Few of the guests at Miriam’s Kitchen likely woke up Tuesday morning suspecting the meal they had in store that evening. How many Americans, after all, ever have Finnish food on the brain?
But Mikko Kosonen , 42, the executive chef at the Embassy of Finland, made a return trip to Miriam’s Kitchen in Foggy Bottom to give the mostly homeless diners a flavor of his home country.
The food wasn’t dramatically wild — no reindeer or anything, though Kosonen wishes reindeer meat was easier to obtain in the United States. Kosonen prepared simple dishes. The main course was a Finnish staple, Makaroonilaatikko, a macaroni casserole of ground beef, eggs, milk and mozzarella. The chef had to leave out the mushrooms, however, since none were on hand.
“Our guests love macaroni and cheese, and they love meat,” said Catherine Crum, deputy director of Miriam’s Kitchen. “This combines both of them. They’ll love it.”
Finnish food is simple and hearty, and relies heavily on berries and mushrooms, with few spices for added zing. To give the casserole a Finnish twist, Kosonen brought jars of lingonberry preserves (shh, he got them at IKEA). He urged guests to mix the lingonberry with the casserole.
“What’s that?” most of the guests asked about the lingonberries. It came up at least 100 times among the 150 of so guests this night.
“It’s like cranberries,” Kosonen said. When they demurred, he prodded them, but just enough to encourage a sample. Most did.
This was Kosonen’s third visit to Miriam’s Kitchen. He first came as part of an informal embassy series to expose the city’s homeless population to global foods. Cooks from the Israeli, Qatari and Turkish embassies have come to cook. Kosonen is the only one who has returned, said John Murphy, assistant director of kitchen operations. It’s somewhat of a foreign experience for the chef.
“I don’t think I found it in Finland,” Kosonen said of homelessness. “The system there takes care of people. Here it’s in your face.”
To complete the meal, Kosonen baked five loaves of rye bread and prepared a relish of thinly sliced cucumbers and shredded dill mixed with vinegar. For dessert he made square pancakes, gooey on the inside. The relish and pancakes are Finnish standards.
After the meal one of the guests said of the fare, “I liked it. I’m particular now, but I’d eat it again, particularly in Helsinki.”