December 1 and the Christmas season is officially “on” at our home. Today, we decorated and cracked open the seasonal bottle of Baileys. Tree is up, the snowy village is in progress and a Griswald-esque light display is in store for our 12 by 4 deck.
Today is also the first day of my month of Finnish cooking. Ok, a month might be ambitious but I have been wanting to document some of the Finnish dishes made by my mother and to try some dishes that I have not made before. Maybe not 31 days worth, but enough to warrant an official start.
Before I get started, here are three criteria that I think define Finnish cooking. Indeed, the question “Why is this recipe Finnish?” is a good question, because much of what I will be making, seem like simple, hearty, peasant dishes that could come from anywhere. There are three things that define Finnish “cuisine” for me.
1) Finnish dishes are seasonal; root vegetables feature prominently because it is a winter country. Many of the dishes I am planning to make this month are wonderful, winter comfort dishes. That said, summer dishes are characterized by fresh vegetables, herbs and berries that can be found in northern gardens and forests. I think of Finnish flavours to be the flavours of winter and summer: the tastes of the soil, the woods, hot ovens and cardamom.
2) Finnish dishes are simple, rustic recipes and feature hearty vegetables, fish and sometimes red meat, real butter and cream. Salt and pepper are the most common seasonings, and dishes typically favour the real taste of the main ingredients without a lot of embellishments or fancy sauces. I will add that cardamom and cinnamon are common spices (in baking, especially), and if you ask me, cardamom is a spice that is not used enough in regular cooking.
3) The meal is prepared by at least one Finn.
That’s right – Finnish cooking is done by Finns. If a Canadian were to make these dishes, they would probably be compelled to add fancy spices, hot pepper or tabasco, or maybe a few extra veggies or some cheese. Some may question this definition. Some may argue that just because I make a lasagna doesn’t mean I have prepared a “Finnish Lasagna”. Return to point 1).
For those non-Finns or honorary Finns out there, you can still make a Finnish dish, provided you call someone Finnish and let them know. Feel free to message me if you can’t find another Finn close by, but I would be willing to put money on the fact that you already know at least one Finn other than me.
In 2005, the French president commented that “After Finland, [Britain] is the country with the worst food.” I can’t speak for British food, but over the next month I plan to share with anyone who is interested some of the great Finnish dishes that I have grown up with and hopefully discover a few new ones.
Finnish Meat Pie (serves 6)
30 minutes prep (easy)
1 hr 15 minutes baking
1 cup shredded carrot
1 1/2 cups shredded potato
3/4 cup shredded rutabaga
1 lb extra lean ground beef
1-2 Tbsp salt or 2 beef bouillon cubes, crushed
2 Tbsp cardamom
2 Tbsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp black pepper
1 Tbsp white or brown sugar
Pie dough for one pie (top and bottom)
1) Preheat oven to 350F. Rack should be in centre of oven.
2) In large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix until evenly distributed.
3) Line pie plate with bottom pie shell and place mixture into the shell, patting it down. Cover with pie shell, cutting small holes in the top and sealing the sides.
4) Bake for 1 hr 15 minutes or until internal temperature is 177 degree (beef well done). Serve with a green salad and lingonberry sauce.
** Mega Lihapiirakka! I have reduced the amounts in the ingredients above as my end product was HUGE (delicious, but HUGE). While Dave states there is nothing wrong with a mile-high Finnish meat pie, I think some moderation is probably called for.