Author Archives: Leena's blog about things Finnish

About Leena's blog about things Finnish

Leena Niemela grew up in the hot dust of the North Okanagan between two worlds: one filled with the canadiana of life in a small BC town and the other of Saturday saunas, fresh baked “pulla” and Finnish church meetings. Her writing is a mix of memories and wishful thinking that explore these worlds.

A month for love, the Finnish kind

So I have been on hiatus – losing the 10 lbs I gained eating pulla, laatikko and all the other goodies over December. No special Finnish recipe for weight loss  except maybe don’t eat pulla, laatikko or other goodies.

I have been thinking about this blog for the past week or so, wondering if I would pick up again and if so, what would I want to focus on for one month. It came to me last night, after spending the day trying write for a class I am in. I spent quite a bit of time trying to put together a short piece, in the style of Finnish poet Eeva Kilpi. She is a beautiful poet, whose short, quick-witted poems capture so much of the ordinary mystery of love and loneliness. After coming up short yet again on my own attempts, it occurred to me that I needed to study love, the Finnish kind, in order to get what it is that Eeva is clearly and concisely capturing.

So it is February, and I will be studying love. Not the love that involves cards, candy, and jewelry that seems to dominate this month (although I like all three just fine). I want to explore ordinary love, a wake-up-in-the-morning-to-the-same-pillow-marked- cheeks-and-bleary-eyed-face with joy kind of love, the kind that has saggy boobs, and knarled toes. Or what about the love that is silent, determined and unmoved, even a bit foolish. Sad, lonely love. Love without the frills. Practical love.

What is this Finnish love I am speaking about?

I don’t know, but I like what I read and see in film so I want to explore it.

To start me off, here is a little Eeva Kilpi for a Tuesday in February:

Tell Me Immediately if I am Disturbing You

Tell me immediately if I’m disturbing you,
He said, coming in the door,
And I will leave right away.

You not only disturb,
I answered,
You shake my whole being.
– Eeva Kilpi –

And so it goes…

I blinked and the time between boxing day and today disappeared. Now I sit getting ready to head out for New Year’s celebrations with friends (no cooking for me!) and I think about all the dishes I planned to make, promised to make and now have to admit I will not make in the one month I set out as my month of Finnish cooking.

There are those Cardamom Sugar Cookies that failed; the remaining butter, sugar and flour mix frozen in the freezer in anticipation of my return. They will wait a little longer.

There are the Karjalan Piirakkas which friends, cousins and my mother have been making by the dozen. Perhaps that is why I never got around to making them. Actually, the reason I didn’t try my hand at these is that one of the many gifts this year was a fresh batch of KPs made for us by my mother.

There is the Happankaalikeito (Finnish Sauerkraut Soup) my cousin made and sent me photos. It looked delicious, Ruth, and I still plan to make it and feature it sometime soon. And the Kukkakaalilaatiko (Cauliflower Casserole) that includes chunks of Finnish rye bread. And the Joulutortu (Prune Stars)…Kaalilaatiko…

Overall, the month of Finnish cooking was a success and any good project leaves something for the second phase. For now, January is looking like a month where we return to more simple, and lighter, cooking. Many thanks to those who commented, liked and followed me this month. I hope that some of these recipes are tried and enjoyed – and of course, that you tell me all about it!

I jokingly suggested that January’s focus will be a “Finnish woman’s guide to losing 10 pounds in 30 days” – well, I might have been joking. For now, I hope you celebrate the coming of a new year in whatever style makes you happiest? Perhaps a little casting of tin?metal

December 26 – Lanttulaatiko, or Turnip Casserole

It’s true, I did not make a traditional Finnish Christmas dinner on the 24th. You got me. Truth is, I found a recipe for an amazing beef roast and just couldn’t help myself (go here to check it out). That said, I made enough roast for plenty of leftovers, knowing that I would need to make a few casseroles sometime this week.

Tonight, my house smells of turnip. And this is good. It’s the smell of Christmases past and, as it is with nostalgia, things that might seem unpleasant to you at one time, can often be transformed into something you look forward to each yearNew Westminster-20121226-00495.

As I child, I could not stand this casserole. It was always the last mound of mashed food left on my plate at Christmas dinner. I would hold out as long as I could, but eventually, when everyone else had finished and moved into the living room to await Joulupukki, I would load a fork, force it past my mouth and swallow as fast as I could, retracting my taste buds as far as they would go.

(What a great way to sell a casserole…)

Of course, now the turnip casserole is my favourite of the Finnish casseroles my mother makes. Funny how grown up taste buds change over time. If you can relate to this, and have acquired a grown up sensibility concerning turnip, you will enjoy this casserole.

Tonight we are having a relatively simple dinner of roast beef, Yorkshires (because hubby can’t bear to eat roast beef without the Yorkshires), and turnip casserole.

