Cooking with an Accent

Chef Frida Johansson - SWEDEN

By Christophe Avril

March 25th, marks the beginning of spring and Elsa is turning 13. She lives in the village of Barsviken, off the gulf of Borthnia. This special day, not only for the reason that she is going to be a teenager, is also Våffeldagen, Waffle Day. To celebrate these two joyous events, a big party is being hosted. All day, there will be a lot of culinary action in the kitchen to prepare enough waffles to satisfy the many guests. Her grandmother always makes them in a square-shaped, the way it was done many years ago; before the 19th century, they were orignially cooked between two rectangular plates over an open fire. Her mother prefers to use a modern, round, cake machine that cuts the treat into five delightful hearts. Two kinds of those delicatessens will be prepared: the Äggvåfflor (made with egg) and the Frasvåfflor (crispy). They will be served with Lingonberry jam, a variety of fresh fruits, ice cream, and Chantilly. Since the party will take place for several hours, they will also serve some salted waffles with fresh petite shrimp from the Baltic Sea sometimes including a bit of savory cheese. This festive occasion would not be complete without the Jordgubbstårta, the traditional birthday cake. It is a sweet dessert nicely decorated and made of a base of sugar cake, filled with strawberries mixed with two types of cream, heavy and almond. This is a celebration that she will never forget.

To the west, the Scandinavian mountain chain, the Skanderna, serves as a border with Norway. In the east, facing Finland is the Gulf of Bothnia and the Baltic Sea. Sweden has also maritime borders with Denmark, Germany, Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The fishing industry is, of course, extremely important and vital to the economy. The most popular commercial marine fish species are the following: cod, herring, sprat, and flounder. Thus, by being so close to the sea, fish and seafood are an enormous part of the national cuisine. One is particularly popular, the herring. The Surströmming, as it is named in its original language, is a fermented fish. It is usually served with flatbread, the tunnbröd, with tuber, and finely diced onion. There is also the famous Skagenröra, prawns with mayonnaise, sour cream, and fresh dill, served on toast and topped with caviar. The crayfish party, the kräftskiva, takes place in August. Fresh water crayfish cooked in broth with dill, accompanied by Swedish schnapps and beer is the culinary highlight of the event.

There are a lot of special days during the year and among them there is a favorite: Fettisdagen, better known in English as Fat Tuesday. It is an old tradition, and in the early 1900's, it involved dressing in extraordinary costumes and was popularly known as, "Fettisdagsgubbar," which can be translated into "Fat Tuesday old man." This even was characterized by people perusing through the streets asking for food or snacks, not unlike trick-or-treating on Halloween. On this particular holiday, the Semla Bun, sweet bread filled with a generous heaping of whipped cream, almond paste, and a lot of sugar, can be found everywhere. This pastry is not very good for a diet, but it is extremely tasty and everybody loves it. Similarly, October 4th, Kanelbullens, or Cinnamon Bun Day, is not quite as ancient, and was established in 1999 by the Home Baking Council. Everywhere in the world one can find these sweet rolls. Some will come with dried raisins, others with cream or jam, but they always have a cinnamon accent.

Gustav II Adolf den Store (the great) was the Swedish King in the 17th century, from the age of 19-years-old until his death at 37. Considered as one of the greatest military commanders of all time, he is also known for starting Sweden's postal service and creating its universities. Killed the 6th of November in 1632, during the battle of Lützen, in Germany, the King is widely celebrated every year on the commemoration of his death. Culinary treats such as a creamy sponge cake decorated with marzipan or chocolate silhouettes of King Gustav II Adolf are eaten on this occasion.

And of course, on Christmas Eve, all the regional dishes are present. If one travels to the northern part of the country, they will be served reindeer. It is cooked for 4 to 5 hours and then marinated until completely cooled. Then, the meat is very thinly sliced and usually served with a side of gratin, fried root vegetable, stirred lingonberries, and pickled mushrooms. Now, in the coastal area, fish will be the main ingredient. Many times, a platter, or as it is called, a smorgasbord will be prepared. This is what one will find: Schnapps such as Aquavit or Vodka, herring and beet salad, pickled herring, gravlax, mustard-dill Sauce, Jansson's Temptation (a sort of gratin with anchovy filet), Kottbullar med Potatismos (Swedish Meatballs with a purée), Julskinka (Christmas Ham), butter saffron cake, Glogg (Christmas punch) and delicious ginger cookies.

