a frying pan for about 3 minutes, till they are browned all over. Add them, along with any juices, to the beans and simmer the entire mixture for another 15-20 minutes more. Adjust for seasoning as needed.
  5. Remove the bouquet garni before serving the cassoulet with plenty of crusty baguette for sopping up all the delicious liquid.

Cooking Notes

  • The cumin is completely non-traditional, but I feel it adds a nice smokiness that is needed when one is not using the full repertoire of meats typically in this dish.
  • It’s likely that Toulouse-style sausages might not be available in your area. As they are on the sweeter-side with notes of garlic, a sweet-Italian or simple pork sausage can also work as a good substitute
  • Ideal wine pairing for a cassoulet would definitely be a dryer and slightly minerally red to counteract with the tomatoes. However, if you’d like to take a walk on the wild side, go ahead and experiment with a crisp white, such as I did with a glass of viognier.

Umaminess: Seared Salmon with Miso-Potato Hash and Mint Raita

completed close upHiatuses from cooking have happened before, but with all the chaos and stress of wrapping up my undergraduate career, my inspiration simply drained out. I was remaking the same collection of meals week after week and eating the same dish day after day. Everything food-related suddenly seemed boring and the biggest part of me was starting to die. Worst of all was that I was just standing there like a confused bystander, letting it all happen.

Now I sit at my computer as a college graduate, yet in some ways, nothing has DSCN2235changed. Five years of graduate school still lie ahead of me, with a boatload of life changes to follow suit. As I grow and evolve into scientist over the next few years, I don’t want this creative space to disappear. CookingFever has always been more than a token hobby, it’s an outlet for me to chase a vague dream that I can’t quite materialize in reality. I’m not sure if I will ever be featured in food magazines, publish a cookbook, or be paid to travel the world and eat. That version of me is embedded in a fantasy and trapped behind heavily fortified walls. Not that becoming a scientist is necessarily any bit easier, but for now it’s what seems right. If those walls do fall in the future, I’d be happy to welcome the person who walks out of them.

potato hashPeople have always asked me why I never thought about going down the culinary route and opening up a restaurant. I’ve always said that I’ve wanted to keep professional and personal pursuits separate, but in all realness, I have always been on that culinary route. CookingFever is my virtual restaurant where I’ve been creating a massive menu of special recipes. Last night, I took inspiration from one of Chicago’s most celebrated chefs, Stephanie Izard, and used her brilliant knowledge of flavor profiles to craft a perfectly juicy salmon filet and a deeply savory potato and pea hash. While Stephanie uses lamb in her hash, I decided to keep it vegetarian by using potatoes but still playing with the same flavoring components of soy sauce and miso, a fermented paste of rice and soybeans. Japanese cooks best describe umami as the distinct “savory” taste. Soy sauce is perhaps the best used example, but I have found fish sauce and now miso to be top candidates as well. Many of you have probably had miso soup, where its funky, almost hoppy, beer-like qualities shine through, but a spoon or two of the paste mixed into your favorite recipes will have its bolder qualities melting away and the overall depth of flavor increasing. As such, use any sort of white miso to get this flavor boosting effect and watch how you’ll suddenly be unable to keep your fork away from the plate.

As the hash boasts subtle Japanese flavors, some of my Indian sensibilities come into play in the turmeric-marinated salmon, and I swapped the mint yogurt sauce that Stephanie used in her dish for some leftover raita I had in the fridge. Typically used as a condiment to help tone down some of the spiciness that one finds in Indian meals, the tang of the yogurt works surprisingly well with the fish, cutting through some of that meaty salmon taste and meeting with the potatoes to create a glorious marriage of Asian flavors.

