Any “diet” that includes strawberries and whipped cream is okay by me – just remember “Lagom är bäst”

By Guest Blogger Liz Layton, GIC

The other day I heard about the northern version of the Mediterranean diet.  It’s called the healthy Nordic diet.  You know, what Scandinavians eat.  Lingonberry jam on saffron buns and lots and lots of herring for breakfast.  I must say, although there are Swedes in my family tree, these things weren’t on our menu — you couldn’t find most of the ingredients in stores here.  This is also true of a widely advertised lean protein staple of the traditional Nordic diet – elk or reindeer.  Even if I wanted to consume Dasher and Dancer on a bun, I’d have to head for the Canadian border to get fresh deer burgers.  A healthy diet needs easy-to-find ingredients that taste good in multiple recipes.  Nutritionists are developing guidelines for the healthy Nordic diet that include: more calories from plant foods and fewer from meat; more foods from the sea and lakes; and more foods from the wild countryside.

Who wants to restock their pantry unless it will really improve health?  In recent years researchers investigated the effects of a healthy Nordic diet on insulin sensitivity, lipid profile, blood pressure and inflammatory markers in 309 people with metabolic syndrome. The healthy Nordic diet included whole-grain products, berries, fruits and vegetables, rapeseed oil, three fish meals per week and low-fat dairy products. An average Nordic diet served as a control diet. Participants who ate the healthy Nordic diet saw improved lipid profiles and relief of low-grade inflammation. 

Rapeseed oil comes from plants that grow in northern climates.  According to growers, rapeseed oil can be used like extra virgin olive oil in cooking and has about half the saturated fat found in olive oil.  Rapeseed oil has the lowest proportion of saturated fats of all vegetable oils and contains essential fatty acids; linoleic acid (Omega 6) and alpha-linolenic acid (Omega 3), vitamin E, and vitamin K.

 One key ingredient not mentioned in the medical literature might be “Lagom är bäst” which is Swedish for “just enough.” Swedes have a saying: “Enough is as good as a feast.”  Keep langom in mind when you get to the dessert recipe!

 So, can the healthy Nordic diet be adapted to New England?  I searched around to find out what a Scandinavian hostess might offer for a summer lunch if she shopped locally, and worked up an appetite.  Recipes follow.  Wait till you tell the kids “hey, it’s Glödstekt forell i folie for dinner!” 

Do you have favorite recipes that can be added to a healthy diet?  If so, send us an email. 

Sotsuppe – Scandinavian fruit soup
Serves 6-8

This is the old-fashioned version of fruit soup, made with dried fruits. It’s traditionally served as a dessert, but also makes an elegant main course on a hot summer day.

1 cup dark raisins
1 (11-ounce) package mixed dried fruit
2 cups chopped dried apricots
1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick
4 cups water
2 tablespoons quick cooking tapioca
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups grape juice
1/3 cup heavy cream [or fat-free half and half]

Combine raisins, dried fruit, and apricots. Grate zest from lemon and juice. Add 1 teaspoon zest and juice to fruits, along with cinnamon stick and water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until fruit is tender, about 20-30 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick. At this point you can puree some of the fruit with an immersion blender. Add tapioca, salt, sugar, and grape fruit and bring back to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes, then cover and chill for 4-6 hours. To serve, drizzle with heavy cream.

 Inlagd gurka – Swedish marinated cucumber salad

Sliced thin and soaked in a sweetened mixture of vinegar and lemon juice, these cucumbers retain a summer crispness and serve as a light, fresh complement to any meal.

1 cucumber
1/4 cup vinegar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. celery seed
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley

Wash and peel cucumber. Cut into paper-thin slices and place into a wide-mouthed jar or other covered container. Add the rest of the ingredients. Cover the jar and shake well until the sugar is dissolved. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving. If you have any left over, marinated cucumbers will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Glödstekt forell i folie – Foil-roasted trout

Traditionally baked on the embers of Midsummer’s Eve bonfires in Sweden, foil-roasted trout or perch is easy and quick to prepare on a less dramatic but equally effective backyard grill.
Serves 4-6

5 – 6 medium trout
canola or olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 bunch fresh dill, roughly chopped
1/4 cup chives, roughly chopped
1/4 cup parsley, roughly chopped

Wash and clean freshly caught trout. Rub outside and inner cavities of each fish with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Rub together softened butter, dill, chives, and parsley. Spread butter mixture on inner cavities of fish, then wrap each one in foil. Place fish close to the coals of a grill or campfire. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, then turn and roast for an additional 8 to 10 minutes. Garnish with dill, if desired, and serve.

