I stand entirely corrected when it comes to Scandinavian cuisine – I have gone from a total “hater” to someone who LOVES the cuisine. I am always looking for excuses to visit Pläj, one of the best Scandinavian restaurants in San Francisco. I have also (somewhat) successfully converted some my foodie Asian friends who were convinced, like I was, that the cuisine is bland and horrible, by taking them the restaurant. Yes, we suffered from a superiority complex and we were missing out because of it. I suspect eating IKEA’s meatballs had something to do with perpetuating our biases. Real Swedish meatballs are amazing and a dish that you cannot stop eating. Yes, compared to the food I cook, Scandinavian food is simple. But it isn’t without immense flavor. Scandinavian cooking and ingredients are truly unique and the cuisine is deeply influenced by what nature has “forced” upon the people of the region. Long, dark winters along the Arctic Circle have greatly influenced the cuisine of Scandinavia from Viking times to the current renaissance of “New Nordic” cuisine. Foraging in bountiful times, preserving food for survival during icy winters, a deep connection to the landscape and environment, and a celebration of design, all give an insight into the culture, history and cuisine of the region. And suddenly, all food Scandinavian is receiving it’s rightly deserved global acclaim. Meanwhile, I am obsessed with “The Scandinavian Kitchen” cookbook by Camilla Plum and working my way through it. Perhaps a vacation to a Scandinavian country is next. 🙂 The mustard sauce below is a bit of a revelation. We taught the recipe at a recent cooking class for high-schoolers. I brought the leftovers home and refused to share them with anyone. It’s a great sauce to have lying around in the refrigerator as it revives even the most boring of dinners. Continue reading
The final recipe for our first World Bento from Scandinavia is Swedish meatballs. You cannot get more Swedish than IKEA and Swedish meatballs. And for those of you who do not know, IKEA’s cafe serves some pretty decent meatballs. We obviously prefer making our own at home because you can control the quality of the ingredients, but if you are at IKEA, and feeling hungry, grab some as a snack. IKEA’s little “grocery” and cafe section also serves some pretty delightful Nordic (and inexpensive) treats, that are worth a try if you are thinking of creating your own Scandinavian bento at home.
Kids generally love meatballs and they are easy to make “international”, and hence use the humble meatball as a vehicle to introduce the little ones to different flavors (and the world). I make a rather delicious and often-requested Indian kofta (meatball) curry. Then there is the “ever popular” Italian/American spaghetti and meatballs (“pasketti and eatballs” as we used to call them when the munchkin was younger). The Middle East has a whole host of kofta (meatball) recipes. Check out this article from the Huffington Post on 15 International Twists On Meatball Recipes for inspiration. I am envisioning an International Meatball Party and perhaps even a “meatball swap”! 🙂
Swedish Meatballs – adapted from Alton Brown
- 2 slices fresh white bread
- 1/4 cup milk
- 3 tablespoons clarified butter, divided (used regular butter)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- A pinch plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 pound ground chuck (used just beef and you can substitute with turkey)
- 3/4 pound ground pork
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups beef broth (used chicken broth)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
- Tear the bread into pieces and place in a small mixing bowl along with the milk. Set aside.
- In a 12-inch straight sided saute pan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and sweat until the onions are soft. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the bread and milk mixture, ground chuck, pork, egg yolks, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, black pepper, allspice, nutmeg, and onions. Beat on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes. (we did this by hand to save ourselves some washing up)
- Make tablespoon size meatballs and place on a sheet pan
- Heat the remaining butter in the saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the meatballs and saute until golden brown on all sides, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the meatballs to an ovenproof dish using a slotted spoon and place in the warmed oven. Do not overcrowd pan.
- Once all of the meatballs are cooked and in the oven, decrease the heat to low and add the flour to the pan or skillet. Whisk until lightly browned, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add the beef stock and whisk until sauce begins to thicken. Add the cream and continue to cook until the gravy reaches the desired consistency. Remove the meatballs from the oven, cover with the gravy and serve.
I have to admit I know very little about Scandinavian cuisine, and when we decided to feature it during our Around the World Summer Camp, I was nervous and skeptical. In my mind, the food in the countries that comprise Scandinavia was bland an uninspiring. Having grown up in Southeast Asia, one can probably understand the origin of my bias, but that is exactly what it is. A bias. Something I needed to get over. And boy did I get over it :)!! Rosie the Program Director at 18 Reasons and a co-teacher at our summer camp would be proud of me. I have been pinning a bunch of recipes on our Scandinavian Food Pinterest Board and even bought a cookbook. There’s no stopping us now – we’re hooked. So stay tuned for more recipes and ideas from Northern Europe.
The Swedish hardtack recipe below is delicious and easy, even for a phobic baker like me. The kids at the camp made it virtually by themselves and tremendously enjoyed the end product with sliced cheese and pea soup. A very satisfying school lunch with cheese and salami or after school snack. And a much healthier baking project with the kids compared to ubiquitous cupcakes and cookies.
Swedish Hardtack (from Beatrice Ojakangas)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1 ½ cup buttermilk
1 ½ cup whole wheat flour
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
3 cup finely ground oats (finely grind the oats in a food processor before you begin)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease the bottom of 2 11×17 inch cookie sheet (or whatever size you have)
- Melt butter in pan over medium heat. Set aside to cool briefly.
- In a large bowl, stir together the melted butter and buttermilk. Add remaining ingredients to make a stiff, sticky dough. Let stand for 10-15 minutes so that dough becomes less sticky.
- Divide into four parts and place one part each on greased bottom of two cookie sheets,
- Roll dough with rolling pin all the way to edges of cookie sheet. You want a very thin dough — less than ¼ inch. If it breaks, that is ok. Just press gently back together and smooth. Trim edges to make a neat rectangle. Pierce all over with a fork (all over!). Score dough into 2”x4” rectangles, or the shape of your choice! Bake for 20-25 minutes until dark golden (but not brown) and crisp.
- Let cool for a few minutes, then break apart on score lines and let cool on cooling rack.
- Makes approximately 110 crackers. They will keep in tightly sealed container for about a week.
PS – The winner of our giveaway of Suz Lipman’s book – Linda who writes the blog – A Nature Mom