Finding good Scandinavian fare in this city has nearly become impossible. Not so long ago you could count on Scandia for an opulent Danish Sunday brunch. Konditori in Beverly Hills served marvelous eggy Swedish pancakes, and Roda Rummet on La Cienega offered a delicious selection of open-faced sandwiches. It's hard to believe that, although Los Angeles' Danish population is the largest in the country and Swedes even outnumber Danes here, the lone Southern California outpost of fine Scandinavian cooking these days is Gustaf Anders in Santa Ana.
To combat my occasional cravings for excellent pickled herring and pungent Norwegian gjetost cheese, I often put together a Scandinavian meal myself from Olson's on Pico Boulevard, a few blocks east of Fairfax. This plain Scandinavian deli is the only place I know in Los Angeles (although there are other Scandinavian shops) where I can buy homemade components for an authentic Swedish smorgasbord buffet or for Danish open-faced sandwiches known as smorrebrod .
Olson's proprietors, Helene and Bertil Ohlsson (not the same Olson who founded the shop in 1948) have been baking their own Danish-style liver pate and pickling herring from family recipes since they took over the deli in 1957. Their freezer is well stocked with more homemade specialties including tiny Swedish meatballs, medisterpolse and other Scandinavian sausage. At Christmastime, homesick Scandinavians place their orders for julskinka-- honey cured Swedish-style hams, custom-made locally for the Ohlssons' store.
After only one whiff of the bracing vinegary aromas that drift from behind the deli cases I'm reminded of trips to Sweden, where extravagant hotel smorgasbords hold, among other things, up to 20 kinds of herring, each with a different taste. I also recall bustling lunchtimes in Copenhagen's ubiquitous smorrebrod cafes with their multitude of beautifully arranged open-faced sandwiches.
You can assemble such meals from Olson's collection of cured and pickled fish, meats, cheeses and Scandinavian groceries as easily as you would fashion an assortment of antipasti from an Italian delicatessen. Many of these foods are ready to put on the table.
SMORGASBORD SHOPPING LIST
Smorgasbord means "bread and butter table"--a wild oversimplification of what actually appears. The spread may include not only gravlax , salads and cold cuts but also a few hot dishes, such as those from the recipes given below. An abbreviated smorgasbord called SOS (standing for smor, ost and sill : butter, cheese and herring) is often listed on Swedish menus under appetizers. When it includes several kinds of herring, SOS makes an excellent first course or light lunch.
Here are a few more ideas for smorgasbord:
Pickled herrings: Olson's carries about eight styles of herrings, including matjes fillets packaged in three-pound tins or in small, two-fillet cans. These skinless fillets, cured in a spiced sugar-vinegar brine, are a basic ingredient in Scandinavian cooking. They are often cut into strips on the diagonal and served on a block of ice along with aquavit to drink, but they may be served mixed with sour cream and onions or surrounded with mounds of chopped hard-cooked egg, sliced marinated cucumbers, pickled beets and chopped parsley, or included in cooked dishes--baked with potatoes and cream, for instance. You can simply accompany the fillets with chopped onion and sliced boiled potatoes (hot or cold) sprinkled with fresh snipped dill.
Olson's house - pickled herring: Pieces of matjes fillet in a sweet-and-sour vinegar brine.
Skansen herring: Another version of sweet-and-sour picked herring, from a Swedish company in Maine.
Sauced herrings: These chunks of cured herring in mustard, tomato, dill or wine sauce are imported from Sweden or Denmark.
Icelandic herrings: Home cooks who want to make their own pickled herrings start with these salt-brined whole fish.
Herring salad: Olson's house salad is a mix of matjes fillet, chopped apples, pickled beets and macaroni in a mayonnaise dressing.
Swedish anchovies: The official name for these anchovies is sprats; they're a tiny member of the herring family. Unlike the salty Portuguese version so familiar in Caesar salad, Swedish anchovies are cured in a sweet brine. They're delicious with cubed boiled potatoes mixed with minced red onion and sour cream as a salad, or used as a garnish for deviled eggs. Like matjes fillets, these anchovies are often baked with potatoes in cream, as in the Jansson's Temptation dish (see below).
