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CHRISTMAS

Five key julbord points: A beginner’s guide to the Swedish Christmas meal

Fretting over the prospect of a huge, unfamiliar Swedish julbord Christmas meal? Here's a simple guide to help you navigate it.

a picture of typical julbord meals
Confused? Let us help... Photo: Robin Haldert/TT

1. The order of affairs

The sheer variation of food on offer at a Swedish Christmas meal can be daunting for newcomers, but there’s a clear order to follow that should make things simpler.

You might kick off with some glögg (similar to mulled wine) to warm up, then comes the first wave of food. That’s usually the fish dishes, focusing on pickled herring (sill) and cured salmon (gravad lax) accompanied with potatoes and crispbread (knäckebröd).

Next up is cold cured meats (including the fabled Christmas ham), more bread, and probably some pâté. Then it’s the heaviest wave, the warm dishes, which will likely involve meatballs, sausage (prinskorv), a potato and cream casserole (Janssons frestelse), and sometimes bread dipped in pork broth (dopp i grytan).

After that, it’s dessert and/or cheese with crackers, finished off with some coffee and perhaps a few sweets and rice pudding (ris à la Malta).

If that sounds like a lot, then the trick here is not to fill yourself up early on – as tasty as the sill may be. That means going easy on the knäckebröd to begin with, by the way. There’s nothing worse than trying to force down Janssons frestelse in order to look polite when in truth you’re already full.


Meatballs, prinskorv sausage, and Janssons frestelse. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

2. If you’re the chef, shoot for quality, not quantity

It sounds like a contradiction considering Sweden’s traditional Christmas meal is based on a variety of smaller dishes, but try to exercise some common sense and avoid being over ambitious if you’re in charge of making the food.

Instead of trying to make as many of the almost countless number of potential dishes as possible, pick a selection and focus on getting them right. A smaller number of tasty, well-prepared dishes will go down better than a huge volume of badly cooked food, and it’ll be less stressful too. 

A handy list of recipes for Swedish julbord staples can be found on John Duxbury’s Swedish Food website here. Simply pick your favourites from each category, and get cooking!


You won’t be able to pull this off, so don’t try! Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

3. Solving the veggie dilemma

A traditional julbord can be unkind on vegetarians, so if you’re either hosting a veggie and feel like being accommodating, or want to try making a more veggie-friendly julbord yourself, there are a few simple tricks that can make it easier.

Replacing sill is a tricky one, but pickling beetroot or apples is a decent alternative, and luckily we have a recipe for just that.

If you are in Sweden, some supermarkets stock ready-made vegetarian herring alternatives – look for mushroom (svill), or tofu-based alternatives (often named after the flavour of herring they are trying to replicate – such as skärgårdstofu or senapstofu).

READ ALSO: The history of Sweden’s julbord

Similarly, most Swedish supermarkets carry a decent range of vegetarian sausages and meatballs.

If you want to have a go at a vegetarian alternative to julskinka or Christmas ham, try glazing a celeriac – see here for Rachel Khoo’s recipe (in English).

4. The all-important drinks

Sweden does Christmas drinks well, and there’s a wide range of options if you want to bring a bottle to a friend’s.  A simple start is to pack some glögg, but given everyone has probably been drinking that stuff for a month already, it may be worth branching out.

Dark beers like porters work well, and many Swedish brewers even brew their own special Christmas beer (julöl) which tends to be of the darker variety. If you don’t drink, there’s more and more non-alcoholic Christmas beer appearing every year, and some of them are surprisingly good, so keep your eyes peeled in the supermarket’s beer section.

Alternatively there’s svagdricka, a low alcohol malt drink that’s dark, sweet, and still made by a few breweries. A high-alcohol alternative is mumma, a sort of old-fashioned Swedish Christmas cocktail containing four different types of alcohol that can be bought at Systembolaget or made according to the simple recipe noted here.

Then there’s of course snaps and aquavit, which are consumed at Christmas just like pretty much every other Swedish party. Oh, and there’s also julmust, Sweden’s Christmassy cola, but you’re not a child and don’t drink fizzy drinks with meals, right?


Swedish Christmas beer. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

5. The regional variations

Helpfully if you’re keen on surprises, or worryingly if you’re not, Swedish julbords rarely look exactly alike thanks to the strong regional variation involved in Christmas foods in the country, so prepare for a bit of the unexpected.

If you’re in Bohuslän you may be presented with “egg cheese” for example, which we detailed here, while in the south, a form of sweet fried cabbage called brunkål as well as smoked eels (luad ål) are popular. In the north, oven baked cheese dessert fatost is a specialty.

If you’re lucky enough to be on Gotland at Christmas meanwhile, you may be treated to saffron pancakes, though not in the familiar crepe style. The island’s traditional Christmas dish is made by combining dessert rice, almond paste, eggs, flour, saffron and sliced almonds then baking in the oven before serving in squares. Tasty.