This casserole is very easy to make, is best when the edges are cooked to a dark crispy finish  and goes great with any meat (or un-meat).


(Serves 4)


1 medium to large rutabaga (or 5 or 6 of the smaller turnips)

1/4 cup milk

1 egg

3 tablespoons corn syrup

1/2 cup panko or bread crumbs

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

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Peel and chop the rutabaga, and boil until cooked (fork poked into one of the chunks will come out easily), usually about 20-25 minutes. Remove water.

Using a hand blender or potato masher, mash the cooked turnip. Let sit until cool.

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Add egg, milk, panko, and seasonings and mix well.

In a well greased casserole dish, add turnip mixture and spread evenly. Apply dabs of butter to the top, along with a sprinkling of panko.

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Bake in a 400F oven for 30-40 minutes.

December 23 – Finnish Rye Bread

Healthy, rustic, amazing toasted with a bit of butter and honey, Finnish rye bread is something that has been in my mother’s home since forever. Growing up I never liked it – it was one of those Finnish things that just wasn’t as good as the soft, moist white bread my friends got to have in their lunches. Sad to say, its true.

As they say, when you know better, you do better. In adulthood, when I started thinking about breads as slightly evil and unhealthy, I turned to my mother’s rye bread as an alternative that I could feel a little less guilty about. This bread is flavourful and easy to make; a great side to a stew or served as traditional, open faced sandwiches with cheese, ham and a slice of cucumber.


Ruis Reikä Leipä (ray-ka-lay-pa) (Rye Hole Bread); photo from

For years now, my mom has been keeping up my supply of rye bread. Whenever we visit, there is usually a bag of the round single loaves waiting for me in the freezer to take home. The bread is typically made into round, flat loaves with a whole in the middle; back in the day, these loaves would be stored on racks, rounds loaded onto poles and hung horizontally in shops or kitchens. I prefer to make round flat buns that can be pulled out of the freezer, sliced in half and popped into the toaster without committing to a whole round.

This is the first time I have made the recipe. I scribbled it down that last time I visited mom – no doubt it is another handwritten recipe that will see some use.

Finnish Rye Bread

2 packages of quick rise yeast

1/2 cup warm water

1 tsp sugar

2 cups buttermilk (room temperature)

1 1/2 cups water (room temperature)

1 tbsp salt

2 tbsp oil

5 cups dark rye flour

2 cups all-purpose wheat flour, or barley flour (this flour is important for binding the dough)


I made a special trip to the Roger’s Flour Mill in Armstrong, BC to buy the dark rye for this recipe.

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water with sugar. Let sit for half an hour.

Combine buttermilk and remaining water with salt and oil. Add to yeast mixture.


Sticky dough – seems counter-intuitive but go with it. Do not overwork the dough, and do not add too much flour!

Using a fork, mix in flours. Dough will be sticky. Do not over work.










Sprinkle with flour, cover with a tea-towel and let rise for 90 minutes.



Pre-heat oven to 475F.


Ready for the oven.

On a well-floured surface, flatten and shape rounds to whatever size you prefer. Be sure to keep the surface floured; I kept my hands lightly floured while working the dough and used a light touch. Once the rounds are ready for the oven, place them on baking sheet and use fork to poke holes throughout. I also cut an X into the tops.

Bake for 15 minutes. Rounds will rise slightly during cooking. In my convection oven, cooking time was exactly 15 minutes.

Cool on baking rack but be sure to have at least one fresh from the oven with some butter.all done

December 21 – Joulu Pulla Folk

A few posts ago, I made two giant loaves of pulla, a Finnish sweet bread traditionally served at coffee time (check it out here). From that same batch I also made two smaller pullas for my friend and her two small kids. As we gear up for Christmas Eve on Monday, I thought I would share the pulla-man/woman tradition that my mom has been sharing with us for years.

Pulla folk; photo from and Myllys Paras

My mother was born in ’39 and grew up in Finland during the second world war. Her stories of Christmas treats are always a told in light of the excess that we have today. She talks of the care packages her mother and siblings would receive from Canada and US, containing the only oranges they would see all year, and of the home-made breads and tarts that my grandmother would make. One of those treats that she and her siblings would receive each Christmas was their very own pullaman or woman. Made from pulla dough, these people-shaped loaves were decorated with raisins or other dried fruit for the eyes and noses, basted with an egg wash and sprinkled with raw sugar.

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Pulla folk waiting for the oven. I used sliced almonds for the eyes and mouth and dried apple crisps for their “clothes”.

My mother still makes pulla folk to distribute Christmas eve to her kids and grand-kids  These two characters went to Cameron and Alison in Port Hardy.

