Redefining comfort food, celebrating hygge

New book by Scandinavian food writer Trine Hahnemann illustrates modern way of eating

Book cover of "Scandinavian Comfort Food: Embracing the Art of Hygge" by Trine Hahnemann

Daytona Strong
Taste of Norway Editor

This time of the year I crave coziness. I want to sit by the fireplace, a cup of something warm to drink nearby, and read a captivating novel or perhaps a cookbook filled with mouthwatering images, until the night has settled deeply in and I will my body to bed. In the months so characterized by their darkness and their chill, the Scandinavian idea of hygge is particularly appealing. Danish food writer Trine Hahnemann has recently published a cookbook that’s as much a guide to this style of coziness as it is a book of recipes.

Scandinavian Comfort Food: Embracing the Art of Hygge (Quadrille Publishing, October 2016) is a beauty of a book, a hardcover packed with elegantly styled photographs of the food Hahnemann likes to eat. In writing this book, she hoped to redefine “comfort food,” a term that often brings to mind heavy dishes and rich sauces that land in the stomach like a rock and make you want to sleep.

“For me, comfort food is a lot of things that sustains you and makes you feel good in a different way,” Hahnemann told me during the Seattle leg of her book tour this month. “I also try to make comfort food soup and salad, so also trying to broaden it out a little, what is this thing. I’m not sure I agree totally that it always has to be this heavy, heavy meal.”
Hahnemann’s approach to eating, which is focused on delicious food that makes you feel good, pairs well with the idea of hygge, which can be translated very roughly to coziness but has much more to do with an overall sense of wellbeing and often—though not always—community.

“I think hygge’s all about slowing down. Hygge is about the little breaks and moments where you kind of, you know, breath out. It’s all the little pauses during the day where you just sit down and feel yourself.”

Trine Hahnemann holding a bundle of rhubard stalks.

Photo: Columbus Leth
Trine Hahnemann. All recipes in this article are her work, reprinted with permission from Quadrille Publishing.

Hahnemann begins the book by sharing recipes for what she eats during the day, such as rye and lemon porridge and a pork sandwich with red cabbage and horseradish. She soon moves onto her family’s meals, a chapter that includes roast pork with potatoes and apple relish, yellow pea stew with salted pork belly and pickled beetroot, and pan-fried herrings with new potatoes and parsley sauce.

Hahnemann—who calls this a personal book—has written an entire chapter called “My Love of Vegetables.” A root vegetable stew packed with beet, celeriac, and carrots gets an unexpected dash of curry powder and lime. Vibrant beetroot patties are gorgeous with a garnish of horseradish cream. Cabbage—that staple of Scandinavian kitchens—is featured in multiple recipes. A warm butternut squash with almonds and a scattering of fresh herbs is almost stunning enough to eat off the page.

While there’s a mix of old and new in these pages, the food in this book might not look entirely like the Scandinavian cooking that many from immigrant families in the U.S. think of. Rather, Hahnemann says her book reflects the way people in the Nordic countries eat today. The chapter on salads is one of the most striking, with a rainbow of vegetables, grains, and herbs showing off their colorful and textural splendor.

Of course, there are also sweets and breads, with recipes for rye bread, caraway-studded crispbread, rice pudding, and an almond fruit cake with candied lemon and orange peel.

Interspersed throughout the recipes are snippets that illustrate the way hygge plays out throughout the year, from Easter hygge (lamb, potato salad, and lemon mousse, anyone?) to a brief chapter on long summer nights and a scattering of Christmas recipes both traditional and new.

With Americans catching onto the Scandinavian idea of hygge lately, Hahnemann’s book comes at a good time. After all, she says that nothing is more hyggelig than sharing a meal.

Creamy Barley with Courgette and Mushroom
Grains cooked this way are often compared to a risotto, but there is a difference in how much starch rice releases compared to barley, and so the finished texture is not the same.

In Scandinavia, this creamy dish is a lot like the different porridges we eat. Porridge has been everyday food for centuries, and when I was growing up we had it for dinner once a week; often Monday would be porridge day in many households. It has become fashionable again, and in Copenhagen we even have a porridge restaurant called GR.D where they serve a lot of savory dishes for dinner.

Photo courtesy of Quadrille Publishing
This creamy barley dish with mushrooms and courgette, or zucchini, showcases the healthy nature of today’s Nordic cooking.

