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May 23, 2006

Eat Your Heart Out—May 23, 2006

Norwegian food doesn’t really have a good reputation. Your friends probably don’t gush, “Oh, you must try this amazing Norwegian restaurant downtown,” and it is a rare event to read an article in the newspaper about superb pickled herring. Nevertheless, I ate my fill of Norwegian food this past weekend at the festival of Syttende Mai—or May 17—which commemorates the signing of the Norwegian constitution. The town of Stoughton, Wisconsin was having a Syttende Mai celebration, and my friend Chris and I drove up to celebrate all things Norwegian (food included).

In between the Norwegian parade with the famed Norwegian folk dancers, the Norwegian band, and the obligatory Norwegian exchange student riding in a car, we managed to sample a good variety of the culinary options that the Nordic country has to offer. For snacks, we munched on both Norwegian meatballs and lefse, a potato-based flatbread sweetened with sugar and cinnamon and rolled into a crescent-like stick. (Chris ate his fill of fried cheese curds, but I believe these are a specialty of Wisconsin and not of Norway.) We also had brunch at the Sons of Norway restaurant, which offered a buffet of meatballs, potatoes, pickled herring (which, I have to admit, we declined to taste), and a great cucumber salad flecked with dill and onions.

The savory options were all good, but I did begin to understand why there is not as much a buzz surrounding Norwegian food: it is slightly lacking in flavor. However, when the savory was lacking, the sweetness compensated. We ate an almond cake that was moist and chewy and a rice pudding that was creamy, cool, and underscored with hints of almond. Of course, rice pudding is not the most innovative food, as it is found in scores of countries (in Scandinavia alone, rice pudding arises in Sweden as risgrynsgrt; in Denmark as risengrd; and in Norway as riskrem), but this particular rice pudding offered a delightful balance of flavors and textures, and the hints of almond helped to enliven what can often be a bland dessert.

Jan Kristiansen and Todd Tupper of the Sons of Norway–Mandt Lodge offered me their recipe for riskrem, and I’m here to spread their cooking wisdom. So now even if you can’t say you ate at a Norwegian restaurant last night, you can at least say that you ate some tasty Norwegian rice pudding.

Riskrem (Norwegian Rice Pudding)

Serves 50 small portions or 25-30 average sized portions

Ingredients:

3 cups instant rice

1/2 gallon whole milk

1 3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 quart heavy cream

1 cup ground almonds

Directions:

1. Heat the rice and the milk in a large saucepan over low heat for about 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally, until the mixture becomes porridge-like. Add 1 cup of the sugar and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract and stir until smooth. Place in the refrigerator to cool for at least 5 hours (note that overnight is fine).

2. Prepare the almond cream: in a bowl, combine the heavy cream, the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, the ground almonds, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon almond extract until thick and well mixed. Then fold this mixture into the rice mixture and serve cool. If desired, you can top off the pudding with a drop or two of honey, some chopped almonds, or even some red-fruit jam. Or if you are a purist like me, you can eat your riskrem plain and unadulterated.