Cooking, baking, and finding ingredients in Aalborg: some tips and creative tricks (Guest blog post part 2)
Hello again! Thanks for all the nice feedback on Part I of this post. This time, a more specific list of ingredients that are easily found in grocery stores in America but prove a little more elusive here in Denmark. In some cases, you’re just out of luck, and for those, I’ve provided substitutions that I’ve had success with. If any of you have other locations or substitutions, please PLEASE share in the comments! I have included links to a few tutorials that you might find helpful.
Butter (unsalted) – Is definitely available (for example, at Føtex), but I have often been looking for it and it’s sold out. It’s very easy to find around the holidays but they don’t always stock it in such large quantities. If you’re using it for baking, you can simply reduce the amount of salt that you add into the actual dough.
Canned Beans – Ah, this is a good one. Canned chick peas (garbanzo beans) and kidney beans are readily available, but black beans are a bit more elusive. It’s easy to find a HUGE variety of dried beans in health food stores, grocery stores, and middle eastern markets. Dried beans are cheaper, but they take more forethought and preparation than I am capable of… They do sell some canned black beans in Elikser (that are flavored with onions and garlic, if I recall.) I’ve also finally (finally!!) found them in Spar. Sarah recently found them in Bilka, which is out in the City Syd shopping complex. Stock up when you find them, and until then, you can read my tutorial on how to cook dried beans, particularly tailored to Nordjylland!
Chipotle Chilis – For those of you making your own spice rubs or mixes, they always have a variety of dried chilis at Elikser. Elikser also carries canned chipotles in adobo sauce. There is a small section of authentic Mexican products at Bilka, too. Time to make tacos, people!!
Corn Tortillas – I have a tortilla press that I’ve never actually used, so if you have a good recipe, give me a call and we’ll try it out, mkay? But seriously, if you want to make your own, they sell Masa corn flour at Elikser. Regular wheat flour tortillas can be found in the Mexicanish section of regular groceries. You can also buy a corn/wheat tortilla mix, but it’s not the real deal.
Cranberries – Very seasonal, but available around Thanksgiving in Salling, Fotex, and Super Brugsen. You might find them other places as well, but these are just the three places I’ve found them. I also like to buy some extra and freeze them, since they are not available year round in the frozen section like you would find in the USA
Egg Nog – You’re going to be making it from scratch. Sorry. I googled recipes and there are lots of good ones out there. Choosing one will depend on your feelings about raw eggs and booze. I have made this recipe in the past and really liked it, but with a husband that brews his own beer and a weird fascination with fermentation, this is right up my alley. Some of you might not want strange concoctions lurking in your closet between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I get that.
Evaporated Milk – You want this for your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, right? I thought so. I have never been able to buy this in Denmark. There’s plenty of condensed milk in Asian and Middle-Eastern groceries, but it isn’t the same thing, and you should be careful about substituting it. Evaporated milk is unsweetened, and condensed milk has a LOT of sugar added. I have never actually tried substituting condensed for evaporated. I suspect it would work, but your pie would be extremely sweet, probably overpowering the pumpkin and spice flavors altogether. I have a pumpkin pie rant a little further on in this post, and you can read my tutorial, which includes a recipe for pumpkin pie at the end of it, using heavy cream instead of evaporated milk.
Graham Crackers – If you’re looking for real graham crackers, they can be found at Elikser. However, if you’re looking for a decent substitute (for example if you’re making a graham cracker crust for a cheesecake), use digestive biscuits, available in the cookie section. They are usually a little lighter in color, but they have a similar not-quite-cookie-not-quite-cracker texture. Graham flour is also readily available in grocery stores and a quick google search will reveal lots of recipes to make your own, if you’re into that.
Jalapeño peppers (fresh) – The canned/pickled type that you might throw on nachos are easy to find in the Mexicanish section of most grocery stores. Fresh ones are usually hiding in Føtex or Salling. They only come in packs of 2-3. Also check the Farmer’s Market, we just picked up a huge bag this past weekend for 20 kroner!
Kosher Salt – If you cook a lot, you probably see this in a lot of American recipes, especially for cookies and baked goods. I haven’t ever found kosher salt in Denmark, but the best substitution I’ve found is Maldon Sea Salt flakes. If you substitute regular table salt, your baked good/dessert may turn out WAAAAY too salty. Here’s more info than you probably ever need on the difference between various types of salt (it includes Maldon Sea Salt Flakes and regular table salt, which is why I have included it.)
Molasses – Health Food stores carry it, like the Helsam on Boulevarden (Boulevarden 14) or Helsehjørnet (Niels Ebbesens Gade 4.) Otherwise, this is a tough one to find. If you are baking something that derives a lot of flavor from spices (like ginger snap cookies or something like that) you can always substitute an equal amount of dark cane syrup, maple syrup (ahornsirap), or honey. You won’t get quite the “robust” flavor, but your cookies will still be delicious.
Marshmallows– These are getting easier and easier to find, I’ve noticed. But they often have them in the small food section at Søstrene Greene, as well as in the candy aisle in most groceries. I’ve even seen bags of them in 7-11 on Bispensgade.