Saffron pancakes, Gotland style. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Article originally published in December 2016 and updated in December 2021.

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EASTER

The must-have dishes for a Swedish Easter celebration

If you've spent Christmas or Midsummer in Sweden before, you'll probably recognise lots of the dishes at a Swedish Easter celebration. Here's our guide, as well as some vegetarian alternatives.

The must-have dishes for a Swedish Easter celebration

A traditional Swedish Easter menu is very similar to a Christmas julbord, although slightly lighter, with a focus on eggs and fish rather than the winter season’s cabbage and kale dishes. Here’s our rundown of what you should expect, as well as how you can make it yourself.

Herring

The most important part of the Easter table for many Swedes is the pickled herring (sill). In many families, one particular member of the family will be tasked with preparing the herring for the Easter meal weeks in advance.

If you’re based in Sweden, you can buy herring in the supermarket, although most will say that homemade pickled herring is superior. Vegetarian or vegan pickled herring substitutes such as svill (made from mushrooms) and tofusill (made from tofu) are also commercially available.

If you are planning on making your own pickled herring for Easter, you have a few options. Either you can buy ready-salted herring fillets in the supermarket which can be pickled straight away, or you will have to buy fresh herring fillets which you salt yourself – the latter option can take up to two weeks so requires a bit of advance planning.

You can also make your own vegetarian options: try pickling aubergine, courgette or tofu. Most recipes will take at least two days, with the herring or alternative of choice needing to marinate overnight before serving, so get planning now if you want to have it on the table for Saturday.

Here are a selection of pickled herring recipes from John Duxbury’s Swedish Food website.

Salmon

Most Easter tables will feature at least two sorts of salmon, one is often a baked side of salmon. You’ll often see smoked salmon and gravad lax (literally “buried”, preserved in salt, sugar and often dill) alongside hovmästarsås, a mustard and dill sauce which is also served at Christmas.

If you don’t eat fish, you can make a vegetarian or vegan version of gravad lax from carrots. This is usually referred to as gravad morot. Here’s a recipe (in Swedish) from the book Vegansk husmanskost by Gustav Johansson. Again, it needs to be marinated overnight, so make sure to plan this in advance.

Scrambled egg with cod roe, truffle and dill served in eggshells. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Eggs

No Easter meal would be complete without eggs. The most usual form of eggs you’ll see is cold, hardboiled eggs sliced in half. Some people will also top these half-eggs with mayonnaise, prawns and cod roe, known as kaviar in Swedish. This is sold in small glass jars in the fridge section of the supermarket, and can be orange or black – not the same as Kalles kaviar!

To make these vegetarian, you can leave out the prawns and use a vegetarian version of kaviar made from seaweed. Look for tångkaviar, which may be in the fish section of the supermarket, or the vegetarian section, if your supermarket has one of these.

If you live outside Sweden, you may be able to source tångkaviar in the food market at your local Ikea.

For a vegan option, try sliced tofu topped with vegan mayonnaise (spiked with black salt, if you can get hold of it, which will give it an eggy flavour). Top with tångkaviar and a sprig of dill and you’re good to go.

Matjes-style herring served with crispbread, boiled new potatoes with dill, cheese and diced onions. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Boiled potatoes with dill

This is pretty self-explanatory. Boiled new potatoes with their skins on, served cold with dill.

Jansson’s temptation

Although more of a Christmas dish, some families also serve Jansson’s temptation, a creamy potato casserole baked in the oven, at Easter.

Jansson’s is made using Swedish ansjovis, known as sprats in English. Although it may be tempting, you should avoid substituting ansjovis with anchovies – the former are much milder and spiced, whereas the latter will be far too salty.

One option, which also has the benefit of being vegetarian, could be to use similar spices to create the same flavour you would gain from the ansjovis. Try simmering the cream used in your Jansson’s for a couple of minutes with a pinch of ground allspice, a pinch of ground cloves, a pinch of ground ginger, a pinch of white pepper and a few bay leaves instead.

Check out this Jansson’s temptation recipe from our archives.

Goat’s cheese filled lamb fillets with beans and tenderstem broccoli. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

Lamb

Roast lamb is also becoming more and more popular at Easter, usually as a roast joint of lamb or a rack of lamb.

This can be difficult to make a convincing vegetarian version of, but vegetarian meatballs or sausages could be a good substitute at your Easter buffet.

Easter egg

If there’s one thing you definitely shouldn’t forget at Easter, it’s the Easter eggs. Swedish Easter eggs are less chocolatey than in other countries. The eggs themselves are not edible – they are made of cardboard with Easter-themed designs – and are filled with sweets. 

These are easy to make vegetarian or vegan, just double-check that any sweets you include don’t contain animal-derived gelatin, and leave out the milk chocolate for any vegans.

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