NorVegan book reimagines classic recipes

Sunny Gandara publishes e-cookbook of her favorite Norwegian foods made vegan

Daytona Strong
Taste of Norway Editor

Sunny Gandara

Photo: Andrea Gomez / courtesy of Sunny Gandara
Sunny Gandara visits a farmer’s market.

Some years ago I became acquainted with Sunny Gandara, a fellow food writer living on the opposite side of the country. I had a Scandinavian food blog called Outside Oslo and discovered that she was also writing one called Arctic Grub. Our paths continued to cross when we both became food writers for this publication.

I’ve always appreciated the cultural and historical context that Sunny brings to her food writing, and since she became vegan a few years ago I’ve enjoyed watching the way she transforms traditional Norwegian dishes into plant-based creations in the most enticing ways. Sunny recently published an e-book that collects more than 60 Norwegian recipes made vegan. While I don’t follow a vegan or plant-based diet, Sunny’s recipes always look and sound fantastic; I bought the book right away and knew I wanted to share news of it with readers of The Norwegian American. Sunny was delighted to talk about the book with us.

Daytona Strong: How did you become a food writer, and what was it like when you decided to go vegan?
Sunny Gandara: I’ve always loved writing, ever since I was a little girl. I used to ace my Norwegian classes and looked forward to writing short or long stories (still in Norwegian), as opposed to most of my fellow students. Even though I went to business school and worked in marketing for a decade, I guess the desire to write stuck with me, and I decided to enroll in culinary school, with the ultimate goal of becoming a food writer. I wanted to learn how to cook professionally so I could more vividly write about the process of and science behind cooking, as well as get access to resources and connections in the professional chef’s world.

All that was valuable and interesting, but what ultimately connected me with my purpose was when I started looking for Norwegian recipes online to recreate at home. I was at the stage in my life—after nearly two decades living away from Norway—where I was feeling homesick and wanted to cook the food I grew up with. What I discovered was a lot of “how” to cook articles, but not “why.” Meaning, I was curious about the stories behind why certain dishes were invented and how they came to be a part of our cuisine. This then turned into the creation of my blog, Arctic Grub, where I aim to always share a piece of history and culture from Norway, not just a recipe.

I have always identified myself as a huge animal lover; growing up in Norway, I had goats, horses, ducks, cats, and hamsters and enjoyed being in the company of these furry friends. I slowly began to discover how horribly farm animals are treated in the meat and dairy industry, and that cows, pigs, and chickens were no different from the pets I had as a child. They all have the ability to feel pain, sadness, happiness, and love, just like we do. We are just conditioned to think about them and treat them differently. A friend and longtime vegan kept sending me videos showing me how these animals, who were raised as food, were being mistreated, and although I chose to just turn the other way for many years, finally one day I couldn’t look myself in the mirror and enjoy eating them anymore. I was nervous announcing my decision to my readers, but to my pleasant surprise, everyone was so incredibly supportive and they have stuck by my side and continue to do so to this day. For that I’m forever grateful.

DS: Which recipes were hardest to convert?
SG: The savory recipes are definitely harder to convert. Baking is easy, because eggs are really useless other than just acting as binders, and there are so many wonderful dairy alternatives out there that behave and taste the same way. But re-creating cured meats and certain fish dishes have proved tricky, although nothing is impossible! The most exciting dish I recreated was smoked salmon, where I use ribbons of carrots and marinate it in seaweed, recreating the fishy flavor of salmon. I am passionate about recreating seafood dishes, particularly because our oceans are horribly polluted and overfished and we desperately need the wildlife that is in there to be left alone. There is nothing healthy about eating fish anymore, unfortunately, and when we can make dishes that taste good and create the same joy—why not cook with a plant-based alternative?

DS: The recipes certainly look appetizing, even for someone who is not vegan. What do you hope readers will get out of your book, no matter how they eat?
SG: I created this book for everyone, not just vegans. I want people to try my recipes and feel nostalgic and be able to recreate the childhood dishes they have fond memories of. For non-Scandinavians, I want people to get a sense of our cuisine and flavor profiles and to wake up to the culinary riches we have in the north. Perhaps you have visited Norway before and had a dish you want to experience again. There is so much history, passion, and rich culture behind the way we eat, and I wanted to represent a wide variety of recipes to showcase this. I want people to realize that food is food—it doesn’t matter what ingredient you use. The only thing that limits you is your imagination, and your idea of what food is. My goal is to demystify vegan food and to take away a lot of the stigma around it that it’s restrictive, bland, boring, and weird. It’s anything but—and you can veganize any cuisine in the world, including Norwegian food!

