“The Nordic Kitchen: One year of family cooking.” By Claus Meyer. Mitchell Beazley. 256 pages. $29.99.

For all the time I have spent reading cookbooks, I rarely spend more than a few minutes skimming introductions. Usually they’re just not that interesting.

Claus Meyer’s introduction to “The Nordic Kitchen: One year of family cooking” had me hooked from the start.

“I come from the part of the world where ascetic doctors and puritanical priests have led a 300-year-long crusade against sensuality and the pleasure-giving qualities of food,” he writes. “For centuries, the idea of preparing meals for loved ones was considered a sin, in line with theft, wild dancing, incest and masturbation.”

Meyer writes of growing up in a middle-class family in what he calls the “darkest period in Danish food history.” With the first generation of women working outside the home, it was an era of canned meatballs, powdered potatoes, margarine and meat coated in breadcrumbs. After high school, Meyer spent a year in France, falling in love with food and finding his calling: changing the food culture of his country.

He went on to open, with Rene Redzepi, the restaurant Noma in Copenhagen that worked solely with Nordic produce, focusing on restoring the link between cooking and nature in the region. Meyer also collaborated with other leading chefs from the region to work out a culinary manifesto that became “a guiding light to most of us,” he writes.

“The Nordic Kitchen” stems from Meyer’s desire to take the values from the “Nordic Cuisine Manifesto” and use them in home cooking. The result is a cookbook – packed with 350 recipes – that encourages families to eat with the seasons.

Meyer tells readers he doesn’t expect them to cook the food in the book recipe by recipe, but hopes they’ll use it as a source of inspiration as they find seasonally fresh ingredients. The book is divided into sections to reflect the four seasons. A list of cultivated produce and ingredients found in the wild begin each section. Meyer features some of his favorite ingredients, like the small mirabelle plums that are planted in thickets, hedges and cottage gardens in the Nordic region, or the ramsons, similar to ramps, found on the forest floor in early April.

The food in “The Nordic Kitchen” is not fussy, and recipes come with just enough straightforward instruction to guide you through the process. They range from griddled pheasant breast to pan-fried mackerel to elderflower granita.

I turned to the book on a cold, dreary afternoon that felt nothing like spring (OK, I guess it felt like spring in Maine). It seemed appropriate to cook a from the “Fall” section. The Onion Soup with Cheese on Toast was the perfect soup to warm me up without feeling too heavy. The apple cider vinegar brought a welcome brightness to the soup. I couldn’t find the Danish cheese høost or Grana Padano in my small local supermarket, but a quick Internet search suggested Parmigiano Reggiano as a substitute.


Serves about 4

5 large onions

2 garlic cloves

2 teaspoons butter

8 thyme sprigs

Sea salt flakes and freshly ground pepper

11/2 quarts water or light chicken stock

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Peel the onions and garlic cloves. Cut the onions in half and slice them finely.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onions, whole garlic cloves, and thyme sprigs, and saute gently until the onions being to caramelize and take on a little color. Add salt and pepper to taste, and saute further 2 to 3 minutes. Add the water or stock, and let the soup simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.

Season the soup with vinegar and possibly a little more salt and pepper if necessary. Eat the soup piping hot, with warm Cheese on Toast.


8 slices of day-old white bread

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 cup freshly grated hard cheese, such as Danish Høost or Grana Padano

Sea salt flakes and freshly ground pepper

Brush the bread slices with the oil, place them on a broiler rack and toast them under the broiler for about 1 minute each side or until the bread is crisp and golden. Remove the bread slices from the broiler, scatter with grated cheese and put them back under the broiler for a further 30 seconds so that the cheese melts. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately while warm and crisp.

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