Meal 127: Norway

The Midsummer festival, which is celebrated in Norway with the rest of Scandinavia, is a bit of a misnomer, in that it's actually around first day of summer. But whatever, it does celebrate the peak of the year, when days are super long and gardens are finally abundant with fruits and vegetables. We held ours a few weeks earlier, which actually worked out in Portland's seasons because we got the new potatoes, strawberries and rhubarb at their peak. Certainly not all Norwegian food is colorful and zippy. The most representative aspect of the traditional Norse diet is porridge, called grøt — from which we get the English word "grout," to give you a sense of the texture. Its centrality is represented in the Great Porridge Feud of the 19th century, in which a debate over whether to throw in a handful of raw flour right before serving served as a proxy for the conflict between tradition and science.

I ought to point out that the nearby Ikea was very handy for this meal, with items such as the right kinds of mustard and coffee, herring, rye crispbread, and even a mix for bread. Another Swedish import that proved indispensable was our guest Erika, who sliced the gravet laks and in general was a handy consultant on the preparation and service of all the dishes. This is all to say that Norwegian food is similar to Swedish food, but don't tell any Norwegian I said that.

Joining us for this outdoor feast were Kim, Dave, Melia, Carmen, Will, Ana, Erika, Peter, Maya, Douglas, Kevin, Suj, Kyra and Annie.

Rabarbra Likør | Rhubarb aquavit | Recipe

Doesn't that look pretty? It takes as good as it looks, too, tart and flavorful, especially good when chilled. You could do some great cocktails with it, dilute with soda water, or simply sip it from a shotglass. (Don't shoot it, though, that'd be a waste!)

Agurksalat | Cucumber-dill salad | Recipe

Sweet, tangy, and extremely crispy and refreshing thanks to the ice-bath soak. As far as I'm concerned this is now my Platonic ideal of a cucumber salad.

Gravet laks | Salt-cured salmon | Recipe

So easy to make, and so impressive. A few minutes of plastering the fish with salt, sugar and dill (the name translates as "buried salmon"), turning it over once or twice a day in the fridge for a few days, and you're done. In fact, the most time-consuming and challenging part is the slicing, which Erika thankfully took care of. She shared a pro tip, that if you put the salmon in the freezer for a little bit, the firmer flesh is easier to slice. Relatedly, this dish freezes really well, just defrost and eat, so as long as you're making it you may as well make a lot. Oh, and don't forget to make the classic mustard-dill sauce to accompany.

Rekesalat | Shrimp salad | Recipe

There's more treats in the Norwegian sea. We had some little jars of various pickled herrings, and also this nice little shrimp salad, which in typical style features a lot of dill. This is a good opportunity to share an anecdote about why Norwegians traditionally don't eat predator fish: it's feared that any one of them have eaten part of a friend or relative who died at sea, so it's an abundance of caution to avoid being a second-hand cannibal.

Rabarbrasuppe | Cold rhubarb soup | Recipe

Just about the simplest way to eat this vegetable we treat as a fruit. Cook with water and sugar, chill, serve. It's a vibrant pink and exposes in the most essential way the complex flavor of this very cold-hardy late-spring treat. I tipped the leftovers into the ice cream machine and it made a fantastic sorbet.

Rømmegrøt | Cream pudding | Recipe

Heavy cream, sour cream, milk and buttermilk, totaling nine cups. And a cup of flour. This is one of the richest things I've ever eaten, and while more than a little tangy with that sour cream and buttermilk, it was pleasantly balanced out with cinnamon and sugar. It's the culinary opposite of Midsummer, and indeed it's best known as a Christmas Eve dish. You could see why someone would want to eat this in the middle of a dark and cold winter.

Nypoteter | New potatoes

A true new potato is so delicate you can rub the skin off an uncooked one with your thumb, and unlike most potatoes really ought to be kept refrigerated and hence is only available around the late-spring/early-summer harvest time. It has a texture that's both flaky and creamy, with a much brighter flavor than a typical potato. As far as I'm concerned there's only one way to cook new potatoes: boiled, drained, and tossed with butter and a bit of salt. Oh, and because it's Scandinavia, a healthy helping of dill too.

Kjøttkaker | Meatballs | Recipe

Compared to the more famous Swedish meatballs, these have more spices, and are a little bigger and flatter. The balls were as tasty as they look; the sauce was a lot of work and not my favorite, which is likely because of the brunost — a unique "cheese" that's actually made of caramelized whey.