1 courgette (zucchini)
2 tbsps. extra virgin olive oil
200g (7 oz) brown mushrooms
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp. thyme leaves, chopped
250g (1 1/3 cups) barley
700ml (scant 3 cups) water
50g (3 1/2 tbsps.) butter
50g (1 3/4 oz) Parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
chopped curly parsley, to serve

Cut the courgette (zucchini) into 5-mm (¼-in.) dice. Heat the oil in a large, deep-sided frying pan, add the courgette dice, and sauté until starting to brown. Clean the mushrooms and cut them into quarters. Add the mushrooms, shallot, garlic, and thyme and sauté for 5 minutes, then add the barley and stir well. Let it cook for a few minutes, then add the water with salt and pepper to taste. Let it simmer, covered, for 20–25 minutes over a low heat, stirring and checking now and then that the water has not all evaporated, adding a little more if necessary.

When the barley is cooked, add the butter and Parmesan, check the seasoning, and stir well. Serve right away, topped with extra grated Parmesan and some chopped parsley, with a salad on the side.

Serves 4.

Meatloaf with Lingon Sylt and Small Baked Potatoes
Traditionally, meat loaf or meatballs were inexpensive food in Scandinavia. In old cookbooks there are recommendations for going to the butcher and asking for well-aged meat and then mincing it by hand, which indicates to me that those meatballs were way more fancy than we think of them today. Meat was not for everyday consumption, so in many ways this is proper old-school cooking; meat should be treasured and not taken for granted, not even minced meat. Lingon sylt is a Scandinavian tradition that we eat with both meat and fish. In Sweden people eat lingon sylt as often as other nations eat ketchup. As an alternative, you can eat red currant jam, but it’s not quite the same!

Photo courtesy of Quadrille Publishing
Incorporating perhaps the most iconic trio of Nordic ingredients, this meatloaf with lingonberries and baked potatoes is sure to please.

for the meatloaf:
200g (7 oz) brown mushrooms
500g (1 lb 2 oz) minced (ground) beef
2 eggs
1 onion, chopped
2 tbsps. thyme leaves, chopped
150 ml (1/2 cup) whole milk
50g (1 cup) breadcrumbs
2 tsps. coarse sea salt
100g (3 1/2 oz) sliced bacon
freshly ground black pepper

for the potatoes:
800g (1 lb 14 oz) small potatoes
1 lemon
3 tbsps. extra virgin olive oil
2 rosemary sprigs
2 garlic cloves, halved
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lingon Sylt (see Scandinavian Comfort Food page 187), to serve

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF / gas mark 4).

Rinse the potatoes and keep the skin on. Place them in an ovenproof dish. Slice the lemon and add to the dish with the oil, rosemary sprigs, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes.

Chop the mushrooms and mix with the minced (ground) beef, eggs, onion, thyme, and milk. Now mix in the breadcrumbs, salt, and some pepper. Line a roasting tin with baking parchment and form the mixture into 2 loaves.

Place them about 5cm (2 in.) apart on the tin, cover with slices of bacon, sprinkle with pepper, and bake in the oven for 30–35 minutes. Serve the meatloaf in slices, with the potatoes and some lingon sylt.

I recommend serving this with the Danish Raw Salad (Råkost) on page 160.

Serves 4-6.

Hot Chocolate and Sweet Buns
This is the quintessential hygge moment. Go for a long brisk walk in the woods in the autumn, with the wind in the trees and in your face, then return home to a warm house and enjoy home-baked buns and hot chocolate.

Photo courtesy of Quadrille Publishing
It doesn’t get much more cozy than cocoa and buns on a cold winter day.

for the buns:
50g (1 3/4 oz) fresh yeast
400 ml (1 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsps.) lukewarm whole milk
100g (7 tbsps.) soft butter
1 egg, lightly beaten, plus an extra beaten egg for brushing
600g (4 1/2 cups) strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tbsp. caster (granulated) sugar
10g (1/3 oz) sea salt
2 tsps. ground cardamom
100g (3 1/2 oz) raisins
100g (3 1/2 oz) dried cranberries
100g (3 1/2 oz) hazelnuts, medium chopped

for the hot chocolate:
350g (3/4 lb.) good-quality dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa solids), broken into pieces
2 liters (8 1/2) cups) whole milk
1–2 tbsps. caster (granulated) sugar, to taste
200 ml (3/4 cup) double (heavy) cream, whipped, to serve

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 Dec. 30, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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