Go continental with sandwich recipes from Denmark
“We’re going to have dinner every day,” said the spouse, who is determined to change the course of our lives without warning or democratic discussion.
Why conti? I asked, puzzled. It turned out that she was tired of the “same old thing” and had made some great tomato soup the night before, which she said was “the best tomato soup ever”. Me, the 10 year old and my mother hastily agreed. Woman likes criticism, constructive or not, as long as it mainly involves full praise. That said, the dinner she hosted – soup, pesto bread, and breaded chicken and potato cutlet – was the perfect end to a hard day’s work and a hearty lunch.
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Conti is an old Indian babalog term for “continental” cuisine, a term that no doubt baffles those on the continent, meaning Europe, and encompasses everything from French toast to chicken sizzlers à la Kiev with caramel pudding. Search for definitions of continental food online and you’ll find most of them come from India. Even Wikipedia, which houses several questionable descriptors, will redirect you to “European cuisine”. You can find gems like ‘vegetarian continental fries’ recipes, much like other typical Indian culinary inventions, such as Gobi Manchurian.
When I was younger, conti recipes tended to be heavy, involving a lot of butter, cream, cheese, and often frying. As prosperous and health-conscious Indians in cities become a little more aware of the variety of food in Europe, many can now distinguish between a Goulash and a chicken soup, souvlaki and shawarma.
However, there is still a market for old-school continental food that stubbornly ignores the diversity of the continent. For example, one of my old favorites, Embassy in Connaught Place in Delhi, still has its range of conti soups. what the menu helpfully tells you is a “thick and creamy soup”. There is a heavy Russian salad, a variety of starters drizzled with mayonnaise, chicken à la Kiev (of course) and my favorite, clearly unknown to our Russian allies, the Moscova Bomb– “chicken breast stuffed with mushrooms in the shape of a bomb”.
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When I asked the woman for her interpretation of conti, her airy response included burgers, pasta, soup, which caused me to shake my head and start thinking. I cannot say that I have a lasting experience of European cuisines, having rarely traveled to the continent, but I have had some memorable meals cooked by locals from Spain, Austria and Denmark.
If you ask me to name any light European dishes that you can make at home – the kind that I believe the woman is looking for now – I vote Danish smørrebrød, open sandwiches of buttered rye bread topped with meats, herring, cheese or garnish. I first met him when I visited Copenhagen in 2009, when I rented an Airbnb from a local for a week while covering the climate summit.
The price was steep for me, so in desperation I asked my young host if he would give me a discount if I cooked for him. He agreed, lowering the rate by € 1,000 (approx. ₹87,500 now). I have worn kokum– the dried rind of a fruit of the mangosteen family so beloved by Goans as an acidifying agent in curries – and used a fish, halibut if I remember correctly, the frigid waters of the North Atlantic to make a my grandmother’s version of fish curry. In return, my host threw a party for me on the last day and did a variety of smørrebrød. My best memory is of the marinated herring on rye, the earthy roughness of the bread contrasting with the sourness of the fish.
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i never tried to do smørrebrød in India because I always imagined that the ingredients would be too difficult to find. But there was no better time to indulge in my wife’s conti phase – the online school has restarted and the girl is hungry all morning. Despite an early breakfast consisting of two eggs and a dosa or two toast and / or ham, she must be fed almost every hour until lunch if she wants to stay focused and if we do not want to suffer from cravings. .
Every morning we rack our brains for some relatively healthy snacks. My thoughts continued to merge with the need for a snack at school. I did not have the essential ingredients for smørrebrød, meat jellies or corned beef or garden cress, but there are always local options. There was no remoulade, the mayonnaise is still suspicious of me, but I did have a homemade yogurt-dill sauce. I may not have marinated any herring, but I had some leftover homemade pork and ham from the store. A quick search of the refrigerator revealed an abundance of pickled cucumbers and onions.
Excited, the wife quickly got some rye bread, pickled beets and made me the yogurt and dill spread. the smørrebrød were demolished by the impatient child, but she watched in alarm as the rest of the family piled up. I think we will do a continuous week again.
Pork, orange and onion sandwich. (Samar Halarnkar)
Three smørrebrød option:
- Butter the rye bread, spread with yogurt-dill sauce, pulled pork, pieces of orange and thin onion rings
- Butter the rye bread, spread with yogurt-dill sauce, marinated beets, roasted onion rings and smoked ham
- Butter the rye bread, spread the liver pate (or replace it with mayonnaise), pickled cucumbers, pieces of cheese (I used Nilgiri Edam), basil leaves.
Our Daily Bread is a column on easy and inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking — And Other Dubious Adventures.