Mustard (French’s Yellow Mustard) – I’ve found this at Normal Store, but it is also available seasonally (i.e. summer) in Fakta or Netto. Many Danish mustards are sweet, which I heartily object to, but this is one of those categories like pickles: We all have some specific idea of what mustard should be, and there’s not a lot of agreement on the topic. If you’re looking to branch out and try some new fancy stuff, there’s lots at Salling.
Pumpkin, canned – (I have to warn you, Reader, this is going to look a lot like a rant. I apologize for that in advance.) Look, if you’re going to make Thanksgiving dinner in Denmark, you sure as heck better make some pumpkin pie. There’s nothing like it in Danish cuisine, and few non-Americans have ever tried it, despite hearing about it and vaguely knowing what it is. And you cannot make pumpkin pie without, well, pumpkin. And I know that it’s super easy to find in the USA– go to any grocery store in November and they’ll have a mountain of Libby’s Pumpkin stacked neatly in the center of the store.
Alas, Toto, you aren’t in Kansas anymore. And yet, I feel like I’ve had this conversation with every American Expat in Denmark. So when I’m smiling politely during the conversation, Americans, this is what I really want to say to you:
“All I hear about is how you spend your precious luggage space bringing cans of pumpkin to DK from the USA. Or how you found it in the Super Best grocery store in the American section (which is otherwise full of prepackaged strangeness) and you willingly paid 50 kroner for 1 can. Fifty kroner is approximately 10 USD! Would you EVER pay that for canned pumpkin in the USA? Here, let me answer that for you: No, you would not. And you really shouldn’t here, either. Use real pumpkin. Yes, it’s a little more effort, but the result WILL be better, I can pretty much guarantee it. Use your luggage space for something worthwhile, like shoes, and save your 50 kroner for a beer. It doesn’t take a genius to roast a pumpkin.”
Here’s a tutorial I made on the topic, as I’m tired of having this conversation. If you are smart enough to cut a pumpkin in half without cutting off your hand, you are smart enough to do this. At the bottom of the tutorial, I’ve included a pumpkin pie recipe that does NOT use evaporated milk, another ingredient you’ll be hard pressed to find here.
Saltines – I always think it’s amusing that an item that I consider to be so basic and so easy to find in ANY American grocery store simply doesn’t seem to exist here. Plenty of other crackers, but I haven’t found a decent substitute yet. If you have any leads, leave them in the comments!
Sweet Potatoes – Not too hard to find in regular grocery stores (I’ve seen them reliably in Super Brugsen and Føtex) but they tend to only come in packs of two or three. They’re much cheaper in middle eastern markets like Frederikstorv. They’re also available at the farmers’ market I wrote about last week.
Turkey – You can order whole turkeys from most butchers, but beware! The small size of most European ovens doesn’t allow for the cooking of a bird that’s much bigger than 14 lbs/6 kilos. So if you’re cooking for a LOT of people (because Thanksgiving can get out of hand quickly, at least in my house) you should just be aware of the potential issue there. Fotex and Salling sell turkeys that are around 4 kilos during the month of November. I usually pick one up as soon as I see them because with all the pesky Americans around here, you never know when they’re going to sell out!!
Vanilla Extract – Vanilla beans, vanilla powder, and vanilla sugar are all readily available, and Sarah just told me that you can actually buy vanilla extract in very small quantities (Dr. Oetker brand, 38 ml bottles) in Føtex! But, for the DIY crowd among you, it’s extremely cost effective and easy to make your own, it just takes some time (don’t worry, it’s EXTREMELY passive.) Get a vanilla bean (cheapest are at Tiger or Søstrene Greene) and then raid your liquor cabinet. Rum, Bourbon, Brandy or Vodka will work nicely, assuming they are unflavored (i.e don’t pull out your citron vodka for this one…) Pour about a cup of the liquor of your choice into a glass jar or bottle, slice a vanilla bean (long way) and put in there, cover, and let sit for about 8 weeks. Here’s a link to more detailed instructions, but really, there’s nothing too it, and it keeps indefinitely.
A word about the overwhelming Dairy Section of any grocery store in Denmark:
I’ve never been much of a milk drinker, but yet, I still adore dairy products. The average Danish grocery store carries such a huge selection of dairy products that I actually went out and bought some of them to try just for this post. In order to keep this post from getting completely out of hand, you can read about the Danish dairy section here.
So that’s it from me, for now. Thanks for reading, everyone, and I hope the tutorials can be of some help to you! Feel free to post any questions in the comments, I’ll do my best to answer them!
About the author: Lauren Robinson comes from the state of Pennsylvania in the US. She is a professional horn player and member of the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra. Lauren likes many things about living in Denmark, and has found creative ways to deal with the aspects of life here that are NOT so easy, as you can see above. In addition to music and cooking, Lauren enjoys knitting, yoga, and traveling. She has lived in Canada and FInland, in addition to Denmark, and while she finds the winters here in Aalborg dark, she is NOT complaining.