By Gini Rainey
Last week I dazzled you with tales of making flour tortillas, and today I am here to report that I made an amazing batch of said tortillas on Sunday. Today I’m going to try and dazzle you with tales of lefse – pronounced lehf-sah, a yummy cousin of the flour tortilla. I think I’ve mentioned before that it was pretty much culture shock for this girl when moved from the safe arms of the Norwegian/German cuisine I had grown up with straight into the unknown territory of good ol’ east Texas cookin’ and Mexican food. You can imagine my joy the first time I spied a flour tortilla in the basket at El Charro’s. I’d been politely pushing my tamale and enchilada around my plate, trying to eat them and having a tough time of it. I’m here to tell you that no matter how much butter and sugar you put on a flour tortilla, it will never come close to tasting like lefse.
I can hear you asking, exactly what is lefse? Well, it is a traditional Norwegian soft flatbread that is made from potatoes. The lefse I grew up with was basically 12 inches in diameter and paper thin, and we generally purchased at the little neighborhood store. I don’t remember my mom or any of my relatives making it and we usually only had it in conjunction with the Christmas holiday. I’ve read that lefse is jokingly considered an antidote for lutefisk, another traditional Norwegian dish that is dried cod that has been treated with lye, then soaked and boiled, but that’s another story. I do know that lefse and lutefisk are usually served on the same menu. We always slathered our lefse with butter and either white or brown sugar before we ate it.
As you can well imagine, in Texas you can’t just go to the neighborhood store and pick up a package of lefse when the urge strikes, so I learned how to make it. If you’re just wanting a stand-alone batch of lefse, you can start out by boiling and ricing your potatoes and going from there. But, at our house, when the girls were growing up, I would take the left-over mashed potatoes from the meal and make a few pieces of lefse for our dessert. As much as the girls loved mashed potatoes and gravy, they loved lefse more, and many times I’d hear Lisa whisper to Beth to not have a second helping of potatoes because she knew what they’d get to have from the leftovers! Oh, and when they were big enough, the trade-out was they did the dishes while I rolled out the lefse.
Believe it or not, I actually have a cookbook dedicated to the heritage and making of lefse. “The Last Word On Lefse,” written by Gary Legwold and published by Adventure Publications, Inc. in 1992, is jelly-jam packed full of heartwarming stories
gathered by Legwold and put together into a neat little book that also includes several recipes for lefse. While most of the recipes have you generating pieces of lefse about 12 inches in diameter, mine are about half that size and a little bit thicker than traditional pieces are. I find the size I make is more manageable, and I because I don’t have a lefse griddle, I use my large cast iron frying pan to bake it. Most of the recipes in the book are very similar, but differ in the amounts of riced potatoes, lard or Crisco, milk or cream, and salt. I kind of like mine, because I don’t have a ricer, and as the years have passed, Ore-Ida has come out with microwave steamable potatoes that makes it even easier to make lefse. So, using left-over mashed potatoes (which should already contain milk, salt, and butter), begin stirring in flour, about a half cup at a time. The trick is to not use too much flour because it makes for a tougher end-product. Test the dough as you add the flour, and when it’s pillow-soft and not very sticky, form into 1 inch balls and roll out as thin as possible on a lightly floured surface. Now, bake on a hot griddle or frying pan, turning once when bubbles start to form and turn brown. Stack on a plate and let cool or slather on butter and sugar and eat while still warm. Uff-da, that is some mighty good eating!