If you'd asked me a few weeks ago about Danish cuisine, I would have just given you a blank stare. For 23 years I've immersed myself in the cooking of India which is about as far away from Denmark as one can get. Of course I wasn't completely ignorant. A close friend here in Sonoma is a Finn, who spends months back in Lahti every year, and another is a Swede. I know a Danish chef in Los Angeles named Bent who specializes in Panini, and a couple of my friends have made the pilgrimage to NOMA the famous restaurant in Copenhagen that's been rated the best in the world.
A couple of more friends have shared their memories of walking by the place but that's about as far as my knowledge went. Of course I'd visited the Danish Village of Solvang just north of Santa Barbara (on the way to an Indian casino, don't ask) which had led me to believe that Danish cooking was all about the sugar. Also the movie Sideways was filmed there. That and the plastic storks on the roofs.
All of that was blown away the minute I got involved involved in North Festival and really learned about the cuisine of Denmark and all the amazing things going on in the kitchens of the far North.
Danish food has always been about using what one has, eating what's available and preserving what's fresh for use during the long cold winters. Danish food is hearty. They're famous for their dark breads, potato dishes and salted meats and fish, what the Danes call "storage housekeeping." Of course there is the famous "Danish Pastry" and Smorrbrod or open faced sandwiches. But, as it turns out there's a whole lot more to Danish cuisine. Research by Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have found the traditional cuisine to be very healthy. Move over Mediterranean Diet. Meet your new rival, the Nordic Diet.
One of the leaders of the new Danish food revolution is Chef Claus Meyer, co-founder of restaurant Noma. Studying the foods eaten traditionally before Big Agro got involved, young chefs started experimenting with old recipes and new/old techniques, and lit a fire under the culinary world. So that is where I turned in looking for a pathway to Danish food.
Living in Sonoma, eating locally raised food is relatively easy. Of course there were certain Danish foods (cloud berries, birch syrup, and spruce tips) which I couldn't lay my hands on, and others that we do have here, but usually much earlier in the year. My weekly trip to our Organic Farmers Market and our local farm shops made a meal easy to come up with. I learned some new and exciting cooking techniques I'm eager to share, but I thought I'd start with one of the dishes that put noma on the map. Edible Dirt.
In Hollywood no good dinner party goes by without some serious dirt dishing, but what I wondered, would diners do if they had what appeared to be real dirt waiting for them on their plates? Could I make dirt, and if I did, would they eat it?
Edible Dirt Appetizer
2 Tbs raisins
1/4 cup of mixed raw nuts ( I used cashews and walnuts)
1/4 cup raw almonds
5 oz. 2 thin slices of Danish Pumpernickel
1/2 cup crushed Wasa crackers (I used Hearty Wasa)
1 oz dried Porcini mushrooms
2 Tbs dehydrated onions
2 Tbs olive paste (1 1/2 Tbs oil cured dried olives ground up and mixed 1/2 Tbs of plain black olives)
1 Tbs pumpkin seeds
2 Tbs hazelnut, pumpkin seed, or walnut oil
fresh radishes, green onions , or small carrots
5 oz goat cheese
3 Tbs plain yogurt
1 shallot finely chopped
a handful of chopped fresh parsley, dill, and mint
kosher salt and pepper to taste
Here's What To Do:
Preheat your oven to 275 degrees
Put the raisins, mixed nuts, almonds and pumpernickle on a cookie sheet. Spread them in a single layer. Bake them in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes. It's done when the bread is crisp on top.
Turn off the oven and leave the cookie sheet with all the ingredients on it in the oven until it's cooled thoroughly. The raisins will dry and harden up.
Roughly chop up the nuts.
Dump the chopped nuts in a food processor along with the pumpkin seeds, Wasa crackers, dried Porcini mushrooms and dried onion. Break the crisp Pumpernickel bread into chunks and toss it in also.
Pulse the food processor until you have a coarse dirt like mixture.
Add in the olive paste.
Pulse it a bit more until you have something the color and texture of dirt.
Drizzle in a bit of hazelnut, walnut or pumpkin seed oil in.
Set your dirt aside.
Place the softened goat cheese in a bowl.
Chop the shallot.
Add it into the softened goat cheese.
Chop the fresh herbs.
Whip this together with the yogurt into a creamy dip. Set it aside.
Set out several small containers. I used unglazed terra cotta 3 inch azalea pots and saucers. They cost me 79 cents apiece.
Place a bit of the goat cheese dressing in the bottom or each little pot.
"Plant" your cleaned and scrubbed vegetables in the dressing.
I used organic radishes, green onions and carrots. Since the carrots were small and organically grown I didn't peel them, but washed them thoroughly.
With a spoon, ladle some dirt over the dressing and around the vegetables.
Your final dish should look like this.
The look on your guests face when told their first course is in the flower pot... priceless.
Of course, this wasn't the only thing that was served. Once I made edible dirt I couldn't stop there, I had to go the Full Norseman. I never do anything halfway. Here's my menu, all taken from recipes by Danish chef Claus Meyer.
Here's what it looked like on the table.
Scallops with a blueberry vinaigrette on pea shoots and field greens, pork tenderloin with pickled raw red cabbage and apples, hay roasted (yes I said hay and I'll show you how) carrots, fingerling potatoes, and chanterelle mushrooms in a seaweed pesto, cold carrot and apple soup with an herb dressing served with Danish Rosenborg Blue Cheese gourgeres, a Blue Cheese and Danish brie blue cheese plate with fresh gleaned local figs, almonds and crispbreads, and finally buckwheat macarons filled with CocoaPlanet espresso chocolate ganache and fresh raspberries.
Did I mention that I fell in love with Danish food doing this project? Yes I did. I also learned some skills and techniques that I think will carry over to my regular Indian cooking and I'm excited about sharing them. The freshness, the simplicity and the traditional methods used in cooking thoroughly impressed me, as did the use of local and sustainable ingredients. I'll be posting these recipes and how to make them in the next few days. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori plus, you can find out more about it here.