Pickled beets: Imported from Sweden, these are often eaten as a salad or used to garnish other foods. You make one popular smorgasbord dish, called fagelbo or "bird's nest," by mixing one-half cup each of beets, minced onions and minced parsley. Divide the mixture among four plates, make a well in the center and slip a raw egg yolk into each. Divide two ounces of Swedish anchovies among the plates arranging them outside the yolk. Then ring the mounds with capers. (Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found uncooked eggs to be a potential carrier of food-borne illness and recommends that they be avoided.)
Swedish meatballs: Olson's freezes beef and pork meatballs individually and also sells the same meat mixture in small loaf pans. You need only saute the meatballs. Or bake the loaf and serve it either hot or cold with lingonberries (see below). The bulk meat mixture may also be used to stuff cabbage leaves or to make sauteed meat patties.
Olson's homemade sausages: These offer an easy way to fill out the hot-dish side of a smorgasbord table. Serve them with boiled, buttered and parsleyed new potatoes or home-fries accompanied with the stewed red cabbage that you can purchase ready-made in Olson's grocery section.
Medisterpolse : A typical Danish pork sausage made in long, continuous one-pound links about the same diameter as an Italian sausage. Simmer the sausage eight to 10 minutes, drain, then brown in a skillet.
Swedish potato sausage: This is made from raw grated potato, pork and beef, and should be simmered 30 minutes.
Flask-korv: A Swedish pork-and-beef sausage tied into links that should also be simmered 30 minutes. The casing is usually removed before it is served.
Pressed cod roe: This uncured roe comes canned in a block. You saute slices of the roe in butter to eat hot with boiled potatoes or with potato pancakes, or use the slices for open-faced sandwiches.
Baked brown beans: In December, for the Christmas holidays, Olson's makes up traditional Scandinavian brown beans baked with molasses and brown sugar. Usually these go along with Olson's Swedish-style hams on the Yule buffet table.
Limpa bread: Olson's gets biweekly deliveries of this classic Swedish rye from a bakery in Solvang. It's a light, slightly sweet bread with a soft crumb gently flavored with molasses, fennel and anise. The same bakery also delivers coffeecake-like cardamom bread.
Knackebrod: Most of Olson's Scandinavian cracker breads will be familiar to supermarket shoppers but the large knackebrod , shaped into pizza-like disks, isn't too common. The hole in its center is a remnant from the days when Scandinavians stored their dried breads on poles hung from the ceiling.
More smorgasbord dishes: Almost all the items listed below as smorrebrod ingredients may be part of a smorgasbord .
SMORREBROD SHOPPING LIST
The Danish smorrebrod means "buttered bread," but anyone who's sampled these open-faced sandwich extravaganzas (eaten with a knife and fork) knows they're a whole lot more. In Denmark's specialty restaurants you are handed a smorrebrodseddel (literally, "buttered bread slip") with a long list of paalaeg , or toppings. You mark your choices and at the end of the meal the waiter tallies up the bill. Paalaeg may be as simple as a slice of tomato and cheese or as opulent as caviar-topped lobster. The bread is always slathered with sweet Danish butter to keep it from getting soggy.
The choice of bread depends on the paalaeg : Shrimp, langoustines and lobster go best with a firm white bread, while the various pickled herrings and liver pate are best on squares of thick crisp rye or the kind of rough-hewn, thinly sliced pumpernickel found in Olson's cooler case. Many people like to add a butter lettuce leaf between the bread and topping. For easy home entertaining, set out an array of paalaeg and a variety of breads and allow guests to construct their own sandwiches.
Danish pumpernickel: This square, thinly sliced coarse bread made from chopped rye grains is delivered from a Solvang bakery. Like the classic base for most smorrebrod , it's slightly thicker and firmer than the supermarket variety. Look for it in the cooler case in the gift and grocery area.
Scandinavian cheeses are often bland and characterless, and I'm happy to report Olson's stocks the more flavorful varieties. These include:
V asterbotten: A Swedish cheese with a texture like Swiss cheese, scattered with a few tiny holes. Its fairly strong aromatic flavor is full of buttery undertones.
Svecia: Also Swedish, with a smoother texture than vasterbotten and usually a milder taste. It has a nutty flavor that can be quite pronounced when the cheese is well aged.
