Leading up to Thanksgiving, we’re going to bring you recipes galore! Thing is, anyone can make a turkey and yams, so we’ve asked folks to ransack their family histories for what you might call the “locally traditional” Thanksgiving dish—that delicious and sometimes-bizarre kind of dish that only your family makes.
I’m not big on Thanksgiving. Don’t worry, there’s no overarching sense of white guilt and I don’t care to get all sanctimonious and lecture you on the evils of European Colonialism. In fact I don’t care about any of that stuff at all. Thanksgiving is an American holiday. It’s meaningless to the rest of the world—although I did once inexplicably stumble on a full Thanksgiving meal in a rural Costa Rican village—so if you want to get out of town and travel abroad, the flights are still reasonably priced and you can burn a vacation day or two on either side and all of a sudden you have a whole week of travel time to play around with. I hit Barcelona for a week last year and Berlin the year prior. Whereas most people feel obliged to be with their loved ones at Thanksgiving time, I like to get as far away from mine as possible.
That’s not to say there haven’t been to a few good family-style ones here and there. For instance there was the one year at Tavern On the Green when I tipped the roving guitar player five bucks because he was playing “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica. Then he went and stood between two adjacent tables where David Hasselhoff and
Donnie Wahlberg Joey McIntyre were eating with their respective families and picked out the opening to “Fade To Black.” I don’t know where he took it once he got to the heavy part because he roved away to the other side of the dining room but if I had too make a gentleman’s bet I’d say it segued into a tasteful Flamenco lick. Any way you cut it the Metallica songs were a lot more memorable than the food.
The last real family Thanksgiving I recall was four or five years ago with my girlfriend’s family in a lovely suburb of St. Paul, MN. And that is where I had lefse for the first time. Lefse is Norwegian flatbread made from potatoes and lard. You can buy it pre-made at IKEA in the prepared food section where they have those tubes of creamed salmon paste and Lingonberry soda but I don’t recommend that. There is really nothing like homemade lefse. It’s a holiday staple among people of Nordic heritage and is typically found on Christmas dinner tables all over the upper Midwest. So it figures a lapsed East Coast Jew who considers cheeseburgers a major food group would have never heard of it. Lefse is like a really rich and hearty tortilla that you either roll up with a little butter and/or sugar in the middle or else top with all sorts of savories and sweets. Some common pairings include beef, onions, smoked salmon, salt, sugar, or lutefisk, which is made from whitefish dried out with lye.
I eat mine with gefilte fish.
Wait, I’ll back up for a second. In anticipation of spending the holiday together, my girlfrend’s mother asked if there was anything she could get to make me feel at home or if there were any dietary restrictions she need be aware of. OK, I know this sounds a lot like a plot device in a wacky Ben Stiller romcom but when I got there, right on the kitchen counter was a jar of Manischewitz gefilte fish waiting for me. You know the kind, it comes packed in that salty clear jelly that you either love or else provokes dry heaves.
Don’t get me wrong, a jar of gefilte fish is a totally thoughtful gesture. I willl eat the fuck outta some gefilte fish. But it is in no way necessary. Most Jews, or you know, people in general, don’t even like gefilte fish, it’s just something that you eat. Or else you pass the platter along to the person next to you and nosh on some chopped liver until they bring the soup out. I mean I love gefilte fish but I’ll eat anything you put in front of me so don’t let that be your litmus test. You probably already know all this. You’re going to The Awl for your holiday recipes so obviously you know something about something.
So, lefse… here is how you make it:
First you’re going to need a few special cooking utensils so if you don’t have a griddle, a potato ricer, a turning stick (preferably one with a tastefully designed handle reminiscent of the decor in a Norwegian ski chalet), and a grooved rolling pin go get them.
Alright now you have all the utensils so let’s get cookin’!
6-8 potatoes, peeled
1/4 cup of lard, melted (any vegetarians out there, you can substitute Crisco for this step)
2 cups of flour
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
1. Boil the potatoes until tender. Take them out of the water and let them dry. Once dry run them through the potato ricer. Add the melted lard (or Crisco), flour, salt, and sugar to the potato mixture, give it a good stir until the whole thing is mixed together and let cool for up to two hours or until at room temperature.
2. Add the flour to the mixture and roll the dough into balls about an eighth of an inch thick. On a floured cutting board or pastry cloth, roll the balls out flat with the grooved rolling pin.
3. Heat your griddle to 400 degrees and place the rolled out dough onto the surface rotating and flipping with the turning stick until lightly brown on both side. Take the lefse off the griddle and let it cool between layers of paper towels.
4. Now you can either eat the lefse rolled up with a little bit of butter and sugar inside or flat and topped with some of the items mentioned above. And finally if you’d like to add a little yiddishkeit to your lefse like I do, just find a big chunk of gefilte fish (the bigger the better and with some of that clear jelly if you feel so inclined) and throw it on there. Doesn’t matter how or where, just put it on the plate next to the lefse or unroll the lefse and put it on top of the unrolled bit. Then roll it up like a taco. Then eat it!