Meat Soup and Rice Pudding: Icelandic Cooking for Friends

Yesterday, I wrote about Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir’s wonderful English-language Icelandic cookbook, Icelandic Food & Cooking. In that post, I got pretty caught up in her fun historical food facts about Iceland, so I didn’t get to the event that actually inspired the post in the first place, namely the Icelandic dinner I made for our friends Georgia and Lance when they came to visit just after Thanksgiving. Since it was the end of November and the Christmas season was descending on Iceland, I decided to make one traditional dish with some Christmas accoutrements. And I had just found Nanna’s cookbook at the library, so I was in good shape.

(I was just about to take all my finals, so I was dividing my time between flipping through this cookbook and making declension charts. As you can see below, the used pages of declension charts became my bookmarks, which was actually helpful. Every time I turned back to a recipe, I would be reminded of the pattern for masculine singular nouns or something along those lines…)

Declension Bookmark

Declension Bookmark

Although we had gotten some jólabjór to share with our guests, I also went out and got a few cans of Egil’s Appelsín and Malt so that we could mix together the traditional fizzy jólabland. Per the website Jo’s Icelandic Recipes:

“This mix is, as far as I know, purely an Icelandic invention. In the first half of this century not many people could afford to buy ale and fizzy drinks, and they were therefore something to be enjoyed at festive occasions, such as Christmas and birthdays. Mixing the drinks together was probably believed to make it even more enjoyable to drink. The taste is sweet, malty and mellow. This is a comforting drink that always makes me think of Christmas.”

We were a bit skeptical of the orange-and-malt mix, but it is actually rather pleasant (and very sweet, of course). I’m told that most Icelanders have their own preferred appelsín to malt ratio, which makes me think that this drink is sort of the Icelandic Christmas equivalent to an Arnold Palmer.

Nanna notes in her book that “starters were more or less unknown in Iceland until fairly recently. An Icelandic meal had two courses: the main dish and a dessert.” So I decided to keep it simple and stick with the classic meal set-up. For the main, I made kjötsúpa–“for most Icelanders, this is THE Icelandic soup,” Nanna confirms (and which you all may remember from a previous post). Icelandic Meat Soup is very simple and very delicious. There aren’t many ingredients, just lamb, rutabagas, potatoes, carrots, an onion, and if you like (Nanna doesn’t, my landlady does), a handful or so of brown rice or rolled oats. (I skipped the rice/oats this time.) It’s the long simmering that brings all these ingredients together and makes this soup…well, super. It is homey and great for winter–a great recipe to try if you like lamb, too!

Homemade Kjötsúpa

Homemade Kjötsúpa

For dessert, I decided to make ris a l’mande, a rice pudding that is “a popular Christmas dessert all over Scandinavia…and has been served on Christmas Eve in many Icelandic homes for over a century.” (I’ve had this several times at Danish julefrokost parties and always loved it.) This is also a relatively simple dish that really just needs a little time to settle into its flavors, rather than any sort of extensive preparation. I happened to have some real vanilla beans on hand which I had been saving for a special occasion, which gave it a nice kick. And instead of the traditional cherry sauce or the apricot sauce that Nanna recommends, we used rhubarb jam to top it off, which was delightful.

So my first adventure in Icelandic cooking was pain-free and delicious. It has certainly not been my last, but I’ll save my other food recaps for after Christmas.

Enjoy your holiday, everyone!

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