Since the winter can be quite cold, a variety of soups are part of the daily menus. The classic ones include salmon with cream that contains potatoes and onion flavored with dill and parsley; Mutton Stew, a hearty mélange seasoned with root vegetables and sauerkraut, and slightly spiced with ginger and pepper; the Nässelsoppa Orkdal is a preparation of lamb and rice enhanced with vegetables; and the Meat Stew also made with various vegetables and an assortment of meats. Additionally, there is the Yellow Pea Soup (Ärtsoppa). This is an authentic Nordic-style recipe with just water, salt, onions and a bit of herbs; Pork or lamb can be added to it. Unique in its serving temperature, The Chilled Beet, Orange and Dill Hash is eaten cold. Precisely, two of those meals that can only be found in this country are the Nyponsoppa and the Blåbärssoppa. Nyponsoppa can be translated as Rosehip Soup. In the past, this mixture was very common, but now it is considered a delicacy, prepared with dried rose hips, sugar, potato flour and Madeira wine. Blåbärssoppa is a blueberry mixture. Surprisingly not prepared with blueberries, but rather with Bilberries. These berries grow in the north of Europe. Other ingredients include sugar, lemon, cinnamon, cornstarch, and water. The concoction is served to energize.

Receiving the Bocuse d'or for an accomplished culinarian is like attaining a gold medal at the Olympic Games for an athlete or winning the Super Bowl. World-renowned Swedish Chef Mathias Dahlgren, received this universally acclaimed trophy; and as a famous master cook he promotes the New Nordic Cuisine in his country and around the world. In Washington, D.C.'s preeminent House of Sweden's kitchen, you will find the very distinguished executive Chef Johansson who might be one day competing for this distinction. She started her career by studying in Göteborg, at the Hotel and Restaurant School. This young culinary artist traveled to Antwerp, Belgium, working in two famous restaurants, the "Kommilfo" and the "Bernardin" as a trainee; subsequently accepting a managerial position overseeing the cold buffet at the "La Collana Azzura" in Roma, Italia. Back home in Sweden, Miss Johansson was the head chef in the kitchen of an exclusive hotel in Idre, a luxurious ski resort in the west of the country. From there, a new international opportunity availed itself in Austria, as the master of the kitchen at the "Villa Crazy Daisy." This was certainly to accumulate additional experience and a bit of savoir-faire to entertain future sophisticated and discerning palates. Returning to her native land, she was employed by the "Van Der Nootska Palatset" to prepare banquets and other events. Ever adding to her achievements, Johansson found herself traveling to New Zealand to become the Larder & Pastry Chef, as well as the second in command at a fine dining restaurant, the Mudbrick's private room, focusing on this new country of adoption cooking and French inspired recipes. Thereafter she accepted the position of Head Chef on the Ferry Stena Line Scandinavia. Continuing on the course of this extraordinary career, she executed her now acquired remarkably proficient and polished culinary skills and talents at the "Restaurant Valand" and the "Park Avenue Cafe" in Gothenburg and, since 2010, has served as the highly-esteemed Executive Chef for the Swedish Ambassador. This accomplished young lady prepared a very nice three-course lunch for Diplomatic Connections. First, as a starter, a Löjrom (vendace Roe) with a Västerbotten cheese waffle, red onion, sour cream, and followed by poached salmon with Skagen (shrimp salad), new potato and pickled cucumber. Finally, the delicious Rhubarb Crumble with vanilla sauce. Frida is absolutely meticulous and very careful with how the plates are presented as she maintains an exceedingly high standard setting a precedence difficult to compete amongst when it comes to culinary creations.

Smaklig måltid!


Västerbotten cheese and graham flour waffle with Löjrom

Poached salmon with Skagen

Rhubarb Crumble with vanilla sauce

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