Ambrosia: A Swedish cheese similar to Danish Havarti (below), it comes in a small wheel and, as the name suggests, is aromatic. Its light, sharp flavors combined with slightly fermented undertones are all subtle but the cheese is far from bland.
Havarti: Though flavorful, this is the mildest of the Danish cheeses. It is a medium-firm slicing cheese and also comes in a high-fat version (creamy Havarti) and a version flavored with caraway seeds.
Esrom: This Danish cheese, named after its town of origin, is a strong, slightly fermented slicing cheese with small scattered holes. Esrom is related both in flavor and texture to the strong, slightly fermented slicing cheese with small scattered holes.
Ambassador: Also known as Danish Port-Salut.
Tybo: A Danish cows' milk slicing cheese with a mild nutty flavor when young, it is slightly more intense when aged, as Olson's sells it.
Nokkelost: A pale-yellow Norwegian cheese, semi-firm and flavored with cloves.
Gjetost and Ektegjetost: Norwegian goat's milk whey cheeses. Ektegjetost, made from pure goat's milk, has the most pungent flavor, while the more usual gjetost is a milder mixture of goat's and cow's milk. For both cheeses the whey is cooked until the milk sugar caramelizes, giving the cheese a sweet, caramel-like flavor.
Lappi: A low-fat slicing cheese from Finland, it is often called Finnish Swiss cheese. It has a mellow flavor with a slight fermented edge.
Danish liver pate: This spreadable, baked liver-and-onion pate tastes a little like chopped liver from a Jewish deli. Serve it on pumpernickel garnished with pickle or tomato slices or a slice of crisp bacon.
German salami: Use this smoked salami thinly sliced on pumpernickel with any of the cheeses or with sliced boiled potato topped with a garnish of raw onion rings.
Smoked eel: Place the eel in rows on buttered white bread or pumpernickel and add scrambled egg or chopped hard-cooked egg between the rows. Look for the eel in Cryovac packages in the deli case.
Smoked sprats: You'll find these sardine-like fish in cans in the grocery area. Layer them with chopped egg salad, potato salad, or slices of egg or potato.
Flaukorve: This pork-and-veal sausage, found in the deli case, has the texture of bologna but its flavor is milder and more complex. Garnish it with tomato slices or combine it with cheese.
Sylta: Olson's makes this Scandinavian-style head cheese only in December. It is spiced differently and much leaner than the German-style head cheese the store stocks year round. Highlight either of these cold cuts with a blend of mustard or horseradish and mayonnaise. Top with a slice of tomato or pickle.
Caviar and fish pate in tubes: In the cooler case you'll find at least half a dozen kinds of fish and fish-roe spreads in tubes that you can squeeze out in swirls and squiggles to garnish egg, tomato or potato slices, or to top cheese or seafood. Look for smoked cod roe, smoked salmon pate, smoked herring pate and the smoked cod roe with salmon, which is especially nice on baby shrimp sandwiches.
Sauces in tubes: Like the pates above, remoulade sauce, horseradish mayonnaise and various kinds of mustard come in tubes. These are a good match for the roast beef that Olson's carries in the deli case, and for cold poached fish, or boiled potato slices topped with ham.
Swedish mustard: A smooth, sweet mustard found in jars in the grocery area.
Crispy fried onion: Imported from Denmark, these golden brown onion shreds traditionally garnish frickadeller, the Danish-style meat patties (you can make a quick version of frickadeller by grilling patties of Olson's bulk meatball mixture). The onions are also a delicious topping for cold or hot beef or pork, or meat loaf.
Danish cucumber pickles: These delicate peeled and sliced cucumbers in their sweet-tart brine are the perfect garnish for open-faced sandwiches.
Herrings: Any of the sauced or marinated herrings discussed in the smorgasbord section may be used on smorrebrod . Typically they are served on plain buttered bread, over a layer of chopped or sliced egg or sliced boiled potato, or over potato salad with a garnish of thinly sliced raw onion.
