I've always known I was Scandinavian but I knew it in the way most Americans know their own blood - at the peripheral. Fuzzy. But as I'm drawn more and more to the New Nordic style of cooking, I've grown more interested in learning the details of my family's history.
The most fascinating thing is the notation of several members as Lapps, or Laplanders. Today, these are the Sami, Scandinavia's indigenous peoples, of the most northern regions of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia. They're commonly known as the reindeer herders, although a large portion settled down to fish and agriculture. In the 1800s, facing increasing pressure to assimilate or be punished, large amounts of Sami emigrated to the United States, mainly to the midwest - Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota - as my own did. Vague stories and plattar pans were passed down, woman to woman. Whispers of a Native ancestry I always brushed off - but with a kernel of truth behind them, just a different location.
The Sami have their own cuisine, similar to Swedish and Norwegian, focusing on berries, fish, and primarily reindeer. Cloudberries and whitefish, cod and blood sausage. Mountain sorrel. I want to bring this out in my own food, put my own past on a plate.
This is a vegetable dish inspired by the vegetables themselves. Here, we use the grill to transform the shallot from an accompaniment to the star of the show, accented by that clean, floral taste of dill ever present in Scandinavian cooking. This is a Scandinavian dish made in midsummer when the days are long and the sun is ever-present. High and bright, the warmth upon your back. Something they may have had ages ago. Cooking doesn't change much. Century to century and on.
6-8 shallots, peeled and halved
1 head fennel, sliced with core removed
1 head fennel fronds, minced
1 tbsp dill, minced
2 tbsp juniper berries
2 tbsp canola oil
salt to taste
scatter the juniper berries within wood chips and turn grill to medium-high. toss shallots, dill, fennel, and fronds with oil and salt (if using a grill pan, toss juniper in as well and simply remove before serving). place in a foil packet and toss on grill. grill 15-20 minutes, until shallots are soft and fragrant and browning has occurred. remove and sprinkle with additional fronds and dill. serve.