December 19 – Two Finnish Cocktails

Last night we had friends over for some seasonal festivities. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to experiment with some Finnish cocktails. Coffee is the drink of choice in Finland, so when I set out to find cocktail recipes I could try on my guests, I did not have high expectations.   However, both of these were a hit and now that I have all the ingredients in my pantry, I will be mixing these again over the next few weeks.
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Red Finnish

1oz Finlandia Vodka

1oz Strawberry Brandy (I couldn’t find strawberry brandy so I used strawberry liqueur – Fragoli Wild Strawberry)

1/2oz lime juice (fresh squeezed is best)

1oz pure pomegranate juice

1 tsp sugar

Combine over ice in shaker, and shake it, baby. Pour into martini glass and serve.

The second cocktail is a revised Finnish Passion; I could not find the passion fruit syrup so improvised with passion-fruit juice. I also added a dash of grenadine at the end to give the drink some colour. Not overly sweet, this is a great citrus cocktail that I renamed Midnight Sun.

Midnight Sun

2 oz Finlandia Vodka

1 oz passion fruit juice

2 oz orange juice

2 oz sour mix (make your own with 8 oz of lemon juice and 2 Tbsp sugar)

Combine in a shaker over ice, and serve in an old-fashioned glass. Add a dash of grenadine before serving.

December 16 – Karjalan Piirakka cheats with Munavoi

The holiday rush is starting to get in the way of my Finnish food adventures but I have a few recipes in the works for the end of the week that I look forward to sharing. One of them is the Karjalan Piirakka, otherwise known as Rice Slippers or KPs in our family: rye pastries filled with rice pudding, baked and served with a hard-boiled egg and butter mixture. Rich and tasty these have always seemed like a lot of work to me, although I have been told by a few people that they are not difficult to make at all.

I will try my hand at making KPs this month, but in the meantime, I cheated and reheated some that were in my freezer from a batch my mother made for D. Reheated in a 400F oven and served with egg butter, they were crispy on the edges, and smooth and tasty on the inside.  Munavoi (“egg butter”) is best served cold from the fridge, so that the butter has time to harden.New Westminster-20121209-00366 (2)


2 eggs, hardboiled

1/2 cup butter

pinch of salt, pepper

1/2 tsp dried dill

Mix all ingredients in small bowl and place in fridge until ready to serve.

December 11 – Lusikkaleivat (Finnish Spoon Cookies)

New Westminster-20121211-00406How fun is that to say?! Loo-see-ka-lay-vot. Literally translated to spoon cookies, this recipe is a new one to me as I have never made it before. Its also one that mom made, but not often. I can’t imagine why as these cookies are delicious and addictive. The brown butter of this recipe creates a great smell and flavour that is unique to these cookies – a bit like caramel, a bit nutty.

The recipe is very easy using the basics needed for a good cookie: butter, sugar, eggs and flour. I chose a recipe from, and you can find it here:


  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch fine salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup splenda*
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • Jam or jelly of your choice
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Continue to cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter browns lightly and smells slightly nutty. Mine took about 8 minutes (the recipe said 15 but I noticed that mine was already medium brown with flecks so decided to remove it from heat).

Transfer the butter to a medium bowl — be sure to get all the tasty brown bits — and cool slightly.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in another medium bowl.

Whisk the egg yolk, sugar and vanilla into the cooled browned butter.New Westminster-20121211-00385

Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture to make a uniform but crumbly dough that looks like wet sand.

Scoop out dough with a small teaspoon (the kind you set the table with, not the ones you measure with). Press dough into spoon and then flatten top and clean edges to make spoon-shaped cookies. Slide out onto the prepared pans, preserving their shape.

Bake cookies until just browned, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool almost completely on the baking sheets, and then transfer cookies to a rack to cool.

When cool, spread 1/2 teaspoon jam on the flat side of a cookie, and then sandwich together with a second cookie. Repeat until all cookies have met their match. Lightly dust the cookies with the confectioners’ sugar. Serve.

*I substituted 1/4 cup of splenda and 1/2 cup of sugar; a change from the original recipe on

For the fillings, I used a raspberry-current jam made by my mom and an apricot ginger jam made by my sister-in-law. Both were delicious. I also thought nutella would go well, but turns out nutella is a bit too soft to do anything other than make a gooey chocolate mess – a mess that I was able to handle, but I think a chocolate filling for these cookies needs to be a little more substantial.

I promised to send these to Richmond General for D’s coworkers, but now I am having second thoughts.

December 9 – Finnish Pulla

So it has been a few days since I posted a recipe but I have to come clean and admit that I had a recipe fiasco a few days back. The Cardamom Sugar Cookies that I was so sure would turn out fabulous (a new recipe, never tried) were a bust. While one batch did make it to the oven as balls of shortbread (still good, but not post worthy), I have the remaining dough in the fridge and I plan to re-work it. “I’ll get you, my pretty!”

