Following the worldwide success of ‘Coøk’ and ‘Gøne Fishing’, in his new book ‘Evergreen’, Mikkel Karstad casts his unique vision over vegetarian cooking. Here, Mikkel explains how his love of nature inspires his cooking – and a way of life.
I have always valued nature. Even though I grew up in the city, I went on many vacations to visit my grandmother and family on Tåsinge, a little island in the southern part of Denmark. There I took part in growing and harvesting vegetables in her garden and went out with my uncle fishing and hunting. I helped to sort and prepare all these fantastic local ingredients for meals. This has inspired me to cook the way I do – simply, with local ingredients in season, and letting the taste shine through.
My family and I still spend a lot of time in nature. We go out year-round and collect ingredients: in the spring new wild herbs, ramps, ground elder, nettles, dandelions and spruce tips. In the summer, berries, rosehips, elder flowers, and the first mushrooms. In the autumn, mushrooms, nuts, mirabelles, wild apples and quince. All of these are used in my home cooking and my work. My wife and I swim every morning all year, this is the best start to the day for me and gives me a calm preparation for a new day. As you can see, nature fills my life. I think there has been a rise in interest in plant-based eating because there’s a new, young generation that has a focus on health, sustainability and climate, and so it is a totally natural part of their day-to-day life. At the same time, many people have discovered that vegetables can be prepared in so many interesting ways.
Writing this book came very naturally for me – I always knew that my next book would be about local, seasonal vegetables. Not just because of the food I eat with my family at home, but also because the demand for vegetables in my work has become greater. Everything points to vegetarian food and vegetable-growing on all fronts. With all this in mind, it was totally instinctive to write a cookbook that will inspire people to eat green.
One of my favourite recipes in my book is the Pea soup with fried rape-seed flowers. Rape-seed flowers have a short season, only about 3 weeks in the spring where they can be eaten before they stop blooming and the flowers wither. There are also one of the first “new vegetables” that appear in the spring. It is delicious and looks very pretty. I also love cabbage soup, it’s simple and tastes good, but perhaps I love it best because I made it over a fire on a January morning that was the coldest day of the year (-11C). That soup tasted great and the fire was delightfully warm on a cold and beautiful day.
I love foraging: you never know what you’ll find – but you will always find something!. Nature has so many things to offer, a great wealth of resources that just stand waiting to be utilized and gathered. It is exciting to follow the seasons and see how there is always something new. I go for a hike in the woods or on the seashore and see what I can find. It depends on the weather and the wind, or if someone has been there before you to pick all the mushrooms or the blackberries. Even if they have, you can always be certain that there will be something to find. I like to be inspired and challenged in this way.
The spring offers wild herbs (ramps, wood sorrel, garlic mustard, nettles) and from the trees in woods, spruce tips or birch water. From the beach there is super great seaweed and the first mussels and oysters. You can gather all of these while the water is still cold and clear. Inland, the wild fruit trees, dandelions and rape-seed are blooming, which all can be gathered and eaten; they can also be salted or made into jam and preserved for later in the year. Summer also offers new things, the first mushrooms and berries from the woods, still more wild herbs. At the beach you can gather beach roses and sea kale or catch shore crabs. In the fall, the woods abound with wild mushrooms, nuts, and blackberries. On the seashore you can pick rosehips and sea buckthorn. You can also begin to gather seaweed and mussels when the water becomes cold and clear again.
I swim in the ocean every day, year-round. It connects me with nature, and gives me peace and calm in my mind, amid what can be a busy and hectic week of work and family. I get the same feeling when I hike in the woods or on the seashore to gather ingredients for my food. Being close to nature also gives me energy and inspiration to discover new recipes and ways to cook.
This Christmas we will be at our summerhouse in Tisvilde, 45 min. north of Copenhagen, together with our 4 children and our parents, so it will be very cosy. We’ll go out in the forest and cut a Christmas tree and on Christmas Eve will use most of the day to decorate the tree and cook Christmas dinner. It’s usually me who cooks Christmas dinner and it’s quite traditional. I make roast pork with crispy skin, cooked whole and filled with apples and prunes, boiled white potatoes, caramelized potatoes, a fresh red cabbage salad and classic pickled red cabbage, and there will also be both a duck gravy and a roast pork gravy. For dessert we have a rice pudding with warm cherry sauce, which my mother always makes.
I’m looking forward to taking a vacation, cosying up with my family and going on long walks in the woods and on the beach. We’ll swim early in the morning, and then walk up to the house to light the wood stove and warm ourselves up.
‘Evergreen’ is published in hardback by Clearview, £30
One of the founding consultants at NOMA in Copenhagen, Mikkel has been at the forefront of the new Nordic Cuisine for over a decade. Today he cooks and styles food full time, and his flair for design and personal cool extends beyond the kitchen, into modelling and interior design. Ask any top UK food stylist and you’ll find he/she is heavily influenced by him. His Instagram feed @mkarstad comprises extraordinarily beautiful images of his latest dishes, early morning sea swims and his gorgeous golden-haired wife and children. This is life envy on a major scale, but it’s a talent that informs everything that Mikkel does.