Recipe: Seared Salmon with Miso-Potato Hash and Mint Raitacomplete dish overhead

Adapted from Girl in the Kitchen by Stephanie Izard

Ingredients

Salmon

  • 2, 6 oz salmon fillets
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Hash

  • 2 cups green peas
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
  • 2 large or 4 medium yellow potatoes, cut into small cubes
  • 2 teaspoons white miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste

Raita

  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 small red onion cut into a fine dice, optional
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper, to taste

potato peaMethod

  1. Prepare the raita in a bowl by mixing together the yogurt with the 1-2 tablespoons of milk, depending on how thick the yogurt is. Stir in the dried mint, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper, and red onion, if using. Allow the mixture to sit in the fridge while you prepare everything else.
  2. Rub the turmeric, cayenne pepper, sugar, salt, and olive oil over the salmon fillets, making sure they are evenly coated. Marinate the salmon in the fridge for about 30 minutes to an hour.
  3. To prepare the hash, start by boiling the peas with some salt until they are just tender. Drain the peas and set aside
  4. Then in a large pan or skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Once warm, add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute for a minute more.
  5. Add the potatoes to the pan along with the miso paste and soy sauce. Mix the ingredients together and cook in the pan over low heat, for about 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are soft.
  6. Add the peas and stir for a minute or two more. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Heat some oil in another pan over high heat. Once hot, add the salmon fillets and sear for about 2-3 minutes on each side, till they have reached your desired level of doneness (I like mine slightly pink on the inside). Serve the salmon warm on a bed of hash and top with a dollop of raita.

A Boozed-Up Beauty: Cerveza Mac and Cheese

DSCN2229Last Thanksgiving, I created this exceptional macaroni and cheese creation that has quickly become a family favorite and my go-to recipe when I want something extra naughty. Because the menu that night had a Latin-American theme, I titled this dish, “Cerveza” (Beer) Mac and Cheese, even though I’ve never actually made this with a Mexican brew (although I pretty sure Dos Equis would work well here). This creation has a Mexican aunt if anything (the chipotle peppers bare homage to that), but it really was a smokehouse whom served as the true mother, for I have produced a gutsy sauce DSCN2223utilizing a blend of sharp cheddar and smoked gouda cheeses, a burst of garlic, and lots and lots of beer. As it is the most important component in this dish, make sure you pick a beer that’s teeming with flavor. I chose a sharp and spicy IPA this time around, abundant with citrusy notes of orange peel and a jolting, bitter kick that lingers in the mouth and counteracts, yet still plays well with, the complexities of the cheese. Gone are the days where we should get content with one-note, boxed mac. Surrender yourself to this loud, raunchy, and bold symphony of flavors that takes the “night cheese” to a whole new level.

Recipe: Cerveza Mac and Cheese

A CookingFever Original

  • 3/4 pound macaroni, elbow-shaped pasta
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk, use at least 2% fat content
  • 12 oz beer, recommend anything flavorful and hoppy, such as a dark ale or IPA
  • 2 canned chipotle peppers, chopped
  • 3 plump garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 pound smoked gouda cheese, grated
  • 1/3 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, optional

Method

  1. Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the flour and whisk rapidly, cooking it out for a minute until it has changed to a slight golden brown color and the raw-flour smell has disappeared.
  2. Add about half of the milk, whisking until the mixture has thickened. Then add the rest of the milk.
  3. Add the garlic and chipotle peppers, along with a little bit of salt and good amount of cracked black pepper, Simmer the mixture for about 2 minutes, whisking constantly so that nothing sticks to the bottom or burns.
  4. Begin streaming in the beer adding it in increments, waiting for the mixture to thicken before adding more each time. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the bottom of a wooden spoon but not so thick that its super glopy. Feel free to add extra milk or beer if you need to thin it out.
  5. Add the cheese and let it melt over low heat. Once melted in, taste the sauce for seasoning, adding more salt if needed.
  6. Stir in the cooked macaroni, tossing for about a minute or so. The sauce should stick to the noodles. If the dish seems a little too saucy, that’s fine for the noodles will continue to soak up the sauce as they sit.
  7. Serve warm with garnish of fresh cilantro on top, if desired.