DS: For those new to vegan cooking, what are some of the main techniques and substitutions that readers will find in the book?
SG: I always say that it’s not really the fish or meat you enjoy per se, it’s the spices, condiments, and flavoring of the dishes. For instance, when I create my potato salad—it’s not the mayo with eggs you remember, but the tanginess of the lemon juice and pickles, the crunch of the celery and scallions, and of course the dill! Same with our traditional Christmas meal that is typically meat heavy; everyone raves about the mashed rutabaga, the tyttebær jelly, and the sauerkraut… you never really hear that many passionate descriptions about the mutton ribs or pork belly. So recreating the flavor profiles is super important to having the vegan version bring out the familiar experience of eating a specific dish. I use lentils, mushrooms, and nuts to recreate meat, and chickpeas and even carrots to mimic fish. It might sound weird, but I promise it works!

DS: Why did you choose to publish an e-book over a traditional book, and do you expect to ever offer a printed version?
SG: I wanted people to get a taste of what I’m about and also to provide a collection of my favorite recipes from my blog, which I’ve worked so hard on for so many years. I am working on a printed cookbook this year, but as you know, it takes a lot longer to publish than an e-book. If you enjoy this e-vbook, I suppose you can look forward to my printed book coming in the next year or so!

DS: What else would you like readers to know about you or your book?
SG: Don’t be afraid to try new things! Just because it’s unknown doesn’t mean it won’t be a great experience. By being open minded and giving things a go, life becomes so much richer and more exciting. I was a meat, dairy, fish, and egg eater for 40 years, and as a professional chef I’m also extremely discerning and picky about food. Food has to taste great and look good for me to be impressed. The texture has to be right, and every flavor needs to be in balance. I don’t put out a recipe just because it’s vegan. It has to be something I’m proud of. That is what I feel about my book; it presents some of my best recipes, childhood memories, and experiences as a Norwegian, a cook, a writer, and an expat. I hope the book brings a smile to your face, like it has for me!

NorVegan is available at, and includes several exclusive recipes that you won’t find on Arctic Grub.

Lentil Lapskaus
I remember getting into a heated argument online about lapskaus and how it’s made; that is how passionate people are about this dish and how many versions exist around the country. Some use light gravy while others swear to dark. My mom’s recipe used dark gravy, which is what I’ve recreated. Think of lapskaus a bit like arguing with a bunch of Italian grandmothers about their marinara or bolognese sauce; everyone will insist that the one they make is the best and the correct one. I’ve added lentils to this vegan version, as they’re a great substitute for meat and have a hearty, earthy taste I love in stews like this. Let the discussion about lapskaus continue!

Sunny Gandara: Lentil Lapkaus

Photo: Sunny Gandara
Norwegians have a lot of opinions about lapskaus, a traditional beef stew, but Sunny hopes you’ll reserve judgment on her lentil-based version until you try it.

2 tbsps. butter
½ large sweet onion, sliced
2 tbsps. flour
3 cups vegetable stock, heated
4 Yukon Gold potatoes, diced into 2-in. cubes
2 large carrots
2 large parsnips
1 cup brown lentils, picked over
2 cups surkål (sauerkraut)
1 ½ cups frozen peas
handful chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano)

In a large soup pot, add 2 tbsps. of butter and onions and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes until the onions begin to soften. Whisk in flour until combined, and gradually add in vegetable stock. Whisk until it starts to thicken.

Add in the vegetables, lentils, sauerkraut, and herbs and cook for 20 minutes until lentils and vegetables are tender. Add in the peas at the very end, heat through, and season with salt and pepper.

Smoked Carrot “Lox”
What’s a Norwegian without his or her smoked salmon, right? This carrot version will amaze you… The liquid smoke mimics the smoke flavor, and marinating the carrot ribbons gets them to a consistency that is really successful as well.

Sunny Gandara: Smoked Carrot "Lox"

Photo: Sunny Gandara
Seaweed lends its ocean flavor to strips of carrot to create a bagel-worthy “lox.”

3 big carrots, peeled into wide ribbons
1 nori sheet, crumbled
1 tsp. liquid smoke
3 tbsps. soy sauce
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsps. chopped fresh dill

In a small bowl, combine the liquid smoke, soy sauce, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh dill and set aside.

Using a vegetable peeler or a mandoline set on thin setting, slice the carrots into large ribbons. The carrots should be thin but not paper thin.

In a medium sized, oven-proof dish (I used a Pyrex dish), place the sliced carrots and sprinkle the nori sheet crumbles over. Add the liquid mixture and combine. Cover the dish with a lid or foil. Let sit for about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and bake carrots for about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit to cool with lid on. When it’s cool, place in fridge and chill for at least 2 hours.

Serve on bagels with vegan cream cheese, homemade bread with scrambled tofu, or chickpea “eggs” with red onion, cucumbers, capers, and lots of fresh dill!

Daytona Strong is The Norwegian American’s Taste of Norway Editor. She writes about her family’s Norwegian heritage through the lens of food at her Scandinavian food blog, Find her on Facebook (, Twitter (@daytonastrong), Pinterest (@daytonastrong), and Instagram (@daytonastrong).

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 23, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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