Category: Norwegian

Follow The Man Holding The Fish Sign On A Stick For Lutefisk

Last weekend, on our first cold, snowy night, I attended my first lutefisk dinner. Lutefisk is a Nordic food tradition of preserving cod fish with lye. You know, that stuff used in soap making or added to oven cleaners and drain openers? Yup. That’s the stuff. “This is totally not a metaphor,” I kept saying.

If you google “Lye” you will also find that it brings up articles related to “tissue digestion.” A friend reminded me that lye’s also used to make bagels so I felt a little better. After the fish is treated with lye, the flesh takes on that striking jello-like consistency. After a six-day soak in water, it’s fit for human consumption.

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How To Make Perfectly Imperfect Lefse At Home

I lied.

Earlier, I boasted that my lefse is better than your grandma’s. My first batch may have been better than your grandmother’s, but this batch probably wasn’t. Still, it’s pretty damn good.

Jake and I come from families with Scandinavian heritages. Our grandfathers epitomized the Stoic Norwegian stereotype and our grandparents drank strong black coffee. My grandparents’ shelves were decorated with rosemaling and books about Norwegian trolls. Although my parents didn’t outwardly embrace their Scandinavian heritage, they wore the wool sweaters decorated with reindeer and played the cassette tape “How to Talk Minnesotan” every time guests arrived. I looked forward to holidays where relatives brought pickled herring and rolls of lefse rolled around thick layers of butter and brown sugar. Growing up in Minnesota, encountering these foods at holiday meals or potlucks was the most normal thing in the world.

Homemade lefse is so special because making lefse is hard. It’s not impossibly difficult, per se, but most certainly a labor of love. The process involves boiling potatoes, ricing them twice, stirring in the salt, butter, and cream, and letting the mixture chill overnight. This step is essential. The next day, one must knead flour into the potato mixture and divide the dough into balls and chill them again. The final step is rolling out the fussy dough as paper-thin as possible and quickly cooked the lefse on a griddle. Making lefse is like a walking meditation.

There’s a reason why one branch of my family prepares it once a year. Everyone pitches in at the lefse-making party to roll out the dough and cook the lefse on skillets and electric griddles.

Lefse cravings are easily solved in Minnesota. Simply visit (most) any grocery store and grab a package from the refrigerated aisle. One can even visit a specialty Scandinavian food store like Ingebretsen’s or cafe like The Finnish Bistro for “lefse scramble” and “lefse wraps.” Pre-made lefse usually doesn’t taste like it’s made with cream or butter, but it’ll scratch the itch.

I am by no means a lefse-making expert, but I know how to make lefse that tastes really good. It’s not paper-thin or perfectly round; some pieces more closely resemble flour tortillas than translucent sheets. I don’t own a special lefse griddle, textured rolling pin, or cloth-covered board. But, if you want to make delicious, imperfect lefse at home, stay tuned as I tell you how to improvise with basic kitchen tools. The one tool you must have is a potato ricer.

Homemade Lefse


Five pounds of potatoes. I use russet. Other recipes specify red.
7 tablespoons melted or softened butter. I use salted
1 cup of heavy cream
1 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 1/2-3 cups of unbleached, AP flour
More flour for rolling out the dough.
Serve with: Butter & brown sugar


1. Fill a large pot halfway full of cold water.


2. Wash potatoes. Peel and cut into similarly-sized chunks. If you save some of the peels, you can roast them into a snack. Toss potato pieces into the cold water as you cut, so they don’t oxidate and turn brown.


To roast potato peels, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake at 375 degrees F. until crispy.

3. Place pot on stove top and bring to a boil. Simmer until the potatoes are fork tender or easily smashable with kitchen tongs.

potatoes boilig

4. Drain potatoes. Rice them twice while they are still warm.

5. Stir in the butter, salt, sugar, and cream. Cover and chill overnight.

mashed potatoes

6. The next day, knead flour into the potato mixture. I start with two cups and usually end up kneading in about three. You may need more or less. The lefse will have a more delicate texture if you add less flour. Once the dough is mostly incorporated, divide it into two parts for easier kneading. The dough should feel smooth, slightly elastic, and a little bit sticky but not too wet.

7. Roll the dough into small balls and chill for about an hour. Warm dough is almost impossible to work with. It will rip, tear and stick to the rolling surface.

potato balls

8. Preheat griddle. I use a big electric skillet.

9. Liberally dust your surface and rolling-pin with flour. Gently roll out the ball of dough, making sure to sprinkle more flour underneath and on top as needed so that it doesn’t stick. If you find yourself using a lot of flour, that’s ok. Roll as thin as you can without ripping it. A spatula or dough scraper makes this process easiest. If you find that the particular ball of dough keeps ripping, simply roll it back into a ball, re-flour your surfaces, and try again. 

