One of the things that I truly love about food, is how we can associate it with memories of our past. I grew up spending most of my childhood with my grandparents, and my grandmother is a master at a traditional Norwegian staple, lefse[lef-suh]. For those of you who don’t know what lefse is (probably most of you), lefse is basically a potato-based tortilla. There really isn’t a recipe for this, just a technique…that I’ll share with you as best I can. 🙂
First, you start off with a 5 lb bag of russet potatoes. Peel them, cut them into quarters, and boil them. How long are the potatoes boiled you ask? As my grandmother said, “just boil the potatoes until they’re basically falling apart”. Then, you mash the potatoes VERY well, with a stick of butter melted in with the potatoes. here’s a picture before the mashing started(notice the stick of butter on on the left side):
Then, once the potatoes are mashed, they’re stored in a large bowl and covered, where they will sit in the refrigerator overnight. I’m not 100% sure why this is done, but there are two possibilities. The less likely possibility is that you do this simply to cool down the potatoes. If this were the case, I would expect that you could just put them in the fridge for a couple of hours. The more likely scenario is that by allowing the potatoes sit overnight, most of the moisture inherent in the potatoes to dries out, making the potatoes easier to form into a dough. Here are the potatoes after mashing, and before going into the fridge overnight:
The next step into the process is creating the dough that will be rolled out into the finished lefse. First, you take the potatoes that have been in the fridge overnight, and work in flour, until you have a workable dough. My grandmother had a GREAT line for how much flour you work in. “You add flour to the potatoes, until you get to the point where you think you’ve got too much…then it’s just about right.”. how great is that?!? My baking and pastry instructor in culinary school also had a great line for dough, “A good dough should be cool, smooth, and a little bit tacky…just like me.”
Then comes the hardest part of making lefse…the rolling and cooking. Unfortunately, there won’t be any pictures of this portion of the process…I don’t have NEARLY the rolling skills of either my grandmother or my aunt Cindy, who has really made it her priority to carry on the lefse tradition. I called my aunt the next day, and realized that I had already figured out my problem. I was putting far too much downward pressure on the lefse, which would cause it to stick to the board, fording me to not roll it as thin as I would have liked. Also, one key that I picked up from Cindy is to keep rotating the lefse on the board. This should prevent it sticking, and allow a thinner roll.
As far as cooking, my grandmother had what I believe is a cast-iron pan, that was used to cook the lefse on the stove. What I had at my disposal was an electric griddle…which, honestly worked just fine. I cooked the first few at 350F, realized that it wasn’t getting the lefse nearly brown enough, I bumped the temperature up to 450F and it worked great. Here is one of the best looking pieces of lefse that I made…and while it still resembles Australia, it’s round-ish… 🙂
Once I cooked the lefse, I stacked the warm lefse on a cloth, and once they had cooled, stored them in gallon plastic bags in the fridge. As I was making the lefse and trying out a couple of pieces here and there, the same thought kept running through my head, “Holy cow, this is EXACTLY what my childhood tasted like!” There’s that memory coming back through food. 🙂 The reason for my making lefse was two-fold. First, I had a 5-lb. bag of potatoes left over from a cooking job that I did, and didn’t want them to go to waste. Second, back in I believe 2011, I had the idea for how to take lefse to the next level.
After one of my instructors in culinary school talked about the importance of keeping family food traditions alive, I decided I was going to learn the lefse making process from my grandmother…which I did by spending an extra week with her after the family got together for Christmas that year. During the process of making the lefse, my “chef brain” was already working on ways to take it in completely different directions. Traditionally, lefse is either eaten with warm butter, or warm butter plus cinnamon and sugar. I wanted to do a savory version, so I went to one of my instructors to discuss the best way to accentuate the potatoes, which is the base. My first thought was to pair it with a cheese, probably Swiss, since Swiss cheese and potatoes are long-time friends. My instructor agreed with that, and that I should find a way to play up the “earthiness” of the potatoes. After chatting about it for a few minutes, he had the idea to use mushrooms, in this case crimini, since they’re probably the earthiest mushroom out there. Finally, at this point in school I was just diving into the world of wine, and I had been introduced to a GREAT pinot noir from the Burgundy region of France, with a GREAT name, pictured below…an idea was born. 🙂
First, I took a few ounces of crimini mushrooms, sliced them, and washed them VERY well. I then sauteed the mushrooms in a tablespoon or two of butter, until they were softening up nicely. I then de-glazed with an ounce or two of the pinot noir, and let it reduce with the mushrooms. The aroma was simply heavenly, and something I need to do more often. While the mushrooms were cooking, I took a big piece of lefse and warmed it up on a medium-medium high heat in the largest pan I had, with the plan of melting some of the shredded Swiss cheese in the lefse. I then added maybe a quarter cup of the sauteed and de-glazed mushrooms to the lefse and melted cheese. To say that I was impressed with this rendition of lefse is a VAST understatement! Below you can see my “next-level lefse”…something I plan on trying out on the rest of the family at the first opportunity 🙂
The finished product,bout 30 seconds before I scarfed it down 🙂