Winter is Coming (but so is Thanksgiving): Acorn Squash Soup with Lemongrass

DSCN1564If you were a Stark of Winterfell, you would know that your words would never hold more true than on a day like this, WINTER IS COMING.

Even if you don’t live in the realm (or know what I am even talking about for that matter), it’s no joke that it has become quite frigid here in the Midwest, signaling the start of a season that might put a damper on your mood, making you feel tired all day and have you partaking in some rather odd behaviors, such as eating a slab of melted cheese for dinner (I may or may not be guilty of doing that right now, don’t judge me).

However, Thanksgiving is on its way as well, and I live for that holiday. It is my everything, the one night where food becomes more important than anything else, where feuding friends and family put aside differences for a day of forgiveness, an evening when we can all be truly thankful and blessed to be alive and healthy. Just in time for this glorious occasion, I share with you all a recipe that would be very happy to have a spot on your Thanksgiving menu this year.

Are you one of those people, who come October begin eating practically anythingDSCN1569 orange and wholesome in large quantities? Sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and squashes of every kind have begun showing up on my grocery list practically every week. With just sweet potatoes alone, I made stews, enchiladas, and even risotto, and a can of pumpkin puree lent itself toward the creation of an ultra moist, dark chocolate loaf cake, and an Afghan classic, kadu bouranee. Two days ago, I cut open an acorn squash and massaged it with a dab of Thai green curry paste before roasting in the oven until it was soft and scooping away from the skin like a creamy batch of gelato. Mixed into a highly aromatic broth flavored with fresh lemongrass, a dab of smoky cumin, and a splash of quintessential coconut milk, this Asian-inspired soup is sweet and savory, spicy and smoky, and will warm you down to the tips of your toes. Even if you don’t get a chance to include it this Thanksgiving, I suggest giving this soup a try anytime before Santa comes down your chimney this year.

Wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving and joyous holiday season!

DSCN1575Recipe: Acorn Squash Soup with Lemongrass

Ingredients

  • 1 medium acorn squash
  • 1 teaspoon Thai green curry paste
  • 1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and left whole
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 small stalk lemongrass, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 cups chicken stock or water
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped

MethodDSCN1568

Cut the acorn squash in half and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Place the halves on a lined baking sheet and rub each half with a 1/2 teaspoon of the green curry paste. Drizzle with olive oil and cracked black pepper before roasting at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 40 minutes, until the squash is browned and very soft.

While the squash is roasting, get started on the soup base. Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Once warm, add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, and lemongrass and cook for a minute longer. Then add the ground cumin and crushed red pepper and cook for another minute, allowing the spices to toast and become fragrant. Add about a 1/2 to 1 cup of the chicken stock at this point and deglaze the pot. After five minutes, add the sweet potatoes and the rest of the stock. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes.

Once the squash has finished roasting, use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, leaving the skin behind. Add the flesh to the soup base followed by the coconut milk plus additional water if the consistency is too thick. Simmer this mixture now for another 15 minutes. Then using a standard or immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Return to the heat and adjust for seasoning, adding salt as need. Garnish with fresh cilantro before serving warm with plenty of crusty bread for dipping.

Mother of Baingan: West African Peanut Stew

DSCN1360It’s fun to trace the journey of spices. Originating predominantly in India, these goodies must have reached East Africa through trade and eventually traversed the continent till they reached the west coast, where they inflected themselves into the flavors of the local cuisines. So many Indian standbys: coriander, fenugreek, cumin, cloves, black pepper, and more were found in this stew recipe that I just couldn’t help but think of the possible resemblance that it might have to a standard chicken curry. Well, I was wrong.

It is just a couple of changes that give this dish a visible and tastefullyDSCN1355 unique identity. It’s definitely more bulky than the curries we make. Eggplant or baingan is savored with the utmost relish in a multitude of ways across India, yet almost all of them are vegetarian preparations. Who would have known that an eggplant’s heartiness makes it the perfect partner for almost any kind of meat? Then there’s the addition of okra, a practice that perhaps traveled over with the slave trade to Louisiana, where it got incorporated into the famous gumbo. The vegetables in this stew are not petty. They are practically on the same level as the chunks of chicken, seared in the pan until brown and caramelized.

