The time of the year has come yet again when Norwegians either flock to their cabins in the mountains or vacation homes by the sea, read crime novels, eat oranges and chocolates called kvikklunsj (think Kit Kat but 10 x better). Many people take an entire week off from work and regular life to celebrate the return of longer days, the disappearance of the snow (yet we’d still like it on the mountains so we can ski), and the sight of the sun again.
When I think of Easter, there really is no specific, traditional meal that I remember growing up other than our big breakfast and brunch spreads known as påskefrokost (Easter Brunch). Typically, this solid national tradition took place on Easter Sunday. Today however, with many Norwegians taking extra time off past the public holidays of skjærtorsdag (Maundy Thursday) and langfredag (Good Friday) it could be any time during the Holy week.
Norwegians are world champions at “kose seg” (the Norwegian term for ‘hygge’), especially at the breakfast table. As the bread and coffee lovers we are, I guess it’s no wonder we seek to extend both the options and the time spent on this meal. Often we invite our friends, neighbors and other family members to this feast, which is enjoyed either inside or outside if the weather permits.
A påskefrokost is a true smorgasbord which can consist of a variety of spreads, such as rolls, breads and knekkebrød (crisp bread), pate, smoked salmon, cheeses, boiled or scrambled eggs, beet and potato salads and a variety of pickled herring jars. Yes, I know – not many vegan options here, but luckily I’m creative and have veganized every single dish I just mentioned except pickled herring… until now.
So how on earth does one substitute herring successfully? As with any dish it’s never as much about the ‘main’ ingredient, as it’s about the assisting flavors and accompanying ingredients. Eggplant when sliced thin and marinated mimics a similar texture to herring, as well as color – and is also neutral enough in flavor to soak in any flavor you may want to add to it.
When thinking of all the pickled herring salads I’ve eaten before going vegan, I always think of three flavors: acid, salt and sweetness. They should be in harmony and there should also be some crunch in the form of onions and pickles. The saltiness comes from the latter, as well as perhaps some capers, the sweetness either from ingredients such as beets and apples or the addition of sugar, and acid from the vinegar and/or citrus juice.
When I worked at Aquavit, the 3-star Scandinavian restaurant in Manhattan (which also happens to be where I met my chef-husband), I used to love their trio of herrings they served: sennepssild (an espresso mustard herring), rømmesild (sour cream herring, also known as ‘Matjes’ in Swedish) and curry herring.
Today what I’ve done is a combo of the sweet style mustard herring I learned at Aquavit and added in a beet element to it because I simply love the color it adds to the dish. I love eating it with freshly baked rundstykker (Norwegian for ‘rolls’, you can see them in the photos), for which I will dish out the recipe in a separate blog post later this week, so stay tuned!
This is a wonderful addition to any brunch or smorgasbord – and I promise your fish loving friends will love it too. In fact, I think it’s a step up, because nobody really love that fishy taste (we’ve just been brainwashed to eat it from childhood). And remember, fish are sentient beings who want to live, just like you and I – so why not leave our already devastated, ravaged oceans alone and pick up an eggplant instead? The fish, your body and the environment will thank you—plus your palate will be just as happy, believe me!
No matter what you decide to eat, I do hope you will try out my recipe for sild (herring)!
Norwegian Beet and “Herring” Salad
About 9 oz (250 grams) beets, roasted, and peeled
About 9 oz (250 grams) eggplant
½ cup (1 dl) fresh orange juice
¼ cup (½ dl) fresh lemon juice
4 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 small red onion
Juice from ½ lime
1 medium green apple (like Granny Smith)
3-4 tbsp chopped cornichons or pickles
½ cup (1 dl) unsweetened non-dairy yogurt
¼ cup (½ dl) vegan cream*
1-2 tbsp Dijon mustard
Juice from ½ lime
Sea or kosher salt, pepper, sugar to taste
2 tbsp capers
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
Slice the onion into thin rings, place in a small bowl with the juice from ½ of your lime, season with kosher or sea salt, stir and let marinate for about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, slice your eggplant into ¼ inch thick (1/2 cm) slices, then into thin strips. In a medium shallow pot, add the fresh orange juice, lemon juice, rice vinegar, whole cloves, and cinnamon sticks and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and add the eggplant and let simmer for about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool in the liquid.
Peel the roasted beets (I usually bake the beets for 1 hour at 400 degrees Fahrenheit /200 degrees Celsius and I wrap them in foil with a little olive oil and kosher salt and maybe a sprig or two of thyme) and dice small. Dice the apple and the cornichons/pickles into the same size and add all three items into a medium or large bowl. Fold in the reserved eggplant (remove the cinnamon stick and cloves).
In a separate bowl whisk together the non-dairy yogurt, non-dairy cream (the easiest way to make your own cream is to add equal parts raw cashews and water into a high-speed blender and puree until creamy), Dijon mustard, the juice from ½ a lemon, salt, pepper and a little sugar to taste.
Add the cream mixture to the beet-apple-eggplant, and carefully mix together. Garnish with pickled red onions, capers, and fresh thyme. Store in an airtight glass container in the fridge, keeps for about 2 weeks.