By Jaana Rehnström

At Christmas time, Finnish expats tend to get nostalgic and begin missing their mothers’ (or grandmothers’) cooking. Finnish holiday recipes are easy to come by, but not always the ingredients.

Fortunately, there are people in the New York area who can help. If you would rather avoid the extra hurdle of cooking, contact Tuula Malmi (tuulamalmi@aol.com), who runs a catering business out of her house in the Bronx year-round. She is a master of traditional Finnish cuisine, and can also be hired for upscale events. She used to cook at Estonia House, and her customers included kids from the Finnish School during the years in which they met there.

Northern Rye makes traditional and non-traditional Karelian pies and other goodies, and they now sell them in two stores on Manhattan’s East side and several places in Brooklyn. Check out www.northernrye.com and contact them at ryes@northernrye.com.

Nordic Breads makes the best Finnish sourdough rye bread on this side of the Atlantic. Their products are available at Union Square Greenmarket on Fridays and Saturdays (8 am to 6 pm), at Stuyvesant Town Greenmarket on Sundays (9:30 am to 4 pm), and at New Amsterdam Market on Sundays (11 am to 4 pm). In addition, Nordic Breads is represented at Whole Foods and other markets in Manhattan and Brooklyn. You can also order the bread by mail; just order a package and freeze what you don’t consume immediately. Very healthy and yummy!

 Rice porridge, topped with cinnamon, is a perennial holiday favorite.

Rice porridge, topped with cinnamon, is a perennial holiday favorite.

Here are a few tips for aspiring cooks:

Want to make riisipuuro (traditional rice porridge served around Christmas)? Be sure to use sushi rice (“sticky rice”). Want to make kiisseli (kissel dessert)? Potato flour can be hard to come by, but try Jewish stores, or Sockerbit on Christopher St. between 7th Avenue and Bleecker Street. They also have vanilla sugar (used in many Finnish dessert recipes) and a good selection of candy by Fazer – Finland Center members get 10% discount on that!

Also check out the Norwegian Seamens’ Church at 317 East 52nd Street. (between 1st and 2nd Avenues). They carry cloudberry jam, black currant juice and great Scandinavian cheese….at steep Norwegian prices, however.

Want to make rahkapiirakka (quark pastry)? Schaller and Weber, the wonderful German food store on 2nd avenue just south of 86th Street has quark; also the Russian stores in Brighton Beach carry it. Lingonberry jam can be found at many of the aforementioned stores and of course at IKEA – this Swedish giant also stocks other essential foods such as herring and Kalles kaviar. And for the best Scandinavian coffee: I’m sorry, but you have to order it from Gevalia (I haven’t found a Finnish brand available in the U.S that is equivalent…and it’s quite expensive).

Lastly, for the best gravlax I will share my own recipe, adapted from the New York Times (who probably stole it from some Scandinavian): Start two or three days before the event at which you want to serve it:

  • 2 lbs salmon fillet, cut into two pieces of equal size

  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1.5 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper

  • 1 bunch of dill, chopped

Place one fillet on a large piece of aluminium foil. Mix the spices and  spread over both fillets. Add the dill to one of them. Flip the other slice quickly over the other one (face to face) and wrap the foil around it tightly. Wrap again with saran wrap.

Place the piece in the fridge and (this is important) place a clean brick or another weight on top. Turn the piece every 12 hours. Some juice will seep out so keep it in a Pyrex dish or an equivalent. When ready to serve, discard the dill, cut crosswise in thin slices, and decorate with fresh dill and lemon slices.

Feel free to comment and add your own culinary tips!

Happy holiday munching!

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