Vikings Don’t Eat Tofu: Study Abroad Recipes from Denmark
Last semester, I studied abroad in Copenhagen. One of the things I was most nervous about before my semester in Denmark was the food. I had decided to live with a host family, and that meant that I would have to eat whatever weird things they decided to serve me. My research on Danish cuisine had implanted the frightening idea that I would be eating pickled herring three times a day.
It turns out that I didn’t eat pickled herring once the entire time I was abroad. Although it is definitely a traditional Danish food, my host family only ate it occasionally for lunch and didn’t push me to try it.
I ended up loving Danish food. I still miss eating open-faced sandwiches on dark rye bread, pickled beets, stewed red cabbage, and fried pork with apples. You can’t find Danish rye bread in the U.S., which, my host dad would point out, is so much better than the gross Wonderbread we eat here.
Danish food is very similar to Eastern European food in that it mostly consists of meat and potatoes. My host family did not eat traditional Danish food every night, which was fortunate from a cholesterol standpoint. Nevertheless, I was eating more meat than I ever had before, especially pork. Danes love adding bacon to things. Vegetarians certainly have it rough in Denmark—I don’t think I saw tofu the entire time I was there, and you can forget about seitan or tempeh. Vikings don’t eat tofu; they roast whole pigs on spits.
I adapted well to this meat-centered Viking diet. One of my favorite Danish dishes was Danish meatballs; not to be confused with Swedish meatballs, which are obviously different. Actually it’s best to avoid comparing anything Danish with something Swedish, or even mentioning Swedish things or Sweden. This is especially true if you are in the presence of a Dane, unless you say, “Denmark is way better than Sweden.”
These thoroughly Danish meatballs, which are served with cabbage-cream sauce and boiled potatoes, were one of the first meals I had in Denmark. Though it looked and sounded entirely unappealing to me, I loved it.
My host parents appreciated my love for their national cuisine, and supported my passion for Danish food by buying me a Danish cookbook for my birthday. I’ve been missing my Scandinavian staples since I got back to the States, so I decided to put my birthday present to good use and make my friends a Danish feast.
For the main course I made, of course, Danish meatballs with cream sauce and potatoes. The meatballs were not as good as my host mom’s, but they still hit the spot (the one that clogs your arteries). For dessert, I made vanilla-almond rice pudding with cherry sauce, a Danish dessert traditionally served on Christmas. It was a delicious, Danish meal that gave us all food comas.
Here’s how you can recreate this Danish smorgasbord:
Danish meatballs (serves 4), from Dining with the Danes, by Lynn Andersen.
1 lb. ground pork
5 tablespoons flour
1 medium grated or finely chopped onion
1 cup milk or chicken/vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Butter for frying – around 4 tablespoons
Combine the ground meat with the flour and egg, and mix in the grated onion. Add the liquid a little at a time, mixing well. Add salt and pepper. Let the mixture rest for half an hour to see if more liquid should be added.
Melt the butter in a frying pan until golden. It is important that the pan is very hot before the meatballs are put in or they will stick to the pan. Dip a soup spoon in the fat, and afterwards dip the spoon into the mixture, forming a “round” meatball.
Drop the meatballs into the fat. Scoop a little of the fat over each meatball. Reduce the heat and fry the meatballs six minutes, then turn them over. Fry them six minutes on the other side.
Serve with cabbage cream-sauce and boiled potatoes.
Creamed White Cabbage (serves 4)
1 lb. Cabbage, outer leaves removed and finely chopped
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups milk
Salt and pepper
Paprika to taste
Boil the cabbage in salted water until tender. Remove from the heat and drain.
Make a white sauce of melted butter and flour, and enough milk to make a smooth, thin sauce. Add the cooked cabbage and season with salt and pepper.
Rice Pudding with Hot Cherry Sauce (serves 4)
3 cups milk
3 oz. white, short or medium grain rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 oz. blanched, coarsely chopped almonds
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, whipped
1 cup sugar
Bring the milk to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the rice gradually, stirring constantly. Cook the mixture for 50 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent mixture from sticking. Remove the pot from heat and stir in the salt.
When the mixture is cold, stir in the vanilla extract and chopped almonds. Fold in the whipped cream. Refrigerate before serving. Serve with hot cherry sauce.
1 lb. canned pitted cherries in their syrup
1 – 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
Put the cherries and their syrup into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Dissolve the cornstarch in a little water. Pour into the boiling hot liquid, stirring constantly. Serve immediately.