DSCN1353The peanut butter though, was a revelation. Lending a rich and nutty creaminess, it sets this stew off the edge, rounding out the flavor with its mellow tones and thickening it much like how cashew paste is used to thicken Mughal style curries in North India. Sure peanut butter is probably not what is used in West Africa. It’s far more likely that fresh nuts are ground laboriously with a mortar and pestle until they resemble a coarse paste. Therefore, do be sure to use a high quality, all natural peanut butter in this recipe. That means no corn syrup, oil, or any other synthetic material should be in the ingredient list! I happen to love the fresh, grind-it-yourself peanut butter available at Whole Foods. It maybe a bit more expensive, but the taste is far more superior, and buying just the amount you need will not set you back that far.

This stew has got heat, meat, bulk, grit, tang, and a little sweet. It’s undoubtedly a complete meal and one that will have your guests showering you with rounds of praise.

Recipe: West African Peanut StewDSCN1359

Recipe from Saveur

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup canola oil, adjust to your preferences, I may have used a bit less
  • 2 pounds skinless chicken thighs, bone-in
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 4 dried chiles de arbol (also known as japones or simply red chiles in the Indian market)
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 3 cloves, whole
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 pound okra, whole or cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 fresh red or green chile, sliced
  • roasted peanuts, for garnishing
  • lime wedges and lime juice, optional for serving

Method

Heat the oil in a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed casserole pot over medium-high heat. Once hot, season the chicken DSCN1345thighs liberally with salt and pepper and add to the pot, browning until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

DSCN1348Add the onions and arbol chilies to the residual oil in the pot, cooking for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the ginger and garlic and cook the mixture for another 3 minutes. Add the spices and cook for another minute until fragrant. At this point, add the tomato paste and caramelize it along with aromatics for three minutes. Stir in the peanut butter and tomatoes, and cook out this masala until the oil separates and begins to pool along the sides. This should happen within five minutes.

Return the chicken thighs to the pot along with 6 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes, until the chicken is about halfway done. Then add the eggplant and okra and cook for another 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and vegetables are tender. Adjust the stew for seasoning and add a squeeze or two of lime juice if necessary. Stir in the chopped red/green chile and serve with steamed basmati rice, lime wedges, and crushed peanuts for garnishing.

Exercising Expertise: Green Tea Panna Cotta with Asian Pears

DSCN1384So I’m not trying to sound like a sassy masterchef or anything, but I feel like I can make better panna cotta than they do in Italy…

Now before we end up with an onslaught of hate here, I’m not trying to say that panna cottas in Italy are bad. (Dear me, it’s quite the opposite! I once had an exquisite buffalo milk variety in Bologna). They just tend to keep it simple there. The most common flavors are vanilla or caramel, and a popular topping is either chocolate or strawberry sauce. While there is absolutely not wrong with simplicity (heck, that’s probably what has made Italian Cuisine so lip-smacking good in the first place), sometimes a dessert as simple as “cooked cream” requires the need to dial up the flavor antics a bit, especially when you live in a household where panna cotta is a frequent request.

Delivering in the flavor department is something I’ve always excelled at, and I feel that is the true joy of being able to recreate classic desserts at home, giving them your own spin. From mango-passionfruit to spicy chocolate, sweet corn, buttermilk, and my personal favorite, lemon with homemade marmalade, I’ve barely even scratched the tip of possible flavor combinations, and that’s why I’ll be making panna cotta for a lifetime.

With this being my umpteenth time doing a panna cotta in the past five years (sometimes it baffles me to realize that I’ve only been cooking for that long), I decided that I would proceed for the first time without a recipe. What I think I’ve made as a result, is the perfect mix that can serve as a base for a whole realm of flavors. I did a blend of equal parts whole milk and heavy cream, two spoons of powdered gelatin, a spoon of vanilla, and a moderate measure of sugar. It’s a simple, yet foolproof recipe for a plain panna cotta.