Anchovies: One of the most popular smorrebrod garnishes, Swedish anchovies (see above) are delicious laid over slices of egg or potato and sprinkled with a few capers. They also show up in Scandinavian beef tartare. To make this sandwich, you pat about 1/2 cup minced raw lean beef over a buttered bread slice, place a raw onion ring in the center and slip a raw egg yolk into it. Garnish the sandwich with anchovies, capers, grated onion and horseradish. (Again, high-risk individuals should not eat raw eggs.)
Lefsa: Found on the deli counter, these ultra-thin triangular Norwegian-style potato crepes can be wrapped around stewed meats or creamed vegetables. They're also eaten buttered with cinnamon and sugar.
Lutefisk: This is a lye-cured cousin of salt cod; Olson's sells it already soaked and ready to cook. The delicate fish must be wrapped in cheesecloth and lowered into boiling water, then simmered 10 to 15 minutes until it flakes. Serve it with boiled new potatoes and mustard sauce (sold here in jars) or a cream sauce.
Lingonberries: These small berries, very much like their cousin the cranberry, come frozen without sugar for use in homemade conserves to accompany pancakes or Swedish meatballs. Olson's also carries lingonberry preserves.
Yellow dried split peas: The traditional Thursday-night meal in Sweden is a thick, yellow split pea soup flavored with salt pork, thyme and marjoram. Olson's stocks bags of the peas. I've given an unusual recipe here using them in pancakes that are a fine addition to the Smorgasbord table.
Fiskeboller: Fish balls and fish puddings are mainstays of the Scandinavian table. Olson's sells them canned, both plain and in sauces such as dill or shrimp.
6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into fine strips
12 Swedish anchovy fillets, drained and cut into pieces
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 cups half and half
Place half of potato strips in buttered baking dish. Cover with layer anchovies and onions. Sprinkle with white pepper and cover with remaining potatoes. Dot with butter.
Bake at 325 degrees 10 minutes. Add 1 cup half and half and bake 10 minutes longer. Add remaining 1 cup half and half. Continue baking about 40 minutes, or until potatoes are tender and top is delicately browned. Makes about 10 smorgasbord servings or 4 to 6 main-course servings.
STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS
1 large head cabbage
1 1/4 pounds bulk Swedish meatball mixture
1 cup water or beef broth
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup butter, cut into small pieces
Boil cabbage in water to cover until leaves are pliable, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and cool. Core cabbage and separate leaves.
Place scant 1/4 cup meat in center of each cabbage leaf. Fold right and left edges of leaf to center and roll up securely. Place cabbage rolls close together in buttered large baking dish. Pour on water or broth, sprinkle with brown sugar and butter.
Bake at 375 degrees until juices of filling run clear when pierced with fork or skewer, about 60 minutes. Makes 5 to 6 servings.
Note: For variety, omit sugar and sprinkle with whole caraway seeds.
PICKLED CUCUMBER SALAD
1/2 cup distilled vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 medium unpeeled cucumbers
Combine vinegar, water, salt, pepper, sugar and dill. Slice cucumbers as thinly as possible. (Cucumbers should be almost transparent.) Place in glass or ceramic bowl. Pour vinegar mixture over. Chill at least 3 hours. Drain before serving. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
SMORGASBORD MUSHROOM SALAD WITH MUSTARD DRESSING
1 pound fresh, small button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons finely minced red sweet pepper
Freshly ground white pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice, about
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Place mushrooms and red pepper in serving bowl and sprinkle with salt, white pepper and vinegar. Marinate 1 hour, then drain.
Mix sour cream, lemon juice, parsley, garlic and mustard in small bowl. Drain mushrooms and pour mustard sauce over them. Blend well and adjust salt and lemon juice to taste. Chill 2 to 4 hours before serving. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
SWEDISH YELLOW SPLIT PEA PANCAKES
1 cup Swedish yellow split peas, rinsed and drained
2 cups water
2 cups finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Yogurt or sour cream
Combine split peas and water in small saucepan. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until peas are tender, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool slightly. Stir in onion, garlic, egg, flour, cumin, salt and pepper.
Heat skillet or griddle over high heat and coat lightly with oil. Drop batter by large spoonfuls onto hot skillet and spread evenly with spoon. Cook until surface bubbles burst (edges will look slightly dry). Turn pancakes and cook until both sides are golden. Garnish with yogurt. Makes about 12 pancakes.