When the idea to write a Nordic cookbook landed on Magnus Nilsson’s desk, he was against it. He says it was offensive that someone would think all of Nordic cuisine could fit, let alone belong, in one book.
“The Nordic is a geographical region, not really a cultural region,” says the author, who’s also head chef at the Michelin-starred Faviken restaurant, 400 miles north of Stockholm. “It’s too big, and too varied.” (It includes Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden and several groups of autonomous islands.)
He eventually came around.
Over 700 pages long, The Nordic Cookbook could have been a series of Nordic cookbooks, and writing it turned into quite a journey for Nilsson. “A lot of the things in the book are dishes that I wasn’t accustomed to before writing the book,” he tells Weekend Edition’s Scott Simon.
In writing the book, Nilsson wanted to readers to understand each Nordic culture through its food. “It was very important to me that it’s not just some recipes put in a nice book. It’s a document of food culture the way it looks today in the Nordic region, but also how it used to look,” he says.
Reindeer blood pancakes reveal, for example, that the Sami people of northern Scandinavia live in a cold, unforgiving landscape. They needed to make use of every part of the animal, including its blood.
On the other side of the region, Denmark has an open-faced sandwich called Smørrebrød. It’s a slice of buttered rye thickly layered with a range of toppings including deli cold cuts, smoked eel, pate, pickled herring, mackerel, cucumber, boiled eggs and rich sauces.
“They really say a lot about Denmark as a country, being the gateway in trade between the Nordics and mainland Europe. It’s also a really rich agricultural region,” Nilsson says.
That cultural and geographical connection finds its way into Nilsson’s own cooking. “It makes sense to choose as much of my produce from the immediate surrounding as possible,” he says. “Growing up in this remote part of Sweden, everything that has shaped food culture in the area is also a big part of the way I run my restaurant.”