Nya potatis, sill och dill – Potato salad with new potatoes, dill & radishes
Serves 4-6

1 pound of new potatoes (about 20 small potatoes, if you use regular size, 5-7 is enough)
1 onion
1/2 English cucumber
2 cups of crème fraîche (or sour cream)
10-15 radishes with salt and optional vinegar
lemon pepper (or 2 tbsps fresh lemon juice and black pepper)
fresh dill

Wash the potatoes well. Boil the potatoes with salt and dill, and let completely cool down.  New potatoes don’t have to be peeled. Cut the new potatoes in half or in four pieces and put in a salad bowl. Slice the radishes to thin and put on a plate, sprinkle with salt and a dash of vinegar and let sit while chopping the onion and cucumber. Chop the onion and English cucumber and add to the salad bowl. Add crème fraîche and radishes, season with lemon pepper and fresh dill.

Swedish summer cake   [cake is not technically part of the healthy Nordic diet, but strawberries are, so enjoy!]

Vanilla custard
2 egg yolks
2 x 15ml tablespoons caster sugar [ok, what’s with the 2×15?  15ml=1 TBSP, so say 2 TBSP and let me know how that works out]
2 teaspoons corn flour or potato flour
250ml full-fat milk [about 1 cup]
½ vanilla pod or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

If using the vanilla pod, put everything in a pot over a low to medium heat, stirring non-stop, until it starts to thicken. Do not let it boil. If using the vanilla extract, put everything in except the extract and proceed as above.  When it starts to thicken – just over 3 minutes at medium heat, but just under 5 if you keep the flame cautiously low – take it off the heat. Remove the vanilla pod, if using.  Transfer to a cold bowl, mix in the vanilla extract, if using, and continue stirring until it is a little cooler, then cover with cling film – touching the surface of the custard – to stop the custard getting a skin when it’s cold. Or wet a piece of baking parchment and place that right on top of the custard.

 The cakeSkipped this recipe because I’d just buy a sponge cake to put the custard in!

 The berries
750g strawberries [a little more than 3 cups]
 2-3 teaspoons caster sugar, depending on sweetness of berries
 500ml double cream* [about 2 cups]
 2 teaspoons vanilla extract*

Put one third of the strawberries to one side. Cut the remaining berries in half. Sprinkle with sugar – how much depends on how tart or sweet the berries – shake and leave until they glisten: 10 minutes will be just fine, though 1 hour would make them juicier and glossier. Whisk the double cream and vanilla extract until it holds its peaked shape when the beaters are lifted out [if you are pressed for time you can use whipped cream in a can.  Just don’t tell Martha.] Fold a third of the whisked cream into the fully cooked vanilla custard you made earlier. Slice the cake horizontally into 3 layers. Put on cake layer on its serving platter or stand, and top with half the vanilla-custard-cream, then arrange half the strawberries on top, concentrating more on the outer edges of the cake than the center. Top with the second layer of sponge and repeat as before with the rest of the custard-cream and cut berries. Now set the third cake layer on top and cover with the waiting whipped cream, arranging the reserved strawberries as desired.

Recipes adapted from Kari Diehl and Linda Larson, Scandinavian Food on; Katja Presnal, Swedishes on; Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen. [Notes in italics are mine.]

Information about rapeseed oil from “The rapeseed revolution: Rapeseed oil is yellow, mellow and surprisingly healthy.”  Here and here 

Healthy aspects of the Nordic diet are related to lower total mortality.
J Nutr. 2011 Apr 1;141(4):639-44. doi: 10.3945/jn.110.131375. Epub 2011 Feb 23.Olsen A, et al, Institute of Cancer Epidemiology, Denmark

 Effects of an isocaloric healthy Nordic diet on insulin sensitivity, lipid profile and inflammation markers in metabolic syndrome – a randomized study (SYSDIET).
J Intern Med. 2013 Feb 7, Uusitupa M, et al; Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition and Kuopio University Hospital, Finland

What is a healthy Nordic diet? Foods and nutrients in the NORDIET study.
Food Nutr Res. 2012, Adamsson V, et al.  Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism, Uppsala University, Sweden

Guidelines for the new Nordic diet.
Public Health Nutr. 2012 Oct, Mithril C, et al. Department of Human Nutrition, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

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