International Cooking: Food from Finland

Finland is located in Northern Europe, and it happens to be where my favorite band, Nightwish, is from!

Finland was first inhabited around 9000 BC, after the last ice age. It became part of Sweden in the late 13th century after the Northern Crusades. Then, in 1809, it became part of the Russian Empire as a result of the Finnish War. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Finland declared independence.

Even in 1907, Finland was a progressive country. It was the first European state to grant universal suffrage—the right for everyone to vote—and the first country in the world to give all adult citizens the right to run for public office. Today, Finland is one of the top countries when it comes to education, economic competitiveness, civil liberties, quality of life, and human development. It also sounds like a beautiful country, with much of its land covered in forests, and many lakes, rivers, and ponds.

What Do People Eat in Finland?

Traditional Finnish dishes often include meat—usually pork, beef, or reindeer. One of the more popular dishes is made with sautéed reindeer meat, which isn’t something I can get here. I was told I could use moose instead but I can’t get that either—maybe if I lived in a different state. These are fairly common in Finland.

Various kinds of fish are popular too, and they are enjoyed in many ways, such as smoked or pickled. Crayfish are common, as they can be found in many lakes and streams in Finland.

In some parts of the country, vegetables and mushrooms are more prominent than meat. Someone on Reddit said that foraging is a big part of traditional Finnish cuisine, particularly when it comes to mushrooms and berries. Bilberries, lingonberries, cloudberries, and sea buckthorn are all found in Finland and show up in many dishes.

Grains such as rye, barley, and oats are common, much more so than wheat.

Turnips used to be used a lot in traditional cooking, but they were largely replaced by potatoes after they were introduced in the 18th century. I can see why; potatoes are infinitely better than turnips!

What I Made

Karjalanpiirakka with Munavoi (Rice Porridge-Filled Pastries with Egg Butter)

Karjalanpiirakka with Munavoi (Rice Porridge-Filled Pastries with Egg Butter)

Karjalanpiirakka are also known as Karelian pies or pastries. They are named after a region called Karelia, which is divided between Russia and Finland. They are essentially just a simple rice porridge in a rye crust, and they are usually served with munavoi, which is butter mixed with hard-boiled egg and salt. I thought this sounded like a lot of carbs and I worried they might be kind of bland. But I was happily wrong.

To make these, I first made the porridge by cooking arborio rice (the kind used for risotto) in milk. When that was done, I made the rye dough, which consisted of both rye and wheat flour, salt, water, and a little oil. I rolled the dough into thin ovals and then added some of the rice porridge. Then I pulled up the sides of the dough, pinching as I went to keep it together. I noticed that some images show a lot of the filling, like mine, but others had the filling almost completely enclosed. I’m not sure if one way is more traditional, or if it’s just personal preference.

Then the pies go into a really hot oven – the recipe said 570°F but my oven doesn’t even go that high. I decided to bake at 475 instead, and I think this worked out fine. Once they came out of the oven, I brushed them with melted butter.

While the pies were baking, I made the munavoi. It really is as simple as boiling some eggs, mashing them with softened butter, and seasoning to taste with salt. I ate the pies topped with the munavoi and they turned out to be super delicious.

If you’d like to make these, the recipe I used is from Ruoka on Valmis. Just be careful when cooking the rice; you don’t really need the milk to be boiling the whole time. As soon as mine came to a boil I reduce to a simmer and just let it cook, covered, until the rice was nearly done.

Ruisleipä (Sourdough Rye Bread)

Ruisleipä (Sourdough Rye Bread)

Rye bread seems to be popular in Scandinavia and the surrounding area. Finland has their own version, made from a rye sourdough starter, rye flour, water, and salt. It can come in various shapes, but the one that caught my eye was the one I ended up making, a circle with a hole in the middle. The hole looked a lot nicer before I transferred the bread to the baking sheet, but at least this didn’t affect the taste!

To make this, I first fed my regular sourdough starter with rye flour. When it was ready, I mixed it with water and rye flour and let it sit for a day. Then I added salt and more rye flour until I had a dough that I could shape. I let that sit for a few hours, before shaping and baking. I actually ended up with a cut little roll too, from the dough I cut from the middle.

