Cook like a Swede - Recipes and instructions
Learn a bit about Swedish Cuisine and don't miss the recipes at the bottom of the page. Some of them have a video tutorial as well.
Swedish Food Culture
Sweden’s food culture utilizes everything this vast country has to offer, marrying local produce with international influences to create dishes that adapt and evolve along with the culture itself. Innovation and sustainability continue to drive the national food scene forward, while homage is always paid to the traditional ingredients and preparations that form this country’s rich culinary heritage.
Swedish husmanskost denotes traditional home cooked dishes with local ingredients. The term was originally used for a variety of simple country cooking, and was often a time consuming method of cooking. Spices were sparingly used.
Examples of husmanskost still popular today are pea soup (Ärtsoppa), a mashed potatoes /carrots/turnip combination served with pork, fish in many configurations, for example picked herring, smoked or marinated salmon, meatballs, a version of potato latkes (Raggmunkar) served with lingonberries, porridge in different versions, hash with potatoes, meat and fried eggs served with pickled red beets (Pytt-i-panna). Many of the dishes would be considered comfort food for their nostalgic value.
As early as the 17th century, French influences started creeping into Swedish cuisine, giving rise to the rich, creamy sauces loved by Swedes still today. And perhaps the most well-known national dish, meatballs, was brought over from Turkey by King Charles XII in the early 18th century. To make the meal their own, Swede’s complemented the meatballs with local trimmings such as pickled cucumber, potatoes and lingonberries, smothering them in creamy gravy (brunsås). This dish is now known around the world as “Swedish Meatballs”.
With Sweden’s strong history in trading, exotic spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, anise and saffron found their way into popular Swedish baked goods like the ginger bread cookies or saffron buns.
Today, Swedes pride themselves on eating as naturally as possible in a bid to look after their health – and that of the planet. Food production ethics and animal welfare are high on the agenda. Hence, there’s an increasing demand for locally made, organic produce and many supermarkets have also started stocking products from nearby farms.
The farm-to-table movement is also very popular in Sweden. And given the generosity of the country’s natural pantry of berries, mushrooms and edible plants, you could even call this local dining approach “forest-to-table”.
As the climate crisis deepens, many people are striving for more sustainable dietary habits with zero waste. Sweden’s first package-free grocery store opened in Malmö; you bring your own reusable containers to fill with their assortment of local and international products.
Popular Swedish Food:
Lingonberries go with anything
Just like ketchup and mustard, lingonberry jam is widely used to accompany a variety of dishes, from meatballs and pancakes to porridge and black pudding (blodpudding). But despite its sweetness, it is rarely used on bread. Thanks to the Right of Public Access (Allemansrätten), which gives everyone the freedom to roam and enjoy nature, many Swedes grow up picking lingonberries (a relative to cranberries) in the forest, and using these tiny tart red fruits to make a jam-like preserve.
Pickled herring – centre of the smorgasbord
You might swap meatballs (köttbullar) for mini sausages (prinskorvar) or pick cured salmon (gravad lax) rather than smoked, but your smorgasbord wouldn’t be complete without pickled herring (sill). This fishy favourite remains the basis of every typical Swedish buffet. Swedes have been pickling herring since the Middle Ages, mainly as a way of preserving the fish for storage and transportation. Pickled herring comes in a variety of flavours – mustard, onion, garlic and dill, to name a few – and is often eaten with boiled potatoes, sour cream, chopped chives, sharp hard cheese, sometimes boiled eggs and, of course, crispbread.
Crispbread – what’s your favourite topping?
In addition to bread and butter, you’ll often find a type of crispbread (knäckebröd) served alongside your main meal. This is what the Swedes tend to reach for. Once considered poor man’s food, crispbread has been baked in Sweden for over 500 years, can last for at least a year if stored properly, and remains among the most versatile edible products. Crispbread can be topped with anything from sliced boiled eggs and caviar squeezed from a tube for breakfast; to ham, cheese and cucumber slices for lunch; to just plain butter along with your dinner.
