I’ve watched a couple of Swedish crime shows lately that have been wonderful, namely “The Bridge” and “Midnight Sun”. The latter, in particular, caught my attention because of the portrayal of the Sami culture, which I was only vaguely aware of before. The Sami people are indigenous to the far north of Sweden, and often led semi-nomadic lives as reindeer herders. Many still uphold their cultural traditions today, including dance, song, medicine, dress, legends and food. The major food information I’ve garnered from Sweden has been through the lens of the modern chef Magnus Nilsson, who runs a fine dining restaurant in a tiny town in the far north, and whose food has a mythic, dark fairy-tale aesthetic. If you haven’t seen his episode of “Chef’s Table”, you should, it’s great. Actually, just watch all of “Chef’s Table”, it’s on Netflix, and if you’re reading this blog, you’ll probably love it. Anyway, all of this has captivated the romantic side of me to think of Sweden as this legendary land of ancient folklore and wonder, although in reality I’m fully aware that it’s one of the most civilised places on earth. One of the dishes I wanted to make was kräftskiva, which is a crayfish party. They are traditionally held outdoors during August, and involve a lot of friends and family getting together under paper lanterns, boiling crayfish in salty water, then serving it with dill, cheese, mushroom pies, bread and salads. I couldn’t find any crayfish at the time, so I didn’t do it this week, but I thought it was a lovely tradition. Apparently it’s also a custom in Finland, so maybe I’ll try again!
Smörgås and svampsoppa
Smörgås are open faced sandwiches, and form part of the word “Smörgåsbord”, literally meaning “sandwich table”, but which has come to be synonymous with “large buffet” in both Swedish and English. I made mine on rye bread, with toppings such as pickled cucumber, red cabbage and herring; shrimp, spinach and mayonnaise; radish, cucumber and salmon caviar; and smoked salmon, dill and tomatoes. Svampsoppa is wild mushroom soup, flavoured with cream and parsley. Unfortunately, all I can ever find is dry exotic mushroom here, so I used a mix of dry porcini and some pre-mixed “forest mushrooms”, as well as fresh field mushrooms. I always stare longingly at the 1 kg bag of dry porcini mushrooms in the international grocery store that I frequent, thinking of all the things I could do with those mushrooms. But alas, they are a tad outside of my grocery price range, so it is not meant to be. For now… I would love to go to a place that has good mushrooms to try real fresh wild mushroom dishes, even if it ruined all other mushroom preparations for me forever. I already feel like I want to visit Sweden!
Salmon with lemon and dill sauce, Jansson’s frestelse, pickled red cabbage and green beans
I tend to prefer fish with a good oil content for cooking and sashimi (and less oil for ceviche, FYI) so I have always been a big fan of salmon fillets. Pan-fried or steamed, I think the flesh is a great texture and flavour. Also, if your salmon has a crispy skin and you don’t eat it, you’re terribly terribly wrong, it’s indisputably the most delicious part. Lemon and dill are two of some of the best flavours that I think complement fish, so the sauce was an unsurprising winner. That combo might even be tied with balsamic vinegar reduction for pairing with salmon actually. Wait, my Mum’s mango sauce is also amazing. OK, everything is great with salmon, I can’t decide. “Jansson’s frestelse” means “Jansson’s temptation”. I’m sure that this statement has awakened as much intrigue in your hearts as it did mine when I first heard that name. “Who is Jansson?” I hear you ask “What was the subject of his temptation?”. Well, the subject of his temptation is fairly easy to deduce, the dish is made from layered slivers of potatoes, onions and anchovies, covered in cream and breadcrumbs. Undoubtedly a temptation for even the most steely-eyed Swede, then. Jansson’s identity, on the other hand, is harder to infer. Even Wikipedia is uncertain about his origins. Regardless, it can’t be denied that the man had taste, this dish was delicious, as only potatoes and dairy can be.
Svenska kottbullar, hassleback potato, lingonberry jam, pickle and salad
It feels a bit “gringo” to know first and foremost that Sweden has meatballs, primarily from their synonymity with Ikea. Well, all stereotypes have to come from somewhere, right? The meatballs are spiced with nutmeg, dill and allspice, with mustard in the creamy sauce. Apparently the smaller the meatballs, the fancier they are. I sort of understand why – it’s very tempting to just gradually increase their size as you cook them and get progressively sick of rolling… It would therefore logically take a talented chef to resist the temptation. The hassleback potato is a genius idea I feel, just a baked potato with increased potato-to-oil/salt ratio and therefore more crispy goodness. Lingonberry jam was a difficult thing to find, but eventually I sourced a Swedish shop in Brisbane who came through for me. I’d never had it before, but apparently it’s quite common to eat it with savoury meals, and I thought it was great. It’s not as sweet as other jams, and a little sour, so it’s very nice with meat/potato etc.
Ärtsoppa, raggmunk, rye bread, lingonberry jam, creme fraiche and salad
Ärtsoppa is a yellow split-pea and ham soup, spiced with cloves. My Mum has always made a green split-pea and ham soup that I adore, and of course nothing could ever top that, but the yellow peas and cloves was a nice variation. Rye bread goes well with pea and ham soup – there’s something about the sourness of the bread that complements the sweetness of the peas. I think raggmunk is one of my favourite new words. Wikipedia reliably informs me that “ragg” means “hair” and “munk” means “doughnut”. “Hair doughnut” sounds pretty appetising, no? It’s actually a potato pancake, made with fine strands of grated potato (which I hope is where the “hair” association begins and ends). It’s often served with lingonberry jam and creme fraiche, and is very decadent and delicious. Seriously, is there a way for potato and dairy preparations not to be delicious?