Vafler | Waffles

I made so many dishes that I ran out of time to assemble the cake. I baked it, but just didn't have the time to make it up, so I froze it. And everyone wanted waffles anyway. Maya did a super good job of making them (unfortunately I've lost the recipes we used!), covering them with strawberries, and making everyone happy.

Meal 119: Nepal

The core of Nepalese food can be summed up in one very simply named dish: daal bhat, meaning "legumes [and] rice." Along with tarkari — a spiced dish we'd probably call a curry — and achar (pickles), this is the dish that many people in Nepal eat pretty much every single day. Fortunately, there's variety to be found in the type and preparation of the dal and the tarkari, and a wide variety of achars can bring all sorts of flavors. Characteristically, I tried to capture as much of that variety as possible with two daals, three tarkaris, and four achars! Now, Nepal is a geographically and ethnically diverse country, ranging from river plains to the highest mountain in the world, and with a whole wide variety of distinct cultures (Nepali is the home language of less than half of the population.). Accordingly, there are indeed other kinds of foods eaten, such as a variety of grilled meats, and perhaps most famously dumplings.

We took advantage of fine weather for a late-September outdoor meal. It was convenient that we could use the new outdoor wok burner, because we needed all the cooking devices we could get to cook so many dishes. Apologies in advance about the photos, our good camera was being repaired so we had to rely on an iPhone in far less than ideal lighting conditions!

Momo | Dumplings | Recipes: chicken momo, sauce

Pretty similar to dumplings you see in many Asian countries, though rather than the half-moon shape typical of potstickers, they're made into round purses and also tend to have more filling per piece. There are at least as many filling recipes as there are people who make momo, ranging across just about every type of meat and vegetable you can find in the area; we chose to go with a chicken version to accommodate dietary preferences. Frankly, vegetables made up the bulk of the filling anyway, and I'm glad we had a milder meat so the flavor of the curry and the electric zing of the Szechuan peppercorn could come through.

Daal | Legume stew | Recipes: black gram, pigeon peas

Daal is a whole lot more than that kinda soupy yellow thing you push to the side in favor of the tastier stuff at the Indian restaurant. (Well, at least that's what I tend to do with it.) There's a whole lot of lentils, peas, and beans that can be gently simmered — more often than not they're split, so the cooking time is reduced —and flavored into a protein-packed stew that's just begging to be paired with rice. Amidst a whole lot of options, I chose the pigeon-pea version, rahar ko daal, because it's apparently the "king of daals" in Nepal, and maas ko daal made with what's known as black gram because it looked pretty and seemed to offer a richer flavor.

I was a bit surprised to find that I preferred the more pedestrian-seeming pigeon-pea one, which had a brighter flavor with warm spice from the cinnamon and cumin. The dark one was fine too, but I felt like it was a bit too heavy, perhaps if it had a personality I'd call it "brooding." (To be fair, I didn't have the jimbu herb the recipe called for, but since it's in the same family as onion I don't think my concern would have been addressed).

Tarkari | Vegetable curry | Recipes: mustard green, bottle gourd

Nepali vegetable curries aren't quite as richly spiced as many Indian ones, rather the flavors of the individual spices seem to me to come through more: the maple-like nuttiness of fenugreek, the sharp whiff of mustard oil, the zing of the Szechuan peppercorn. It's a nice contrast with the more harmonious flavors of the daal, and crisp or firm vegetables like the bottle gourd also make for a flavor contrast.

Achar | Pickles |ginger, onion, tomato, gundruk


I shoulda thought to start the achars earlier. I knew that some of them take a good long while to get all good and funky, yet I really didn't get to it until a few days before. Fortunately, there was plenty I still could do, and jars from the store took care of the rest.

The ginger achar was not only the tastiest and most versatile, but the recipe ends with perhaps one of the best declarations I've read in a recipe: "This is the best thing to eat during lazy hours." The gundruk was really intense and funky, I only made it because I shockingly found a container of this salty, fermented, dried vegetable at the store, and whoo-boy, that's a bold one. Tomato achar is a really nice one that's found throughout the Subcontinent but surprisingly hasn't made its way onto restaurant tables like mint and coriander chutneys. I think the condiment, which is like a chunkier, more spiced, less sweet version of ketchup, would go over well.

Kaju barfi | Cashew fudge | Recipe

A lovely, gentle way to end an intense meal after all those spices and textures. A just-barely-holding-together fudge of ground cashews with a judicious dosing of cardamom.

Meal 113: Mongolia

To get one thing out of the way: Mongolian barbecue isn’t Mongolian. It was invented in Taiwan. So we didn’t make that.

