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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving - 2 Days Left! (Lefse, anyone?)

Okay, I'm not sure how many of you will care about this; I think it's kind of an obscure, Norwegian-specific thing, but just in case there are other lefse lovers out there, this is for you. For me, nothing says 'Thanksgiving' quite like a big pile-o-lefse.

Longtime readers may remember my earlier reference to my Grammie's cooking lessons. My fondest memories of my great-grandmother are in her kitchen, where she taught me how to make several traditional family recipes. Foremost among these important family foods is lefse (pronounced 'lefsa'). My love for lefse is difficult to describe. How can what is essentially a giant potato tortilla evoke such excitement and anticipation? It's one of life's great mysteries. :-) We usually eat lefse around the holidays, as part of either our Thanksgiving and/or Christmas dinners, or here and there for snacks or breakfast.

I'm going to attempt to describe how to make lefse; however, I fear that it is one of those activities that is easiest to learn in person. If anyone reading this is truly interested in seeing more than what I've posted here today, let me know (leave a comment on this post) and maybe next time I make lefse I could videotape some of the techniques and post them here later.

This is a recipe that requires a bit of advance preparation and some special tools, as well as some upper body strength.

Equipment needed:

large pastry cloth
lefse turner
large round griddle
waffle-patterned rolling pin with cloth cover
wax paper
aluminum foil
clean scissors

The night before you plan to make your lefse, make a big pot of mashed potatoes. I find it easiest (and equally, if not more tasty) to use potato flakes, but if you're a snob and insist on making your potatoes from scratch, just make sure you get all the lumps out. You need very smooth mashed potatoes. Prepare them just as you normally would, with soy margarine and soy (or other non-dairy) milk, then the next day, when you're ready to cook the lefse, mix in enough unbleached all-purpose flour to make a workable dough. Here is a rough guideline, according to Grammie's recipe, but to be honest, I don't even follow it anymore - I just make the potatoes according to the package directions and do the flour by feel.


5 cups instant potato flakes (make sure they are vegan!)
3-1/2 cups boiling water
1/2 stick soy margarine
1-1/2 cups non-dairy milk
1 teaspoon salt
a few shakes of pepper, optional
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring work surfaces


Mix together all ingredients except flour and chill overnight. The next day, when you are ready to cook the lefse, add the flour to form a workable dough.

Time to prep your work area. Plug in your griddle and heat it to 500 degrees. On a table-height surface (not counter-height; the rolling is much easier down lower, but maybe that's because I'm short), lay out your pastry cloth and tape down the edges to keep it from shifting around while you roll the dough. Lay out a piece of aluminum foil topped with a piece of wax paper next to the griddle. Bring out your flour bin so you have plenty to keep using as you make the lefse. Sprinkle plenty of flour onto your pastry cloth and cloth-covered rolling pin before rolling each piece of dough.

Form the dough into balls slightly smaller than tennis balls. Work the dough around to make sure it's totally mixed and try to make a nice smooth sphere. Flatten the dough slightly and sprinkle flour on both sides.

Begin to roll out the dough until it's about the size of a salad plate. Flip it over, adding more flour if needed.

Keep rolling until it's super thin - I'd say a bit thinner than a tortilla. Mine usually end up around 14-16" in diameter. This is where the upper body strength comes in. You really need to get pretty aggressive to roll it out this thin. But be careful not to tear the dough!

Using your lefse turner, carefully lift the lefse and put it on the griddle.

Mmm... steamy.

When the dough starts to look a little bit bubbly, flip it over using your trusty lefse turner.

If big bubbles form, tap them with the tapered tip of your lefse turner to pop them. After about a minute on the second side, fold the lefse in half, then in half again, using your lefse turner. If you've done your job well, there will be some nice brown spots on the lefse, and it will be nice and soft. (Hint - if the lefse is crispy, your heat is probably too low. I know it sounds counter-intuituve, but trust me.)

Set the lefse on the wax paper and cut along the fold.

Once you have a decent stack (I do 12 halves to a package), wrap 'em up and store them in the fridge or freezer until ready to eat. (If you're going to store them for more than a couple of days, you may want to put them in a more airtight container - a freezer bag or big plastic container or whatever.)

These are best served warmed - I prefer them just with margarine, but some of my family puts jam on them, and they might be good with cinnamon and sugar - I'm sure you can be creative. Just spread your topping on, roll it up, and enjoy!


Lotta @ Silverknuten said...

Lefse isn't something I know, but my mother, on her visits to Norway, (along with other things she missed from home) always bought Lompe, also a thin bread containing potatoes and rye, I believe. It's eaten with wieners, in a wrap style. The lomper are smaller than lefse, 8 inches across maybe. Lefse does sound very tasty :)

Tamara said...

This comment got posted on the wrong post so I'm pasting it here:

Gaby Sayer said...

yum!! I wonder if I can substitute the potato flakes with potato flour? (I don't even know if that made sense!)

I want to have that for breakfast now :(

Thanks for sharing the recipe and if you make a video, that would be really appreciated!

And my reply:

Hi Gaby,

No, potato flour would definitely not work. Potato flakes are dehydrated flakes of potato - you add boiling water, soymilk, and margarine and it makes mashed potatoes. You should be able to find instant mashed potato flakes in any mainstream grocery store. :-)


JudyM said...

Tamara, what a great "tutorial" on making one of our family's favorite holiday foods, complete with photos which is very helpful in describing some parts. And to all of you out there who haven't tasted lefse, it really is good, and goes with all kinds of different fillings. I think my favorite, though, is just butter.

Gaby Sayer said...

Thanks for posting it on the right place!
And thanks for the info. Actually, I read it again, and I got it, I can use real potatoes too. lol


Margot said...

Can't tell you how happy I am to see another vegan making lefse!

Tamara said...

Can't tell you how happy *I* am for another vegan to actually know what lefse is!