10. Gently transfer your lefse to the griddle with a spatula, dough scraper or lefse stick immediately after rolling it. If you let the paper-thin dough sit on the counter, it will warm-up and stick.

lefse flip

11. Cook lefse until it light golden brown bubbles form. Flip.

12. Transfer cooked lefse to a plate or clean towel. You can fold them in half or quarters. Cover with another clean towl and allow them to cool completely on the counter before storing.

13. To freeze the lefse, layer unfolded sheets between waxed paper. Place in freezer bags and store. Wrapping the bags in foil can help prevent freezer burn flavor. When you are ready to use the frozen lefse, thaw in fridge.

14. This might be sacrilegious, but I like a little crisp on my lefse. Reheat by briefly cooking them in a skillet. Spread with butter, sprinkle with brown sugar, and roll into logs.


Is lefse one of your family traditions? Or have you never seen it before? I love talking lefse. 

Helpful Lefse Links:

Heavy Table: Lefse from Scratch: Worth the Effort?

The New York Times: Lefse Recipe by Molly Yeh & Sam Sifton

An Adopted Korean Makes Her First Batch of Lefse: My old Simple, Good & Tasty piece

Norwegian For A Night: A Norsk Christmas Dinner At The Kringen Lodge

I may not be ethnically Scandinavian, but feel just as Scandinavian as most any Scandinavian.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I was adopted from South Korea by a Scandinavian family when I was about six months old. While my parents didn’t observe many Scandinavian traditions, my grandparents did. My grandma decorated her kitchen with those little blue plates and made pepparkakor cookies. When we visited their home in Cuyahoga Falls, OH, I looked forward to sitting on her couch and flipping through her big book about Norwegian trolls.

We celebrated most of our childhood holidays with my mom’s cousins family. They make lefse every Christmas and I’m excited to have recently learned how to make it for myself (you can read about my first lefse-making adventure here). One of my cousins married into another Scandinavian family. We celebrated a holiday at their house where I tried pickled herring and actually liked it. Now, I’m married to a man of Scandinavian descent whose family is named after a small town in Norway.

This weekend, Jake and I attended the Traditional Norsk Christmas event at the Sons of Norway lodge near downtown Fargo. I had seen the event advertised in the local papers and didn’t want to miss this opportunity to share authentic Norwegian foods. We arrived an hour into the event and settled into the back of the long line which snaked around the lodge. Fortunately, it moved relatively quickly. We were entertained by admiring the silent auction items and taking in the atmosphere. Dark wood paneling and regal, Scandinavian wallpaper. There were lots of Vikings and trolls who appeared in paintings and sculptures everywhere. We also admired the other attendees’ outfits. Many wore their best Scandinavian sweaters while others wore suits.

We tried a little bit of everything from the buffet spread. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Lefse and flat breads. Meatballs in a creamy gravy and spicy barbecue sauce. Thick slices of silky and buttery cured salmon and briny, pickled herring. A man carefully carved a large block of Gjetost cheese.

There were also numerous baked goods and desserts. Slices of bread with candied fruits and the obligatory lefse with butter and brown sugar. Cones of krumkake that tasted like homemade waffle cones. Delicate rosettes that literally melted in our mouths. Soft, heart-shaped waffles. And chewy rings of kransekake that tasted like almond.

And then there was the rommegrot.

A large pot of this porridge perched at the very end of the buffet line. In fact, it had it’s own table. The man serving the rommegrot told us it was made mostly from cream and flour. We curiously watched the more experienced attendees fill their dishes with mostly melted butter, a smaller amount of rommegrot, and spoonfuls of cinnamon-sugar. I wasn’t sure if I liked my first bite so I returned to the rommegrot station to do it right. This meant adding more butter and more sugar. 
We enjoyed dinner with another young couple who was also visiting the lodge for the first time. The woman had spent a summer studying in Norway and shared a little about some of the food and traditions we were seeing. Glogg, a fragrant Norwegian-mulled wine, flowed freely. It was so rich with clove that my tongue felt a tinge of numbness. 
Then we watched them dance. The older Norwegians, many of whom seemed to wear stoic expressions on their faces when sitting, lit up while dancing. Round and round they waltzed, with an air of grace and serenity that put us all to shame. I have no doubt they continued to dance late into the night, long after the youngest of us went home to sleep well before the closing time of 12:30 a.m.
We peeked inside the bar on our way out the door. The bar was majestic and made of more dark wood. The room sparkled with lights, and we studied murals featuring more Norwegian trolls. We quickly decided this was the coolest place to enjoy a drink in Fargo.
This Norsk Christmas was certainly joyful. We left, full from new tastes and warmed from the hospitality that was bestowed upon us both. The Norwegian and the Norwegian at heart. 

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