Mongolia isn’t a good place for growing produce, so the cuisine barely has fruits or vegetables. For a bit of perspective, Mongolians following a traditional diet get their Vitamin C from organ meat, and at least one guidebook recommends that vegetarians bring whatever food they may need into the country. Instead, animals, especially sheep but also camels, yaks, cattle, horses and more, turn the grasslands into meat and milk, and grains and spices can be acquired through trade, and that’s the basis of the food of Mongolia.

While I was super excited about trying out a novel cooking technique (see below!), I didn’t have high hopes for how things would taste. Well, my low expectations were certainly exceeded!

Our guests included Kristen, Marcia, Jeffery, Jeremy and his parents visiting from France, Wayne, Robert, Anya, Laure, and Jonathan.

Airag | Fermented horse milk

The most distinctive component of Mongolian cuisine is a mildly alcoholic drink made of mare’s milk. The milk has to be fermented because in its pure state it has an indigestibly high amount of lactose. For months Wayne and I were keeping our eyes peeled for some raw milk to ferment, and even came close to finding sources on a few occasions, but then our mutual friend Deena reminded us that we ran an unquantifiable but certainly real risk of things going wrong and turning into poison. So we held off, and instead had the closest thing you can find in a supermarket: kefir.

Suutei tsai | Millet tea | Description

It’s kinda like a bizarro bubble tea, but with little millet grains taking the place of tapioca, green tea leaves just floating around as a hazard to avoid swallowing, and also a pinch of salt to make this a definitely savory concoction. Despite the challenge of filtering the leaves through teeth, it was surprisingly nice beverage-ish thing, and definitely comforting.

Horhog | Stone-boiled lamb stew | Recipe

Oh man, was this ever fun. I’ve read about various cultures around the world using fire-heated stones to boil water, and now I’ve done it!

The first step was to collect the river stones to be heated, which I did down near the mouth of the Sandy River. (Apparently this wasn’t the smartest thing to do, because volcanic rocks like these have air pockets that can lead to explosions. Thankfully that didn’t happen.) Then I got a roaring fire going in my barbecue, and let the rocks heat up for a whole hour until they got coated in ash and were nearly glowing. In the meantime I got a whole bunch of water boiling, since I had no idea if the rocks would provide enough heat to fully cook through many pounds of thick cuts of bone-on lamb.

Then the fun began, alternating meat and rocks in the pot. The water boiled violently and steamed abundantly with every rock I added, and as the amount of meat in the pot increased, so did the foam that erupted. I tossed a modest number of vegetables and seasonings on top, leaving the big ol’ pot sitting on the porch, and an hour and a half later everything was still very hot, and the meat cooked through and even a bit tender. Success!

Following the recipe, every guest held a rock in their hands to receive the warmth (and to get a good moisturizing from the residual lamb fat!). And then we tucked into the stew, which was really quite tasty. Did the rocks contribute any of the flavor? I’m not sure, but they sure made the dish memorable and fun.

Buuz | Dumplings | Recipe

Compared to the stew, the dumplings were fairly straightforward, but nonetheless delicious. While I could have used ground beef, I decided to follow the suggestion to chop it finely, which took a lot of time but afforded a much nicer texture. While the ingredients were again simple, this was another surprisingly tasty dish. Perhaps this was thanks to the high-quality lamb I bought!

A huge thanks to Kristen, who came early to roll out and stuff them!

Boortsog | Fried cookies | Recipe

This isn’t the first dessert I’ve had with animal fat — lard is a traditional component of pie crust, after all — but it’s certainly the first with lamb fat. I trimmed it from the meat from the other dishes, slowly rendered it in simmering water, and then used it as the medium for frying up lozenges of sweet dough. As an accompaniment we had jam and clotted cream, which went surprisingly well with the musty-sweet lamb-cookies. (I tried making a form of cheese, but I failed to get the milk to curd properly. Oh well.)

Meal 103: Malaysia

It turns out there's a subtle but important distinction between "Malaysian" and "Malay." The latter refers to an ethnic group and their language; the former is the name of a country composed of many ethnicities of whom the Malay are but the largest. There are large populations of both Chinese and South Asian origin, as well as indigenous groups. And naturally, all of them, plus the English and Dutch colonizers, have sprinkled their spices and poured their sauces into an extremely tasty, and surprisingly deep, melting pot. Indeed, the hardest part of this meal was choosing just a few dishes from the pantheon of dishes to represent the country.

