What does winter taste like?
FARGO — As we settle into the post-holiday season, it's time to take a long look at winter.
The big question this time of the year — especially during the recent Arctic coldsnap — is, "Why do we live here?" The most common response is that while winter seems longer than any other season, each has its benefits and experiencing the splendor of all four seasons is reason to stay.
While each season offers so much to savor, winter's food offerings may get a bit washed out after all of the holiday cookies and sweets.
So we started wondering, what does winter taste like?
Some may describe summer flavors as the char of a grill or snap of a green bean or the sensation of biting into a juicy tomato. Some may say turkey, pumpkins or squashes are evocative of fall or that citrus, lamb or ham are the tastes of spring.
But what evokes the shortest and coldest days of the year?
We asked area chefs and restaurateurs about what foods they think of when they think of winter. What flavors do they taste when they start thinking of these days?
For some, our land of snow and ice calls to mind their ancestral homes.
"Nordic flavors taste wintry to me. Dill, smoked salmon, pickled herring, juniper and pine. The last two thanks to new Nordic chefs," says Andrea Baumgardner of BernBaum, which mashes up elements of Norse and Jewish cuisines. "I keep gravitating towards rutabaga. (Recently) we had a smorrebrod — an open-faced sandwich — of hangikjot — Icelandic-style smoked lamb — and Finnish baked cheese with a raw rutabaga and fennel slaw. Fennel is another winter favorite — slightly licorice and so pretty and lacey when shaved thinly."
Winter has Ryan Nitschke, chef at the Fargo sustainable neighborhood eatery, Luna, thinking of another part of the world.
"I love the smell of curry in the winter," he says. "I guess that's why I use curry and other spice blends this time of year. I like to use them with a rub on chicken, to season soups and sauces, in a pickle brine and in pastries and desserts."
Pickles in the winter aren't just for hiding in the Christmas tree says Casey Absey, owner of Fargo's Blackbird Woodfire.
"I'm a sucker for things that we've preserved from the garden. Pickles, kraut, canned veggies," he says. "As far as meals go, it would be pork and kraut with pickles and potato dumplings."
Dumplings are also on the mind of Dan Hurder, owner of Fargo restaurants The Boiler Room, Twist, Barbacoa and The Otter Supper Club in Ottertail, Minn.
"Chicken and dumplings," he says when asked what winter tastes like. "It immediately makes me think of Grandma's house at Christmas, even though she lived in Louisiana and it wasn't actually cold."
Chicken also calls out to Nitschke.
"I think of roasted chicken and baked ham with rich buttery sauces or preserved huckleberries and lingonberries spiced with star anise," he says. "I guess for me it's the smell of the oven and all the rich pastries and goodies in it. And with that the smell of spice, including unique spices like star anise, juniper and cardamom. Of course with the spices, citrus pairs beautifully. Think orange, clove, cinnamon and cardamom."
Winter seems like an odd time to think of citruses, but Baumgardner can relate, listing oranges as another cold weather flavor.
"I received them in my stocking every Christmas as a kid and still love when oranges are at their peak in winter, especially tangerines or clementines," she says.