It has taken me a long time to get into the psyche of coping and adapting to the different seasons in Norway, particularly the long winters.
It’s not only my mood that is affected, but the food also ebbs and flows in freshness and availability. Coming from Australia and landing in the northern reaches of Norway years ago was both a cultural shock and a steep learning curve figuring out the local culinary situation. I could no longer rely on my own cooking habits, particularly as there was very little guarantee of fresh ingredients or foods I knew. However, just as the locals have done for years, I had to change my cooking repertoire and cook with the produce and ingredients available at the time.
I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t impressed by lutefisk (alkaline solution for dry cod), gravlaks (cured solution for salmon) or anything resembling sild (pickled solution for herring). But, I did understand the elementary principles and reasons for preserving foods.
I learnt fast that the local cuisine relied on produce and ingredients from the forests, rivers and local farms more than what could be trucked in from the south. It is largely a sustainable existence and worked because everyone had to manage their wants and demands according to the seasons and environment. Just as people hibernate during the winters so it makes sense to bury, dry and pickle food to preserve and possibly add nutritional value until the sun comes back.
Today in Oslo, we can find lots of different produce and ingredients, but from time to time I am reminded of the traditional winters and the lack of fresh and tasty food. When I have to hunt for what I think are common products, I have to ask, how far has Oslo come in its culinary development. Winter hoarding may be essentially a northern thing, but do the traditional habits restrict cooking adventures and eating experiences in Oslo?
I think so, but things are slowly changing. There is still a noticeable impact of the seasons on choices and quality of produce, but compared to previous years, I am seeing a wider selection, better quality fresh foods and an array of ingredients on offer throughout the year. We need to harness these changes and become more curious and adventurous in tasting foods and making meals that inspire and push us out of our ingrained habits, despite the dark days and long winters.
However, now we need to focus on summer! My cooking is not always a success, but I’ll push myself out of my comfort zone because I know I’ll do better next time. It is trial and error, but I’m sharing a tried and trusted recipe that is also well liked by dedicated family members. All ingredients can be found in ordinary supermarkets so give it a go!
Sticky Chilli Chicken & Noodle Salad
What you need:
- 800g skinless chicken thigh fillets (about 8)
- Sesame oil (peanut/vegetable oil are also good)
- 12 Bamboo or metal skewers
- Sweet Chilli Sauce (prefer chilli jam – hoarder’s delight! Recipe to follow)
- Egg noodles or rice noodles
- 1 Cucumber or smaller ones
- 2 Avocados
- 1-2 Limes
- 1 Long red chilli thinly sliced (seeds are good so don’t fuss)
- Coriander cut fresh from the pot
- Handful of unsalted or roasted peanuts
Prepare and cook the chicken: Cut the chicken into quarters and put into a bowl with a sprinkle of oil and salt. Thread onto skewers (3 pieces each skewer works well). Cook on a BBQ, grill or frying pan for 5-6 minutes each side and then brush with chill sauce for another minute each side. Make sure the chicken is cooked through but not overdone.
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- Add water if too strong and adjust ingredients to suit tastes!
Prepare and toss the salad: Boil a pot of water; take off the heat; add the noodles for 2 minutes; stir to separate; drain; rinse with cold water and place in salad bowl. Add shredded or thinly cut cucumber. Chop and add 2 avocados.
Pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss through with peanuts and coriander and serve with the sticky chilly chicken. As spring turns into summer, this dish would be lovely with a sauvignon blanc or as we’re discovering a rounded rose such as Rosado from Finca Manzanos, Spain.