When you order a sandwich, don’t be surprised if it involves just a single slice of bread, the typical Swedish smörgås. The Swedish concept of open sandwiches dates back to the 1400s when thick slabs of bread were used as plates. In Sweden, the shrimp sandwich remains a popular option. Piled high with a mix of cooked Atlantic shrimps, egg slices, lettuce, and mayonnaise with a slice of lemon, this seafood snack is often topped with creamy crème fraîche blended with dill sprigs and roe.
Pea soup and pancakes on Thursdays
Many Swedes grow up eating pea soup (Ärtsoppa) and pancakes every Thursday. This tradition has been upheld by the Swedish Armed Forces since World War II. While it’s true origins are widely debated – from Catholics not eating meat on Fridays, thus filling up on pea soup on Thursdays, or pea soup being prepared by the maid servants who would work half-days on Thursdays – the tradition has truly stuck. Most traditional lunch restaurants serve pea soup and pancakes with lingonberry jam or any kind of jam on Thursdays.
Lördagsgodis (Saturday Candy)
The average Swedish family, with two adults and two children, eats 1.2 kilos of candy per week – most of it on Saturdays, the designated candy day. Upheld mostly to protect people’s teeth and prevent dental cavities, this once-a-week indulgence is based on findings from 1957 of the direct relationship between candy and tooth decay. Therefore the Swedish Medical Board suggested that Swedes eat candy only once a week – an unwritten rule that many families still stick to.
Janssons frestelse (Jansson’s temptation) is a classic Swedish Christmas dish which consists of a creamy potato and anchovy casserole. The dish can be served at any time of the year, but the Swedes prefer to eat it during the holiday season. The dish was named after Pelle Janzon, who was a Swedish opera singer in the 1900s and was known for being a food lover.
Gravad Lax with Dill Potatoes
The origin of gravad lax or gravlax can be traced all the way back to 14th-century North-Sweden. In the Middle-Ages, salt was expensive and most foods had to be preserved using alternative methods. In North-Sweden, peasants and fishermen developed a unique technique called gravad lax (“buried salmon” hence the name gravlax): The filleted salmon was placed in a hole in the earth, covered with birch bark and various spices and herbs. The result was a rather strong-smelling product that would be closer to today’s infamous surströmming (fermented herring) than the gravlax that is eaten nowadays. Today’s gravlax is raw salmon that have been cured with salt, sugar, dill and crushed peppercorns up to 48 hours. The dish is served with a mustard & dill sauce. Gravlax is often present on the Swedish smorgasbord but is also very delicious served on its own cut in thin slices with new potatoes and the mustard sauce or alternatively on a piece of crispbread.
Gingerbread Cookies or “Pepparkakor”
The first record of Swedish gingerbread cookies comes from nuns in central Sweden in 1444. The nuns ate cookies full of spices to help with their digestion. In Swedish the name actually translates as 'pepper cookies,' because apparently peppar was used as a general term for spices. For a few hundred years, the cookies only had life as a medicine. The first written gingerbread recipes are from the 1700s. In the 1800s, baking gingerbread cookies became a tradition for Christmas, a holiday still going by the more traditional pagan name of Jul.
Saffransbullar & Cinnamon Buns
Saffron buns or saffransbullar are typically served during the Christmas season, starting from the end of Halloween until New Years. They are baked with saffron which makes the buns bright yellow. Another popular pastry is the cinnamon bun or kanelbullar, which arguably could be a Swedish favorite. The sticky treats are served year-round in Sweden and are most often paired with a coffee (fika) during the morning or for special occasions.
What is Fika?
Fika is often translated as "a coffee and cinnamon bun break", which is kind of correct, but really it is much more than that. Fika is a concept, a state of mind, an attitude and an important part of Swedish culture. Many Swedes consider that it is almost essential to make time for fika every day. It means making time for friends and colleagues to share a cup of coffee (or tea) and a little something to eat. Fika cannot be experienced at your desk by yourself.
Even the mighty Volvo plant stops for fika. All Swedes consider it important to make time to stop and socialize: to take a pause. It refreshes the brain and strengthens relationships. And it makes good business sense: firms have better teams and are more productive where fika is institutionalized.
- Margareta Jakobsson
Click on the picture below to get the recipe and instructions.