Sinikka's snippets

Finland and travelling, a woman's life, cultures, languages, photography plus family recipes


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Easter dinner: Moroccan stew with couscous

Easter. The in-between time of winter and spring. Nature waking up from the long slumber, snow beginning to melt, hope of new life budding once more.

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My Easter dinners used to be a bit hit and miss for many years. I tried all sorts of things, from chicken to lamb. Lamb went out of the window that one and only time I painstakingly prepared it, only to find our then 8-year-old daughter crying her eyes out in the corner, refusing to come to the table. Amidst loud sobs, I finally got the explanation, in a tiny quivering voice: “It’s because of the little ss-hh-ee-ee-p…!” She always used to very sensitive to anything to do with particular animals, so that was the end of Easter lamb in our family. I didn’t mind as lamb has never been my favourite either!

I finally came up with our family Easter recipe back in 2007. I took our daughter to Paris for a few days during the winter holiday in February. One evening we had dinner at a Moroccan restaurant, somewhere on the “Rive Gauche”. Despite a few cockroaches squirrying on the walls, we really enjoyed the food – a rich, spicy meat and vegetable stew, served with couscous. Now, here’s a picture down memory lane, from that particular night at the Parisian restaurant (my word, how young and vulnerable she looks!).

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Back home, I looked for recipes online, and with years of tweaking, this is my concoction. We even pinched the starter salad idea from the same restaurant: juice orange slices on a bed of lettuce, sprinkled with cinnamon – deliciously appetising!

INGREDIENTS (serves 3 – 4)

  • oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 450 g of diced beef (alternatively lamb)
  • 2 dl soaked chickpeas
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 3.5 – 5 dl vegetable stock
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 gourgette (zucchini)
  • 3 potatoes
  • fresh parsley and coriander (cilantro)
  • couscous

TOMATO PASTE:

  • 4-5 tomatoes
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2-3 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1-2 tsp turmeric
  • sweet chilli sauce to taste

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THIS IS WHAT YOU DO

  • remember to put the chickpeas to soak in cold water the night before!
  • prepare the tomato paste by mixing all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth
  • if you are not keen on garlic, put less
  • I use a fair helping of the chilli sauce but even a couple of tsp will do if you don’t like it spicy
  • chop the onion
  • heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion until nice and soft
  • add the diced meat, and fry lightly
  • add the tomato paste, soaked chickpeas and 3.5 dl of vegetable stock
  • season with salt and black pepper to taste
  • reduce the heat, and simmer for about 1 hour till the meat is nice and tender
  • add the carrots, gourgette and potatoes, all cut into bite-size chunks (not too small!)
  • cook for a further 30 minutes till the vegetables are done – keep adding vegetable stock if the stew seems too dry
  • when done, cut plenty of green parsley and coriander on top
  • prepare couscous while the vegetables are cooking

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We usually enjoy this meal with some red wine although I actually find that water goes better with the chilliness and spiciness. Mind you, the taste is still rather mild, and you can easily adjust it to agree with your taste buds by reducing or increasing the amount of spices. Any leftovers can be warmed up the next day, and the flavours usually mature nicely overnight. I usually prepare a double portion, which will be enough for two days as Easter Monday is also a holiday here in Finland.

Easter is also the time of yellow daffodils, both in your home and outside.

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WELCOME SPRING AND HAPPY EASTER!

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Happy Independence Day

Today my home country, Finland, celebrates its 97th Independence Day. Traditionally, this day is not a joyful festival of colour and carnival à la française, or hot summer barbecues in the American fashion. No, the Finnish independence is serious and solemn. A day to quietly give respect to the generations who sacrificed a lot to fight for this for us. I should know, being the daughter of a man, who at the tender young age of 17 was sent to fight for his country, and had devastating stories of war to tell, as he was one of the lucky ones to get home in one piece afterwards. Or the granddaughter of a village police officer very close to the Russian border, who courageously even held Russians spies at gun point in his home, with his wife and two young daughters (one of them my mum) fearing for their lives.

Having lived most of my life in a bicultural family, I find the concept of national independence rather problematic. The feeling of patriotism so easily turns into a fervent ‘us and them’ mentality, and the exclusion of those who are not considered original, authentic Finns. You would think, the 21st-century reality of constant migration around the world, would have made people more open to accepting, even welcoming, new-comers in their midst. But sadly, what I still see all around me, here and elsewhere, is suspicion, prejudice and fear of the unknown. The “when in Finland , do as the Finns do” attitude is alive and well, and too often it leaves no place for curiosity or learning about a different mindset and way of life. Conform or you will be ostracized and excluded. Learn the language perfectly, or suffer the consequences – and anonymous notes in your letter box of “Finnish being the only official language around here”.

To my mind, the restrictive and exclusive concept of 20th-century nationalism has far outlived its time. I want to believe in the utopian dream world of global citizens, living in peace and harmony. Hippie stuff – yeah totally! True, I should study sociology, social psychology and history in more detail to grasp the human condition more clearly. I’m just following hunches based on personal and limited feelings and experiences. And really, how would the complex modern world function, without the structures of local and national government? Yet, keeping the status quo is hardly feasible either. Just think about the movements in Europe of restricting immigration and closing borders, let alone regions inside existing states striving for independence.

My family history calls for me to be proud of this day, and the almost 100 years of independent Finland. But in my heart, I hear the call of the world. There is an old Finnish proverb, “Your own country is a strawberry, another country is a blueberry”, meaning roughly the same as ‘east, west, home is best’. In the end, I guess my problem really is that I like both strawberries and blueberries just as much!

A stylised Finnish flag, created by the students of my school in 2013

A stylised Finnish flag, created by the students of my school in 2013