As new books pile up on my desk, there are always surprises. Last fall was no exception as seven — yes, seven — cookbooks on Nordic cuisine arrived, rivaling all but the many new Southern cookbooks for Next Big Trend. If there ever was a time to expand your knowledge of Scandinavian fare beyond meatballs and gravlax, this is it.
"The Nordic Cook Book," by Magnus Nilsson (Phaidon, 768 pages, $49.95).
Wow. By weight alone, this volume makes a statement. Nilsson, the head chef of Fäviken Magasinet restaurant in Sweden (included among the best restaurants in the world), turns his attention to a comprehensive look at the foods and food culture of this vast area of Far North country, embracing not only the usual nations (Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland), but also Greenland, Iceland and the Faeroe Islands.
He offers more than 700 recipes that define the many regional cuisines, not all of which can be adapted to Minnesota kitchens (reindeer heart stew and Icelandic rotten shark are two that come to mind). However, his commentary — historical and personal — is worth a read even when the ingredients are obscure.
From instructions on how to clean a baltic herring, to how pizza landed in the Nordic region and how a Faeroe Island whale hunt takes place, this book is much more than a collection of recipes.
Nilsson's skills aren't limited to the kitchen or the keyboard. His photographs fill the book with a visual sense of place that will make some readers (this one included) want to book a flight soon. (Note: Nilsson will be at the American Swedish Institute in June.)
"Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break," by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall (Ten Speed Press, 162 pages, $17.99).
In a word, charming. Fika (pronounced FEE-ka) refers to the Swedish tradition of the same name (used as a noun and a verb — as in "Shall we fika?"), which is the traditional coffee break that always includes baked goods.
The authors include 45 Swedish recipes — from cardamom cake to ginger meringues — and talk about the significance of this pause in the day that we all could use. The book gently reminds readers to slow down and stick with the basics in the kitchen, such as crushing cardamom with a mortar and pestle rather than buying the ground version. Delightful illustrations from Kindvall add to the charm (see kokblog.johannak.com).
"Fire + Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking," by Darra Goldstein (Ten Speed Press, 298 pages, $40).
Add this book to your Nordic collection. Goldstein is a food scholar and, not so incidentally, professor of Russian at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., and founding editor of the journal Gastronomica. She fell in love with the Far North as a college student and has traveled extensively there. She refers to the Nordic palate as one of creativity fostered by austerity (there is snow eight months of the year, after all).
Her book focuses on Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and provides not only recipes, but historical insight and essays about each country, along with beautiful photography. This book is the only one among these new volumes to be written by an American.
The endorsements on the book show her influence: René Redzepi, Nathan Myhrvold, Dan Barber and Ruth Reichl.
"The New Nordic: Recipes From a Scandinavian Kitchen," by Simon Bajada (Hardie Grant Books, 265 pages, $39.99).
Bajada, a Swedish chef and photographer, focuses on recipes that can be prepared in the home kitchen in this lovely book that shines a light on the food of the five countries traditionally lumped together as Scandinavian.
The recipes are presented in categories that reflect the landscape: From the Sea, From the Land, From the Forest, among them. Stunning photographs serve as travelogue and illustrations for the recipes, whether it's potato waffles and gravlax, or herring, potato and lingonberry.
"The ScandiKitchen: Simple, Delicious Dishes for Any Occasion," by Brontë Aurell (Ryland Peters and Small, 176 pages, $21.95).
The author is a Danish restaurateur who, with her Swedish husband, Jonas, runs the ScandiKitchen Cafe in London and sells Scandinavian food via their website, scandikitchen.com.
This is a delightful volume with beautiful photos and doable recipes, including a whole chapter on open-face sandwiches. She reminds the reader that home cooks are not like the Nordic restaurant chefs who get a lot of attention.
"Scandinavians are simple folk. We eat from the land and sea, we work hard, and our home dinner traditions reflect this. We don't 'do' fancy; we do hearty. We do good produce, simply prepared," she writes.
"Scandinavian Baking, Sweet and Savory Cakes and Bakes, for Bright Days and Cozy Nights," by Trine Hahnemann (Quadrille, 288 pages, $35).
Hahnemann offers more than 100 recipes with a Danish emphasis, from crêpe cake with gooseberry jam to rosehip roulade, each with lovely photographs. Any baker will find inspiration from this book. Hahnemann is a Danish chef and author of many cookbooks, including three in English.
"The Scandinavian Kitchen: 100 Essential Nordic Ingredients and 250 Classic Recipes," by Camilla Plum (Kyle Books, 272 pages, $24.95).
This book takes a more encyclopedic approach to the subject, with the author using Nordic ingredients as a way to organize her commentary.
The new edition, a paperback version of an earlier hardcover, reflects the essentials, as one might expect from an organic farmer, which Plum is. Her farm — Fuglebjerggard — is 20 miles north of Copenhagen, from where she writes cookbooks and hosts a TV program.
The featured photography in this book is more perfunctory than that of the other new volumes, but her work serves as a useful reference, with 100 recipes.
Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste