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Finland – Lakes and Islands  (Finland picture book/saimaa)

My Experiences With Finland’s New Nordic Cuisine:

When I was selected to contribute to the NORTH Festival Food Blogger Outreach campaign by writing about Finland’s cuisine, I asked myself – what do I know about Finland and what would I want to write about? Well, my knowledge about this beautiful Nordic country was superficial, I quickly realized. I knew, right away, though, that I would write about Finland’s food culture, since my point of view in my blog writing centers on understanding the culture and history behind a food group or recipe. I like to tell stories. It can be a story about the origin of a food or the culture of the people who eat this food or about the traditions surrounding a particular meal. So, the story for this post is what I learned about Finland’s Nordic cuisine and how to tranfer what I learned to my kitchen.

Wintertime in Finland

Wintertime in Finland (Flickr photo/visitfinland)

As I began my research, I realized that weather and geography have had a major impact on the Finnish cuisine. Finland is known as the “land of a thousand lakes”, so fish and seafood are an important part of their cuisine. The climate includes a short summer with long days and hot temperatures and a long winter where frost penetrates deep into the ground. Only the hardiest of plants and wild animals survive these conditions, so planning dinner is based on what is available at a particular time of the year.




Nordic Countries

Warm weather foods generally include wild berries, mushrooms, fresh vegetables, game and fish, while winter foods are generally hearty whole grain porridges, potatoes, carrots, swede (also known as a turnip or in America as a rutabaga) and meat casseroles or stews. 

Cheese is usually made in the summer, when the production of milk is plentiful. Also popular at this time of year is a dessert called Juhannusjuusto, which is cooked cheese curds that are served cold and sprinkled with sugar.

In the past, very few spices, other than salt, were utilized and fresh herbs, like dill, were limited to the summer months. Fish and meat, including reindeer, are often cooked on an outdoor grill. Several ways of preparing fish are used, including frying, boiling, drying, salting, fermenting and smoking. Salmon is very popular and is usually served smoked or raw with lemon juice.  It is common to smoke fish for use during the colder months. 



Another popular seafood in Finland, much to my surprise, is crayfish, better known where I live, not far from New Orleans, as crawfish. The highlight of the summer for many Finns is the opening of the crayfish season in late July. Many head to the restaurants for traditional crayfish parties, where they get together to enjoy this treat and toast each other with Aquavit (a liquor made from potato or grain mash, fermented traditionally with caraway seeds and herbs). In keeping with the New Nordic Cuisine initiative, it is becoming popular to use crayfish as an ingredient when creating other entrees. This new focus can be seen in many restaurants, especially in Helsinki, where crayfish is on the menu, but not in its traditional form. 


So how did this New Nordic Cuisine initiative come about? Close to ten years ago, a group of Nordic chefs rededicated themselves to cooking with local, seasonal ingredients. These forward thinking chefs felt that their cuisine should explore the region’s overlooked local products and utilize healthier methods of cooking. This movement has become a widespread maifesto, not just for restaurants, but for home cooks, also.

To understand what this new approach to cooking looked like, I watched a few videos of some of Finland’s well known chefs demonstrating their application of the New Nordic cuisine. For example, Chef Petteri Luoto prepared a Roasted Salmon entree topped with a shrimp sauce for a presentation at the Kennedy Center in February. All the ingredients he used were fresh and readily available, such as salmon, shrimp, dill, lemon and honey mustard and prepared with healthy cooking techniques. You can see the demonstration by clicking on this site:

Pike with Fennel

Pike with Fennel

On his blog, Sasu Laukkonen owner-chef of Chef & Sommelier Restaurant in Helsinki, writes about Finland’s culinary focus, “It made us think about our own backyards.” Laukkonen collects locally grown berries for dessert. He prepares bisque with locally caught crayfish and tops it with local apples. He roasts lamb from the Baltic Sea’s Aland Islands. He uses nontraditional ingredients, such as pike with fennel, beef tartare with parmesan mayonnaise and organic celeriac with hazelnuts and pistachios. “Ten years ago we wouldn’t have dreamt of serving Finnish lamb,” says Laukkonen. “Now that is all we serve, as well as locally grown organic fruits and vegetables. We have started to believe in our own produce.”