The flavor today has hardly anything to do with Italy at all. The inspiration came from a green tea pannaDSCN1364 cotta I saw on the menu of a Vietnamese restaurant during a recent visit to New York. Due to the fact that I had a plane to catch, I had to leave lunch early and miss the latter dessert festivities. Thankfully, I didn’t really miss out because I just made it for myself a couple of days later. Green tea matcha powder stirred into my base (no infusing or steeping needed) provided the boost of exotic flavor I needed. It’s hard to exactly describe the taste of green tea. A bit grassy and bitter with distant notes of mint, its complexities play well with the sweet creaminess of this treat.

DSCN1379Asian pears, in this instance, do not refer to the varietal of pear I used, but rather the way I prepared them. Wafer-thin slices are stewed with some water, the slightest bit of sugar, and a pod of star anise, a major component of the Chinese five-spice blend. With its licorice and fennel flavor, the notes of star anise intensify with time, so making this component the night before will provide you with the perfect snap of freshness on top of this already refreshing dessert.

Now if they could only make green tea lattes like this…

Recipe: Green Tea Panna Cotta with Asian PearsDSCN1372

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons gelatin powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons matcha powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Asian Pears:

  • 2 ripe pears, peeled and thinly sliced (use any variety of your liking)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • a splash of water
  • 1 star anise pod, lightly crushed

Method:

Dissolve the gelatin in the water and allow it to sit while you prepare the panna cotta.

In a small saucepan, combine the milk, cream, matcha powder, and sugar. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until warm and scalding, about 5-10 minutes. Be careful not to boil or burn the milk. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the gelatin-water mixture and vanilla extract. Portion off the mixture into six, six ounce-sized ramekins. Place the panna cottas in the fridge and allow for them to set, about 6-8 hours or overnight.

For the Asian pears, combine the pears, sugar, water and star anise in a pan and simmer for about 5-10 minutes, until softened and syrupy. Remove the pears and place them in the fridge to cool.

Serve the chilled panna cottas either in their ramekins or inverted on a dish, with a spoon or two of the pears on top.

No Knowledge of Norwegian Required: Kjøttkaker med Brunsaus (Meatballs with Gravy)

So about a year ago, I was in one of the most idyllic settings in the world:

Majestic snow-capped peaks sliding down into pristine waters. Cool and crisp air, fresh and untainted by urban smog. Colorful village settings where traditional chants can still be heard. 

Yes, my friends, I was traversing through the fjords of Norway. A once in a lifetime experience (and I really do mean once, it’s dreadfully expensive) that brought me closer to nature than ever before.

I’m not sure if the same can be said about the food. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of delicious food in Norway, the only problem is that most of it is not that affordable on a student’s budget. Fortunately my brother and I were lucky enough on our first night to wander into a cozy little bar serving up some of the best beer I’ve ever had, along with a selection of traditional Norwegian fare. It was here, where we met the kjøttkaker. 

DSCN1441Translating roughly into meatballs or patties, kjøttkaker (prounounced “shyot-ka-kare”) are a member of a family of meatball delicacies that form the backbone of most Scandinavian diets. No matter where you travel within the Nordic states, you are bound to find them. Sweden has its köttbullar, perhaps the best known thanks to the kitchens of furniture megastore, Ikea, and who can forget my favorite place, Denmark, where my host mom prepared frikadeller on a weekly basis. Meatballs are loved in this part of globe, and one would not be able to get at the essence of these cuisines without them.

Most Nordic cooks prepare their meatballs with pork, veal, or a blend of both. Therefore, I was quite intrigued when I came across this recipe using lamb instead of the previous three. Having been eager to make my parents a traditional Scandinavian meal since my return from Denmark, I immediately jumped on this recipe because it’s the only one that my parents could eat (we don’t consume beef or pork at home).

