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SWEDISH FOOD

Top ten Swedish taste sensations

Sweden has a rich and varied culinary tradition, and a vast selection of dishes which have, quite rightly, earned their places as favourites with gourmands worldwide, writes Matt O’Leary.

Top ten Swedish taste sensations

The variety of dishes on offer in restaurants across the whole country – old-school and innovative alike – makes compiling a definitive collection a tricky task. But here, plucked from the typical Swedish lunch menu, are ten items we consider to be the essential tastes of Sweden.

Janssons frestelse

(Jansson’s temptation)

This creamy potato gratin – made with thin strips of potato, as well as silky fried onions and anchovies – is a central part of the spread at Christmas and during other festivities. Theories abound as to who Jansson was, although most agree that the taste of the dish – both luxurious and comforting – surpasses any need for speculation.

Fret not, fish haters – the anchovies don’t overpower the dish. Rather, they excite the part of the tongue which recognizes “umami” (a hard-to-classify savoury flavour) and give it a uniquely delicious edge.

Köttbullar

(Meatballs)

The anaemic meatballs in ill-smelling plastic packs which occupy international supermarket shelves are a pale imitation of those you’ll find in your local Swedish shop; even so, these too are eclipsed by the home-made version, which appear in various forms in kitchens, restaurants and cafes around the country.

Some insist that the seasoned blend of meat and breadcrumbs should be livened up with a splash of soda water, prior to cooking, for airiness; others insist on adding finely-chopped onion.

Inlagd sill

(Pickled herring)

A far cry from vinegar-soaked rollmops, there are more types of Swedish herring than you can shake a stick at. As a result these festive fish take pride of place in celebratory spreads. Our particular favourite is skärgårdssill – preserved in a smooth sauce with sharp flecks of pepper and roe – although senapssill, in mustard sauce, and oniony löksill are also held in high regard.

Stekt strömming & potatismos

(Fried Atlantic herring mashed potato)

Once a week, you’re likely to see this on the menu at your local husmanskost (traditional food) joint; two pieces of Atlantic herring (the common or garden sill’s smaller Baltic Sea cousin) with parsley or butter sandwiched between them, breaded or floured and fried in butter until the skin is curled and crisp. Coupled with mashed potato and a dollop of lingonberry preserve, this is a typical hearty meal that works well at home, at a stall in the local saluhall (indoor market), or in an upmarket restaurant.

Pytt i panna

This dish is a triumph of thrift; it’s easy to make with a few inexpensive ingredients, and is versatile enough to be served as an accompaniment to many things. The basic dish is a mixture of sautéed potatoes, onions, and meat (such as ham or potatoes). To some, pytt i panna is known as “hänt i veckan” – happened in the last week – which shows its roots as a dish comprised of leftovers.

Pytt i panna is best enjoyed in the traditional way, with a fried egg and some piquant preserved vegetables like pickled beetroot, gherkins or capers.

Biff Rydberg

For those of you who’ve turned your nose up at the previous description, allow us to present pytt i panna’s more upmarket cousin – biff Rydberg. Popularised in the Stockholm hotel of the same name, biff Rydberg is a similar mélange of meat, potatoes and other ingredients, placed in a pan and sautéed; however, this version has a little more panache.

Imagine the same kind of hotch-potch, but made with beef fillet, roasted hunks of potatoes and onions, frequently flavoured with oil, herbs and mustard.

Kladdkaka

Or sticky cake. Similar in texture to a chocolate brownie, but made slightly thinner and in a larger dish, this chocolate cake – made with sugar, vanilla, eggs, flour and butter among other ingredients – is great at fika (coffee break) or after a meal.

We’ve seen recipes containing banana and other types of fruit, which tend to complement the sweet, gooey centre of the cake quite well, and can almost convince you that you’re enjoying something which is really good for you. Best served with whipped cream for those extra few vital grams of saturated, er, goodness.

Biff a la Lindström

You may have noticed that beef is frequently served minced or diced in a good many Swedish kitchens; these mince patties, shaped into burger shapes and flavoured with beetroot and capers, can look startlingly purple – but they taste fantastic served with potatoes, gravy and a side-salad.

Legend has it that a Russian-raised Swede named Henrik Lindström instructed the chefs at his hotel in Kalmar to create a dish that combined both of his homelands. His legacy endures on husmanskost menus nationwide.

Gravad lax

It’s not smoked salmon, although it might look like it. Gravad lax is salmon cured with salt and dill and served thinly sliced. The curing method traditionally took place in a shallow covered hole, once the fish had been covered, explaining the roots of the dish’s name (“salmon from the grave”).

Gravad lax is enjoyed in a variety of forms – sweet mustard sauce goes well with the lightly-flavoured fish, as do capers and crispbread. You may find that some versions of the dish come slightly smoked – although purists will argue that this is a different dish altogether.

Ärtsoppa & pannkakor

(Pea soup and pancakes)

Another weekly husmanskost staple, traditionally served on Thursdays, this two-course dish consists of a hearty bowl of pea soup followed by a couple of dense pancakes, maybe served with whipped cream and jam. There’s not a lot to differentiate Swedish pea soup from that served across Europe, but the care with which the dish is made and seasoned – the skins of the peas scooped from the slowly-simmered soup to ensure a very smooth spoonful – is evident in the eating. The pancakes, for which Sweden is famous, are light, flavoursome and satisfying.

Recipes for many of the dishes listed above are available at www.sweden.se.

What’s your favourite dish? Share your thoughts, and your recipes, on Discuss.

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.

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