Sunday morning and its time to make pulla (pronounced ‘boo-lah’).New Westminster-20121209-00376 This sweet bread is a Finnish staple and is a versatile, rich bread dough. In my home it is used to make cinnamon buns and pizza dough (I leave the cardamom out for the pizza dough), in addition to traditional braided loaf or pulla buns. Swedes make a similar bread but instead of cardamom, saffron is the spice of choice. Finnish pulla with cardamom is mildly sweet (Finns don’t like things too sweet) with a hint of cardamom that fills the kitchen with a gorgeous aroma as well as pleases the taste buds.

Referred to as “the body of Christ” by a recovering Catholic friend, serve this bread with coffee and home made jam or have it plain, fresh from the oven with a smear of butter.

Finnish Pulla

In a large bowl, add 1 packet quick rise yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water and Tbsp of sugar. Let sit while you prepare the other ingredients.

Warm 3 cups of milk to take the chill off, add two eggs and 1/2 cup of sugar. Beat well. Add 1 to 3 tablespoons of cardamom and 1 teaspoon of salt. Freshly ground cardamom is more potent than the stuff that has been in the cupboard for a while – if you are lucky to have the freshly ground cardamom in the kitchen, you won’t need as much.

Combine with yeast mixture.

Add enough flour to produce a thick, but not too “hard” dough, kneading for a good 5 to 10 minutes. For this batch I used about 5 cups of flour, although this is more about the feel and workability of dough. The dough should release from the sides of the bowl, and your fingers, but still remain slightly sticky and soft.

Once you feel you have the right consistency, add 1/2 cup of melted butter and continue to knead until combined. I usually end up adding a bit of flour as I go but don’t exceed more the 6 cups. New Westminster-20121209-00368

Let rise for one hour in a warm, dark spot.

Once risen, preheat oven to 375F. You can make into braided loaves or buns, cinnamon buns, or at Christmas, make them into Pulla-men and -women to stuff into stockings. Let the dough rest before baking.

Baste loaves or buns with egg and sugar mix (1 egg, 1 tablespoon sugar) or a coffee mix which is what I did today (1/2 cup of strong brewed coffee, 1 tablespoon sugar)New Westminster-20121209-00373. Sprinkle with rock sugar if you can find it – I was out of my supply of Finnish rock sugar, so I used regular white sugar.

Braided loaves like I have made bake for about 20 minutes, until the tops are golden and the bottoms are dark.

My mom hand wrote the recipe for me in 1995. Its been well used.

My mom hand wrote the recipe for me in 1995. Its been well used.

December 3 – Marimekko and Beet, Carrot and Herring Salad

Today my mom and I ventured into Vancouver’s Marimekko store. A friend had the good sense to give me a gift certificate to Marimekko and until now I have not been able to make up my mind on how to best use the generous gift. A beautiful red Lumimarja (“Snowberries”) table runner, and some smaller items that will probably line the stockings of some important people, and I have finally made good on a promise to my friend to spend it well. Thank you!!


And with that, I am on to recipe number two of my December of Finnish cooking. Tonight I wanted  something light to go with salmon (go figure, after that mile high meat pie!). Finnish Beet Salad is something that I remember my mom making when I was growing up. She says she used to make it only in the summer, when beets and carrots are fresh from the garden. I, however, have memories of this being served with Christmas dinner as well. The bright, festive colour of this salad makes it a beautiful accompaniment on any holiday table. Also, this is the perfect salad for winter time – with every taste you are reminded of your summer garden with the earthy sweet taste of beets and carrots.

Most of the recipes I researched for this dish included potatoes; however, I am choosing to post it like my mother makes it. In fact, my  mother made this dish tonight – my first guest chef!

For those of you concerned about the herring, this recipe can be made without the pickled fish. I have included it however, because the herring takes the place of added salt. This is not a “fishy” dish – instead the flavour of the herring blends with the sweet of the beets and carrots. I say give it try, you might be surprised!

Eila’s Summer Beet Salad

Serves 4-6
Prep 20 minutes plus 1 hour to chill


2 cups cooked and diced beets

1 1/2 cup cooked and diced carrots

1/8 cup diced onion

3 to 6 – one inch pieces of pickled herring, diced

Fresh dill to taste

Salt and Pepper to tasteIMG-20121203-00344

1) Combine beet, carrot and onion into large bowl and then add herring, dill, salt and pepper.
2) Mix thoroughly and chill in the fridge at least one hour before serving.
3) Serve with a mild dressing. We had it with a simple mayonnaise to allow the flavour of the beets and carrots to remain the focus. I think sour cream or even a cream cheese would be a good accompaniment (that’s my Canadian upbringing showing up).IMG-20121203-00348