As part of developing this post, the NORTH Festival campaign sent me reading material and photos about Finland and two Finnish products: Ruis bread (rye) and Spelt Laku (spelt licorice). The food items were sent so that I could sample these products, write about them and possibly develop a recipe. I immediately thought sandwich, when I saw the bread. I had read that voileipä (sandwiches) are popular in Finland. Usually, a simple preparation with butter, lettuce, smoked salmon, crab or crayfish and served open-faced on hearty rye bread.

The licorice was a surprise. If I were to develop a recipe using these ingredients, how would licorice fit? 

Finnish Rye Bread and Spelt Licorice

Finnish Rye Bread and Spelt Licorice

Finnish Ruis bread is hand made from 100% whole grain and spelt licorice does not cause sugar-like effects in the body.

A look inside the packages.

Now my expertise is in Italian cooking, but I wanted to create a recipe for this post that demonstrated the flavors of Finland for my readers. At first, I wasn’t sure how I could incorporate the licorice, short of just eating it and describing the taste. However, drawing on my knowledge of Italian seasoning, I recalled that anise is an often used spice in Italian cooking. So, why not use the spelt licorice as a flavoring ingredient in the recipe I was going to create.

I decided on using  the following ingredients:

  • Organic pork tenderloin: pork is a popular meat choice in Finland and readily available in the U.S.
  • Reduced fat sour cream, mayonnaise, vinegar and mustard: ingredients often found in Finnish cuisine
  • Butterkäse, a smooth, semi-soft, lower fat cheese (in place of butter)
  • Cucumbers and red onions
  • Ruis rye bread

The healthy cooking techniques I used:

  • Spice rub for the pork
  • Pickling 
  • Oven roasting

The recipe that follows demonstrates the concept behind the New Nordic Cuisine initiative and one that can easily be made by a home cook.

Finnish Open-Faced Sandwich

Serves 2


  • 1 organic pork tenderloin (about 1 lb) trimmed of fat
  • 1/2 of a cucumber, sliced thin
  • 1/4 of a red onion, sliced very thin
  • 8 thin slices Butterkäse cheese
  • 1/2 of a Ruis round rye bread, sliced horizontally (4 slices)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Pickling Marinade:

  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar

Spice Rub:

  • 2 tablespoons grated spelt licorice (about 4 pieces)
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Sour Cream Sauce:

  • 1/2 tablespoon reduced fat mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons reduced fat sour cream
  • 1/2 tablespoon honey mustard
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
  • Pinch of salt


To pickle the cucumbers and onions:

Combine the vinegar, salt and sugar. Add the thinly sliced cucumbers and onions. Mix well. Chill in the refrigerator for a few hours or even overnight.

Pickle thinly sliced cucumbers and red onions.

Pickle thinly sliced cucumbers and red onions.

To make the sour cream sauce:

Combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard, dill and salt in a small dish. Chill in the refrigerator while you cook the pork.

To make the spice rub and pork:

Grated spelt licorice

Grated spelt licorice

Spice rub for the pork.

Spice rub for the pork.

Grate the licorice over a piece of waxed paper and add the remaining spice ingredients. Mix well.

Place the trimmed pork on top of the spice mixture and rub it all over the surface of the pork.

Press rub on pork tenderloin

Press rub on pork tenderloin

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F.

In an ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil and brown the pork on all sides.

Brown pork on all sides in an ovenproof skillet.

Brown pork on all sides in an ovenproof skillet.

Place the skillet in the oven and roast the pork for about 15 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 145 degrees F.

Transfer skillet to the oven.

Transfer skillet to the oven.

Remove the pork to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Then, slice thinly.

Assemble the ingredients for the sandwich and layer them in the following order:

Sandwich ingredinets: pork, cheese, cucumbers/onions, sour cream sauce and rye bread

Sandwich ingredients: cheese, pork, sour cream sauce and cucumbers/onions on rye bread

Place 2 slices of the cheese on top of the bread.

Place 3-4 pork slices on top of the cheese; then 1/4 of the sour cream sauce on top of the pork slices and spread evenly.

Distribute 1/4 of the pickled cucumbers and onions on top of the sauce. Repeat with remaining bread and sandwich ingredients. Serve this sandwich with your favorite fruit.

Finnish style open-faced sandwich

Finnish style open-faced sandwich

My adventure into Finnish Nordic Cuisine was ………delicious! My husband agreed.

Learn more about Nordic cuisine at the NORTH Festival 2013 in New York City. This post is a collaboration between the blogger and NORTH Festival 2013.

NORTH Festival

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