January 06, 2011

Finnish Food: Salmon Soup and Other Staples

I am often asked what Finnish food is like. Traditionally, Finnish food was very seasonal; even when I was small there were no Finnish tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. in winter, but nowadays the greenhouses provide these vegetables all year around. In winter, the primary purpose for food was to provide energy in the harsh climate, and many traditional recipes are simple dishes consisting of meat and potato.

I realised that living in Australia has changed the way I think about food. In Australia all fruit and vegetables are sold seasonally and I have learned to appreciate and value this. I was surprised to find exotic fruit sold in Finland in the midst of winter (all imported of course), and although I understand the need for imported goods, I think seasonal eating could be embraced more like back in the old days. Fortunately, local food movement is growing in popularity, and Finns are rediscovering the ingredients naturally grown in Finland.

Here are a few staples you might find in Finnish kitchens. The salmon soup has always been a staple in my family, whereas pyttipannu has been made less often (mum couldn't even remember the last time she had had pyttipannu!). There are many others, of course, but these dishes are what we enjoyed whilst in Finland.

Finnish Salmon Soup

800ml water
1/2 tsp whole allspice
5-6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
1 onion, finely chopped
1 parsnip, chopped
piece of celeriac, finely chopped
400g salmon fillet, boned, cut into chunks
200ml cream
pinch of sea salt

Bring the water to boil and add the allspice. Add the potatoes, onion, parsnip and celeriac and cook until almost tender. Add the salmon pieces, cream and salt and let simmer until the fish has cooked through, about 5 minutes. Serve with Finnish rye or flat bread.

Merimiespata (Sailor's Stew) is made out of beef, potatoes, onion and carrots that are cooked tender in stock and seasoned simply with salt and black pepper.

Pyttipannu is made out of cooked potato, onion and Finnish sausage (lenkkimakkara), seasoned with salt and pepper and fried until golden. This dish is served with a fried egg.