If I must be honest, I’d have to say that Norwegian kjøttkaker taste better than their Swedish and Danish counterparts.DSCN1395 I think it has something to do with the spice profile. A generous dose of allspice along with ginger (I actually used fresh to increase its presence) gives a warm, earthy, and well-rounded flavor to these meatballs. Better yet, the gravy or brunsaus, is banging. Sweet and caramelly brown cheese, a product I have written more about here, is combined with tangy creme fraiche, your favorite meat or vegetable stock, the delicious left over lamb drippings from frying the meatballs, and a hefty spoon of cocoa powder. Yes, it’s a chef’s elevation of a traditional recipe, but this gravy will probably be one of the most interesting and unusual (in a good way) ones that you’ll try, and I know you will love it. My mother, with a strong spice-driven Indian palette, normally finds Scandinavian dishes to be a bit too “subtle” for her liking, but she adored these, so much so that she insisted I make them again and again. Not only does that make me happy, but it brings me more joy to be able to share this foolproof recipe with you all, one that does not require any knowledge of Norwegian to make.

Skål! (cheers),

Rahul

DSCN1434Recipe: Norwegian Meatballs with Brown Gravy

Recipe Adapted from Food and Wine

Serves around four people

Ingredients:  

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 slices of day-old bread
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1-2 teaspoons fresh ginger (adjust to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the gravy:

  • 2 cups lamb, beef, chicken, or vegetable stock
  • 2-3 tablespoons brandy
  • 3/4 cups creme fraiche
  • 1/2 cup shredded brown cheese (gjetost)
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

For garnishing:

  • chopped chives or dill, to taste
  • lingonberry, black currant, or cloudberry jam

Method: 

Start out by soaking the bread in the milk for about 10-15 minutes, till it has become all soft and mushy.

In a small pan, saute the onions with the allspice and ginger over medium heat, until softened.

In a large bowl combine all of the meatball ingredients together until well incorporated. I find that one’s hands are the best tools for this process. Form into about 40-rounded, teaspoon-size meatballs.DSCN1404

In a large pan, heat up some oil (about 1 to 2 tablespoons will do) over medium high heat. Once hot, add the meatballs in batches and fry for about five minutes, till they’ve charred and formed a nice crust. If you find that the meatballs are not fully cooked at this point, that’s fine. They will finish cooking in the gravy.

After you have removed the meatballs from the pan, save the drippings and add the stock of your liking, whisking around to release any burnt meatball bits stuck to the pan. Bring the stock to a boil and allow it to reduce by half. Then add the brandy, creme fraiche, cocoa powder, brown cheese, and some salt, if needed. Whisk rapidly to combine and allow the brown cheese to melt into the gravy.

Bring the gravy to a simmer and add the meatballs, simmering and stirring occasionally over low heat for about 10 minutes, until the meatballs have cooked through and the gravy has thickened. Serve over mashed potatoes and lingonberry/currant/cloudberry jam, and garnish to your liking with chopped chives or dill.

DSCN1424Cooking Notes:

  • If ground lamb is not available in your area, feel free to substitute with ground mutton, beef, pork, or blend of any two.
  • If you don’t eat any of the aforementioned meats, I could imagine this dish working with ground chicken or turkey as well.
  • gjetost (brown cheese) can be found at specialty food stores, such as Whole Foods or at online retailers. If it’s unavailable in your area, you can easily substitute the gravy in this recipe with one used to dress Swedish meatballs instead.
  • This saucy recipe can also be served over pasta, gnocchi, or spaetzle
  • Meatballs in Scandinavia are eaten with a little jam because the tartness of the jam helps to cut through the richness of the meat. I have recommended flavors that are common in the region. If you can’t find any of them near you, cranberry sauce is naturally the next best option.
  • Recommended Pairing: A bitter and malty stout, with its notes of dark chocolate and coffee will complement these meatballs perfectly. Look for a Norwegian brew if you can find it!