This meal was very popular, so we tried out a two-table arrangement for the first time. We were fortunate to have two Malaysians in our midst: Robert, a forester from Borneo learning from his counterparts in Oregon, and Christina, the mom of our dear friend Laura, who was there with her husband Craig. Also present: Will, Caitlin, Laura, Jill and her husband, our realtors Scott and John, Dede and Chris, and Robyn, Miles, and Aliza.

Teh tarik | Black tea with condensed milk

Brew some black tea (the cheap crumbly kind, not the fancy leafy type; normal stuff in a teabag is fine), mix it with a lot of condensed milk, and pour it in a thin stream back and forth between heat-resistent pitchers — after all, "tarik" means "pull," which is what you're doing. The milky-sweet tea will cool off to drinking temperature as you pour it back and forth, and get all wonderfully frothy. Yum.

Nasi lemak | Coconut rice with garnishes | Recipe

This dish is hugely popular in several countries in the area, and Malaysia claims it as a national dish. It can be eaten anytime, hot or room temperature, and usually for breakfast. The name means "fat rice," referring to the rich coconut milk in which the rice is cooked, but this dish is much more than that. While there are many variations, we made the classic: a spicy sambal with tiny anchovies, and toppings of plain fried anchovies, peanuts, and cucumber to accompany. 

It made for a great appetizer, an introduction to the rich coconut and spicy sambal flavors we'd encounter throughout the meal. The crispy garnishes were fun nibbles between more substantial bites while listening to a room of sixteen people introduce themselves.

Christine’s curries

Christine made two curries: one in the style of the South Asian population, the other more of a Nyonya (Chinese) variety. She can't find the recipes. Oh well, they were tasty!

Sarawak laksa | Seafood and chicken soup | Recipe

Laksa is a hugely popular dish in Malaysia and Singapore from Peranakan cuisine, the food of the descendants of Chinese migrants. While there are dozens of varieties, based around either coconut milk or a sour broth or both, what they all have in common is being a complex, usually spicy noodle soup.

The version I cooked is from Sarawak, the most westerly state on Malaysian Borneo. Peninsular Malaysia, the part between Thailand and Singapore, gets most of the attention and has most of the population. But the majority of the country's land mass lies across the South China Sea in East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. The rich red color comes from both chilies and that near-ubiquitous shrimp paste block known as belacan, and it's a hybrid laksa in two ways: it's got both coconut and sour elements, and it features both seafood and meat.

Most Malaysians would start a laksa from a store-bought sambal paste, but given my habit I made it all from scratch. Yet despite the dozen-plus ingredients in the sambal and all herbs and meats and whatnot, I found the flavors of the soup to be fairly flat. Not bad, but just a disappointment. Was it me, or the recipe? I don't know, but I won't be making it exactly this way again.

Char kway teow | Seafood and sausage noodle stir fry

I can’t decide whether this dish is more fun to make or to eat. It’s a whole lot of work to do it from scratch, to make the sambal, prepare all the various seafood, and get all the ingredients strategically positioned. But it’s that last few minutes of a fast-moving sequence that makes this one of the most entertaining dishes I’ve ever made: start with lard, stir fry garlic and sausage, add seafood and just barely cook, throw in noodles and sauce, push the stuff to the side, add more lard, crack in eggs, roughly scramble them into the noodles, throw in that sambal you worked to hard on, and finish with bean sprouts. All that in the span of just a few minutes! It’s intense and rewarding and smells amazing.

Oh, and it tastes great too. I’m writing this as I return from two weeks in Southeast Asia, where I tried three different attempts at this dish, in Singapore and Indonesia. I’m not sure whether Malaysians just have a better style or if this recipe in particular is fantastic, but I missed the char on the noodles, the richness of the spicy-fishy sambal, the sweetness of the Chinese sausage. Maybe the difference comes down to the lard, which those halal eateries didn’t use? Dunno, but I have some sambal left over and I’m gonna make this again soon.

Agar agar gula melaka | Palm sugar and coconut jelly

You’d think I’d have learned from the Borneo starch disaster that tapioca is not an appropriate substitute for palm sago, but no. My attempt at making a boiled dessert requiring the latter turned out to be a gloppy, tasteless mess, and was useless except for fueling my backyard compost. Thankfully, I have absorbed another lesson, which is to make dessert first, especially if it needs time to chill, so I had time to change course, and desperately searched for more Malaysian desserts.

I hit upon the Southeast Asian answer to Jell-O, and by a stroke of luck I had all the ingredients. Coconut milk was no problem as I’d bought a huge can, and I happened to have palm sugar left over from a previous meal. The agar agar, like gelatin but derived from seaweed, came from a molecular gastronomy kit Laura gave me two birthdays ago. Ten minutes later and this sweet and creamy dessert was sitting in the fridge, on its way to Jiggletown.

