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Scandinavian Chef: Northern Light

If you thought Scandinavian cooking simply meant venison and seafood, Andreas Viestad will show you how wrong you've been.

Flip through the 100 recipes in this Norwegian food writer's first cookbook, "Kitchen of Light: New Scandinavian Cooking with Andreas Viestad", and you'll find easy-to-prepare recipes for everything from classic salmon, to freshly grown spinach, mushrooms, potatoes, and fruit.

In the stories that accompany some 150 photographs of the countryside of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, we learn from our author that the food of this northern region of Europe is steeped in culinary delights that date back to the early sea-trading years.

Says Viestad, "Norway has the longest coastline in the world where there is fish, lamb and game. The summers here are so never gets dark during this time of year so the berries and other fruits that grow here have an intensity of flavor that you cannot find in other parts of the world.

"The spice traditions here are so exotic. We cook with cumin, star anise, fennel seeds. This area has always traded with the cultures of the world. Our fish has gone out on ships and other foods from other countries have come back to us. There's so much more to the food culture than people would imagine. The food in this country has always been international and very open to new experiences."

On Monday, Viestad showed on The Early Show how to cure Gravlaks at home using a full-flavored spicy curing mixture with aniseed, juniper berries, crushed red pepper flakes, black peppercorns, salt, sugar and fresh dill. The curing process requires no heat - the seasonings themselves are used to preserve the meat.

He also used Aquavit, a Scandinavian liquor flavored with caraway, fennel, dill and other spices. There are tens, if not hundreds, of different aquavits, and originally it was used for medicinal purposes - to help arthritis, indigestion, cold and heart problems.

The following are his recipes:

Serves 6 to 8

Two 1-pound salmon filets, skin on, any pin-bones removed
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
2 teaspoons aniseed
5 juniper berries
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or 1 small dried hot red chile pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 tablespoons salt
11/2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons aquavit, (brandy, eau-de-vie, or Scotch)

  1. Rinse the filets in cold water and pat them dry with paper towels. Crush the caraway seeds, aniseed, juniper berries, red pepper flakes, and black peppercorns using a mortar and pestle. Or place the spices on a cutting board or other hard surface and crush them with the underside of a heavy skillet. Combine with the salt, sugar, and dill.
  2. Place one of the filets skin side down in a deep dish just big enough to hold the filets. Rub the fillet with half the spice and dill mixture. Rub the other fillet with the mixture and place it skin side up on top of the first. Pour the aquavit on top, cover the dish with plastic wrap, and place a heavy weight, such as two heavy plates or a saucepan, on top of the fish. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 days, turning the fish every 12 hours and basting it with the brine that accumulates in the dish.
  3. To serve, dust off some of the spices and slice the fish into thin slices with a sharp thin knife. The flesh from the tail will be leaner than the flesh from the belly. Serve with mustard sauce and dark rye bread, for open-faced sandwiches, or with mustard, pickles, and capers.

Sweet Mustard Sauce
Makes 2 cups

6 tablespoons sweet grainy mustard, or to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

  1. Combine the sweet mustard and 2 tablespoons
    of the Dijon mustard in a medium bowl. Add the sugar and 1 tablespoon of the vinegar. Gradually add the oil, whisking constantly. Adjust the flavors as necessary.
  2. The sauce should be neither overly sweet nor overly acidic. Add a little water if the sauce gets too thick. Stir in the chopped dill. It will keep, refrigerated, for 2 to 3 weeks.

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Tart raspberries contrast nicely with salty smoked salmon, and almost-charred spinach gives this elegant dish, which you can prepare in minutes, a nice earthy flavor.

1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
16 raspberries
2 tablespoons Raspberry Vinegar (recipe follows) or white wine vinegar, or more to taste
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound spinach leaves, tough stems removed, thoroughly washed and patted dry
Olive oil
8 to 12 thin slices smoked salmon
Pink peppercorns for garnish

  1. Preheat the broiler.
  2. To prepare the dressing, combine the crème fraîche, half the raspberries, the vinegar, and sugar in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. The dressing should be pleasantly tart.
  3. Spread the spinach leaves on four ovenproof dinner plates. Sprinkle lightly with olive oil. Place the spinach under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes, until the leaves have started to wilt. The spinach should not burn; however, don't worry if there are a few black patches on some of the spinach leaves-that just adds to the smoky flavor. Let the plates cool for 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Place the smoked salmon on top of the spinach, drizzle with stripes of the dressing, and garnish with the remaining 8 raspberries. Sprinkle with whole or crushed pink peppercorns.

Makes 2 cups

20 raspberries, plus a few for garnish (optional)
2 cups white wine vinegar

Place the raspberries in a lidded jar or a bottle and pour in the vinegar

Serves 4

For this recipe, if your applesauce is very sweet, use only half the sugar for the breadcrumbs.

This is a traditional dessert that both Norway and Denmark lay claim to. Given our colonial history. But because of history - Norway was subject to Denmark's rule for nearly 400 years - there is reason to believe that the Danes invented the dish, Viestad says.

How it got its name is easy to understand: It consists of layers of applesauce and sweet cinnamon-scented breadcrumbs, veiled with whipped cream.

11/2 cups bread crumbs
3 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
11/2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
11/2 cups applesauce, chilled
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts

  1. In a nonstick skillet, combine the breadcrumbs, sugar, cinnamon, and butter. Stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, heat over medium heat until the crumbs are uniformly golden. Remove from the heat.
  2. In a large bowl, whip the cream until stiff.
  3. Layer the applesauce, breadcrumbs, and cream in individual glass bowls. (I prefer at least two layers of each.) The top layer should always be whipped cream, "veiling" the dish. Sprinkle with the chopped nuts and serve.

Viestad is a native of Olso, Norway, but he considers the entire Scandinavian region (including Demark and Sweden) his playground. He says "Kitchen of Light" is a bridge between tradition and the modern world. "The nature of my country has remained the same pretty much. The cooking of Scandinavia is born out of nature. When the food is strewn from nature you really want to do as little as possible with it which is why you use so few ingredients."

"Kitchen of Light" is the companion book to Viestad's public television series, "New Scandinavian Cooking with Andreas Viestad." The show is carried this summer by 138 stations across the U.S.