One of my first introductions to Norwegian food was raspeballer, potato dumplings. The memory of my husband’s grandmother proudly shaping a mixture of potato and flour into large rounds the size of my fist is one I have imprinted in my memory. She served them with boiled meat and large sausages. Less that was not enough, she also topped them with a generous portion of fried bacon and fat.
It’s no surprise they lean toward the starchy and dense side with a tendency to stick to your ribs. They are reminiscent of a traditional Norwegian lifestyle, where simple foods that filled you up were the order of the day. Nonetheless, they are good and satisfy those salty, hearty, meat-indulgent, comfort food cravings that pop up now and then. Therefore, it’s easy to see why they have earned a place in the mainstream diet. Even the mere mention of them has people swooning over the memories these conjur up.
The name, raspeballer, derives from the action of grating (å raspe). It goes by other names, such as komle, kompe, klubb, raspekake, klot, potetball, and so on depending upon where you are in the country. Essentially, you grate raw potatoes and mix them together with flour and possibly cooked potatoes. They are simmered gently in salted water or a broth of salted meat.
There are many variations on how they are served. Many serve them alongside cooked sausages and boiled meats and even stuff the dumplings with meat. Some serve it with syrup, some with lingonberries and sugar, some with mashed rutabaga. They can be topped with butter or cooked bacon and its accompanying fat or even a sauce made of brown cheese. Again, it depends upon where you are and who you ask.
Today’s potato dumplings are an evolution from flour-based dumplings. A dictionary from Stavanger in 1698 refers to ‘kumler’ as small flour dumplings one has in soup (små melboller). It wasn’t until later in the 1800s when the potato entered Norwegian society as a cheaper alternative to the increasingly more expensive flour that the dumplings went from flour-based to potato-based. Interestingly, the evolution was seamless and the word kumle became directly associated with potato dumplings – almost as though it never had been used to describe melboller. (Ganens Makt)
I like that the potato dumpling acts as a great base from which you can create a lot of different flavors. With the arrival of spring, I wanted to showcase a side of the dumpling that I have not seen before. That is, full of green vegetables.
I know. I just heard the pin drop too.
Imagining raspeballer without meat is like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the jelly. Hear me out though, sometimes you just switch out the jelly for a compote.
This is a lighter take on what can be quite a heavy dish. A platter of green against the plump dumplings. It’s visually stunning and invites those who may have steered away from potato dumplings in the past to indulge in them. What’s also nice about this dish is that it can act as the main dish or, if you wish, you can serve it alongside a nice lamb or pork roast. You can even stuff them with your choice of meat. I tried it with a bit of lamb inside and left no trace of the dish behind, it was that good!
Potato Dumplings with Spring Vegetables (Raspeballer)
(Makes around 12 dumplings)
- 1.1 lbs (500 g) raw potato
- 0.55 lbs (250 g) potatoes, cooked, then peeled & cooled
- 2/3 cup (80 g) fine, barley flour
- 2 1/2 Tb (20 g) flour
- 1 tsp salt
Buttery Spring Vegetables
- 1 Tb oil
- 1 leek, sliced
- 1 zucchini, peeled into ribbons
- 1 cup peas
- 3 Tb butter
- mint to garnish
∗Even though zucchini is technically a summer vegetable, I’ve added it here 🙂
Grate the raw potato using the smaller holes of the grater. Take the cooked potatoes and run them through a potato ricer, grater or grinder (they need to be lump free). Place the raw and cooked potatoes in a large bowl and mix together with the flours and salt to form a moist dough that can hold its form without being too firm.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 2 tsp of salt. Alternatively, you can use a good vegetable broth or make a meat broth by boiling lamb shoulder and/or pork knuckle in water for a couple of hours.
Using a large spoon and a cup of water, dip the spoon in the water and shape round balls approximately the size between a golf ball and a tennis ball.
Lower the balls gently in the simmering stock, one at the time. Lower the heat and allow the dumplings to cook over a low simmer for 30 minutes. Do not let the water boil or the dumplings could lose their form and you’ll end up with a soup of sorts.
While the dumplings are cooking, prepare the vegetables. Heat 1 Tb oil in a large pan over medium-high heat and add the leeks. After 3 minutes, add the zucchini ribbons and after 1 minute, toss in the peas and 3 Tb butter. Let the butter melt and peas soften and add in a pinch of salt to taste and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Take off the heat and serve immediately with the warm dumplings. Feel free to add more butter if you wish and garnish with some fresh mint.