It was a hit! In fact, it probably went over better than my original choice would have. Being fairly intense with all that sugar and richness, a small square was enough for most, a godsend after such a big meal. Except for Aliza, who couldn’t get enough of it, and after eating several portions took the leftovers home.

Meal 100: Luxembourg

Food from this little Grand Duchy bordering Belgium, France, and Germany is for sure Germanic, with pork and potatoes, but also with a surprisingly strong showing from fresh beans. It’s also one of the most northerly wine-growing areas in Europe — just about all of which is white — and we Noshers bring our A-game when wine is culturally appropriate. Or preserved meats.


For a relatively simple meal from a little country, Luxembourg turned out to be a big occasion! It was our first Nosh in Brooklyn since moving nine months ago, and a nice round Meal 100 to boot. Michael and China were super-generous in hosting us in (and renting a second table for!) their ample Park Slope apartment, so we had a grand crowd of 16 for really fun evening with friends old and new. And I really enjoyed heading back up to Astoria to do the shopping.

Among the attendees were our friends Jessica, Miriam, Lisa, Kirsty, Anna, Eli, and Sarah-Doe!

Wäin | Wine

The wines of Luxembourg are similar varieties to those grown in the adjacent German Mosel and French Alsace regions: Müller-Thurgau and Auxerrois (very similar to Chardonnay) top the list, along with pinot gris and riesling. Alas, we couldn’t find any wines from the Grand Duchy, so we substituted with said neighbors. Generously.

Bouneschlupp | Green bean soup | Recipe

If schlupp isn’t an onomatopoeia for the slurping of soup, I’d be shocked!

Don’t be fooled by the simple recipe and lack of a stock, or dismayed at how long the green beans are simmered. Instead, focus on how you start by sautéing bacon in butter as an indication of this being a recipe 100% devoted to flavor.This is one rich, delightful soup, where every ingredient’s flavors shine through. Accordingly, make sure you’ve got what it calls for, particularly with smoked bacon and dried savory. Maybe you could make a good soup with unsmoked bacon or some other choice of herbs, but I doubt it’d have the particular richness of flavor we enjoyed.

Judd mat Gaardebounen | Smoked pork collar with fava beans and potatoes | Recipe

While this is given as one recipe, it’s really three dishes, all held together by a common ingredient: salty, smoky, meaty stock.

It starts with a smoked pork collar/neck, soaked for a few hours and then gently simmered with a generous assortment of the sorts of vegetables that make for a rich broth. (You could perhaps substitute another body part, but it’s gotta be smoked pork.)

That’s all it takes to make the pork; the rest is just taking that broth and using it to make the other parts really yummy. Fava (aka broad) beans trade one enrobing for another: peel-blanch-peel those notoriously well-protected beans, then smother them in a velouté made of roux, white wine, and some of that pork broth.

And the potatoes are par-boiled, skillet-fried until getting crisp, and then doused with a healthy dose of more broth which they happily absorb. (I recommend making quite a bit more potatoes than the recipe calls for, because in the worst case you end up with leftover salty-pork-broth-laden potatoes. And by worst case I think I mean best case.)

Yum! Pork so tender that it succumbs to a plastic knife, potatoes at just the right texture to be speared with a plastic fork (you’re getting the idea of what we ate with!) without falling apart, and creamy-salty sauce balanced by fresh-firm favas. Luxembourg, your national dish may be oddly specific, but you figured out a darn good thing.

Quetschentaart | Plum tart | Recipe

A quetsch is a damson plum, a tart variety best cooked into jam or pie. It’s also only available in the fall, and not exactly the sort of thing that’s popular enough to be shipped fresh from the Southern Hemisphere, so I had to get creative. One market I stopped into had both regular ripe plums (thanks, Chile!) as well as the sort of sour plums used to make those weird and wonderful Japanese preserves (who knows where they came from), so I got some of both in a vague hope that the combination would resemble a quetsch.

I’m not sure if I was successful in attempting the original with that combination, but it was tasty! China played the role of pastry chef, working together a really nice and solid crust. I think the egg in there helped. It’s an extremely simple recipe, but with a little whipped cream I think it turned out just fine. If I ever see damson plums at the market, I’m now intrigued enough to try making something with them.

Big thanks again to Michael and China for being so generous in so many ways for this special occasion, our 100th Nosh and return to New York! This feast couldn’t have happened without you.