Text Ilkka Sirén
“What do you eat in Finland?” That’s a question I hear a lot. People wait me to give all kinds of exotic answers like that I eat raw bear meat and I have my own moose that I ride to work every day. It’s not quite like that. We have plenty of traditional dishes but most of them we might eat once a year. We don’t have a thing like bacalhau in Portugal that we eat almost daily or at least weekly. Finns do not generally use a lot of spices in their food and to be honest the food here can be sometimes quite bland. On the other hand people here really appreciate the natural flavors of good ingredients. Vegetables, roots, berries and mushrooms are some of the most treasured things here in the cold north. But as a fan of for example Thai and Vietnamese cuisine I enjoy strong savory foods with a bit of heat.
Now that we are on our way towards another harsh winter we sit and wait for the leaves to fall and cover everything with beautiful colors. The transition from summer to autumn in Finland is swift. As we speak the nights are getting colder and who knows, we might have first snow next month already. Indeed summer is just a distant dream at this point. This translates directly into one’s kitchen, especially mine. Not only that I start cooking up hearty dishes and pickling literally everything, I also see autumn in my personal drink selection. But let’s come back to that later.
Tortillas, tacos, burritos and carnitas are far from being authentic Finnish cuisine but I must say that I’m a fan. Tortilla itself, the thin flatbread, is merely an elaborate vehicle for all things delicious; in this case a fiery habanero and naga jolokia chili con carne. Even though the infamous naga jolokia chili is about 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce the idea is not to nuke your palate. I’m keen to create a balanced, powerful but most of all flavorful sauce. I don’t always succeed.
The question is what to serve with this kind of dish? My natural impulse was “go beer or go home”. Beer, yes, it’s definitely the easiest match but there must be something else. Many would have gone with an off-dry white, a riesling perhaps. The sweetness balancing the heat of the chili and so on. Sure, that could work but for this particular occasion it was too elegant. Tortillas are all but elegant. They are sloppy, messy and delicious. I wanted something with proper cojones. Enter Esporão Reserva 2011. A sturdy blend of Alicante Bouschet, Aragonês, Cabernet Sauvignon and Trincadeira. Black and dense like the tree on the label. A godsend for our cold dark nights. Esporão Reserva 2011 is definitely a wine you can and should forget in your basement for a year or twelve but with the spicy chili con carne the match was brilliant. At first I thought it would be an assault on the senses. Well, there was a lot of action on the palate when this ample Alentejano collided with the chili. But when the dust settled there was a tasty and slightly surprising marriage of flavors. If you are not used to chili the combination might be overwhelming but if you love chili like I do you just might discover something special.