I loosely followed a recipe from Arctic Cloudberry. This bread was really good; I ate some with the soups I made later in the week but it was also good with bread and honey, or with scrambled eggs for breakfast. It also kept really well for nearly a week, unlike regular homemade white bread that’s already getting stale the day after baking.

Lohikeitto (Creamy Salmon Soup)

Lohikeitto (Creamy Salmon Soup)

This is a simple soup, containing onion, carrot, leek, potato, and salmon. The broth is flavored with white pepper, allspice, and bay leaves, and some cream is added towards the end of cooking. To finish, I topped with some fresh dill.

I’m not the biggest fan of salmon, but I eat it because it’s healthy and because it’s one of the few healthy things my picky husband enjoys. I really liked it in this soup. I’m sure I’ll make this again, since it was so easy and the ingredients are simple.

To make this, I used a recipe from Her Finland.

Hernekeitto (Pea Soup)

Hernekeitto (Pea Soup)

This soup is usually followed by a large, oven-baked pancake. Together, these dishes are a common Thursday meal in Finland. This tradition stems from the time when Christianity arrived in the region. Friday was a fasting day, so this was a meal intended to tide people over until they could eat again.

I intended to make the pancake as well, but couldn’t quite fit it in. Instead, I served this soup with some of my ruisleipä.

The soup itself is simple to make. I think the recipe intended for me to use whole dried peas, but I had split peas instead so they didn’t take as long to cook. This caused me to adjust the recipe a little. I started by sauteeing some carrot and onion, then added water and the split peas. They only took around 25 minutes to cook. Then I added marjoram, Dijon mustard, and chopped ham, and let it cook for another 10 minutes or so.

I don’t always love peas, so I was a little unsure about this. And, let’s face it, this isn’t the nicest-looking dish! But it was really, really good. I could taste the mustard just enough, and I think that’s what took this dish from being just alright, to being delicious. I’d definitely make this again, and maybe next time I’ll make the pancake for dessert!

This recipe came from Arctic Cloudberry.

Karjalanpaisti (Beef and Pork Stew)

Karjalanpaisti (Beef and Pork Stew)

It turns out Finland has a lot of simple yet delicious soups and stews. This one is also known as Karelian stew, because, like the karjalanpiirakka, it is from Karelia. It’s made from beef, pork, white pepper, allspice, onion, carrot, bay leaves, and water (though I added some beef Better Than Bouillion to make stock instead).

This was another really good dish. It’s often served with mashed potatoes, so that’s what I did. It is often also served with lingonberries and pickled cucumbers. Lingonberries aren’t easy to get here (not for any reasonable price) and I’m not a big pickle fan so I left those out.

This was another delicious meal, which I would make again. I used a recipe from Martat, which someone linked to me in the Finnish subreddit. It’s in Finnish, but it translates easily enough with Google. The only thing I did differently was to use some ground white pepper instead of whole peppercorns.

Korvapuusti (Cinnamon Rolls with Cardamom)

Korvapuusti (Cinnamon Rolls with Cardamom)

Finnish cinnamon rolls are pretty similar to regular—let’s say ‘American’—cinnamon rolls, with a few differences. There is cardamom in the dough, and instead of any kind of frosting, pearl sugar is often sprinkled on top before baking. The shape is also slightly different. When cutting the rolls, you cut into triangles instead. Then you place them with the larger side facing down, and push the smaller side in so that the sides of the roll push out slightly. After baking it turns out like the picture, although mine were a little messy. Some of the cinnamon butter kind of melted out, and a lot of my rolls were a bit lopsided after rising in the oven. However, that didn’t matter because they were really good.

To make these, I followed a recipe from Scandinavian Cuisine. The directions mention putting egg in the dough, but the ingredients list only includes egg to brush on top before baking. The recipe does also say that the egg can be omitted, so that’s what I did, not knowing how many eggs I was even supposed to include. I do think I could have baked these a little less; I went for 12 minutes, which was the lower amount in the recipe, but I think maybe 11 would have been better. Still, these were delicious and I would make them again!

Final Thoughts

Everything this week was really good! My favorite dish though was the karjalanpiirakka with munavoi, especially because I found it so surprising that such simple ingredients could make something so delicious.

Next week, I will be cooking food from France.

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