Knäckebröd (Rye Crispbread)
This rye crispbread has been baked for over 500 years in Sweden, and it is on the table for every meal. It can be topped with hard boiled eggs, cheese, or shrimp salad for breakfast or lunch, or with butter alongside dinner. The dimpled pattern is traditionally accomplished with a kruskavel - a dedicated rolling pin with a knobby texture. There are several variations now, but this traditional version uses only wholegrain rye flour, yeast, salt, and water. The average Swede consumes over 5.5 kilograms of knackebrod every year! (Contains gluten; vegan.)
Senapssill (Pickled Herring in Mustard Sauce)
Sweden’s long coastline provides ample access to the herring shoals of both the Baltic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and herring features heavily in Swedish cuisine. It is eaten freshly cooked, pickled, and most famously - fermented (surströmming). Though it is a national delicacy, even many Swedes are offended by the pungency of surströmming, so we’ve opted to bring you this milder pickled herring in a housemade creamy, slightly sweet mustard sauce. Pickled herring (inlagd sill) has been eaten by Swedes for at least 500 years; pickling and fermentation were both methods of preserving fish and minimizing spoilage in the absence of refrigeration. Herring has historically been one of the most important fishes in the Nordic region - in terms of dietary consumption, side products, and trade. In the 18th century, the herring catch was periodically so plentiful that fishermen would run out of barrels and salt, so they would extract the fish oil (which required less storage space than whole fish), and sell it in southern European markets for lamp oil and soap. (Contains fish; no gluten, no dairy.)
Morotssallad (Carrot Salad)
This bright and crunchy carrot salad is one of those dishes that is more than the sum of its parts - shredded carrots are simply dressed with a lemony dill vinaigrette. Carrots, in myriad forms, are an important vegetable in Nordic cookery. They are cold-hardy, nutrient-dense, and easy to grow. In the winter, they might be steamed, boiled, roasted, or stewed, while in summer, they are often eaten in salads like this one. Carrots originated in the region of modern-day Iran, though they were originally cultivated for their greens, as the roots of early varieties were very bitter. (Vegan, no gluten.)
Vitkålssallad (Cabbage Salad with Lingonberry Dressing)
Cabbage salad is common on the Swedish table in winter, when less hardy produce was historically harder (or impossible) to come by. It is part of a group of dishes (along with the morotssallad above) called räkost (raw food) that often shows up in the popular lunch buffets as well. This traditional recipe combines lingonberry jam, mustard, and vinegar for a sweet-tart dressing. Berries - blueberries, cloudberries, lingonberries, raspberries, and strawberries - have long been part of the Swedish diet, and are eaten fresh during the short summer season, and preserved as jam for the long winters. Lingonberry jam is a favorite condiment, eaten with dishes both savory and sweet, though rarely on bread. (Vegan, no gluten.)
Ärtsoppa (Yellow Split Pea Soup)
This delicious pea soup is by far the most popular soup in Sweden, and it is often served for dinner on Thursdays, which is “soup day” across the country. This tradition dates back to the 13th century, and the most likely explanation is that Swedes filled their bellies with pea soup in preparation for religious fasting on Fridays. Some people maintain that soup day exists because maids would traditionally work a half-day on Thursdays, and would leave a pot of this soup simmering on the stove for the hapless household members to serve themselves. Whatever the reason, the tradition persists, and most Swedes have ärtsoppa for dinner on Thursdays (often with a dollop of mustard, and pancakes for dessert!). (No gluten, no dairy.)
Skånsk Kalops (Beef Stew with Allspice)
This very hearty, very traditional beef stew originated in the southernmost Swedish county of Skåne, known for its beaches and summer produce. This stew is neither beachy nor summery, but it is beloved across the country, and is often simply called kalops. Some versions have carrots (ours does), some have potatoes (ours doesn’t), but all derive their warmth from a substantial dose of allspice, which gives this stew a distinctive flavor. Allspice is the only spice whose cultivation is confined completely to the Western hemisphere (mainly Jamaica); it is one of a handful of spices used more in North America and Northern Europe than anywhere else in the world, and it is a signature ingredient in Swedish meatballs as well. (Contains gluten, dairy.)
Rotfruktsmos (Root Vegetable Mash)
As previously mentioned, root vegetables, in many forms, are common in Swedish cookery. In this dish, rutabagas, carrots, and potatoes are gently simmered in beef stock with aromatic spices until tender, then roughly mashed. The rutabagas add a bit of spice, the carrots sweetness, while the mild potatoes temper both that spicy sweetness and add texture. You’re likely familiar with carrots and potatoes, but perhaps you’ve never had rutabaga before, as it has certainly fallen out of use in the last century in the US. The rutabaga is related to (and sometimes likened to) the turnip, though it is generally milder in flavor. It is only called a rutabaga in the US, though; in other areas where it is eaten, it is called a swede. Swedes (the vegetable, not the people) were first referenced in 1620 by a Swiss botanist working in Sweden, who noted them growing in the wild. (Contains dairy; no gluten.)
Kanelbullar (Cinnamon Buns)
IKEA has done an excellent job spreading the legitimate Swedish legacy of these baked goods across the globe. Cinnamon buns originated in Sweden, and October 4 is Kanelbullens Dag (Cinnamon Bun Day). While this holiday is a fairly recent marketing concept, cinnamon buns are an important Swedish culinary tradition. Cinnamon is one of the oldest traded spices of the ancient world, and was largely responsible for launching the Age of Exploration, as spice traders began to travel the world in search of this valuable ingredient. Cinnamon originated on the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and was initially traded through India and into Europe until the Portuguese, and then the Dutch, took control of the island specifically for its cinnamon. In Sweden, cinnamon buns are part of the daily tradition of fika - a midday break for coffee and a pastry. Fika is not simply grabbing a coffee on the run - it is purposefully pausing in one’s work to rest and have a snack (often a cinnamon bun!) together with friends or coworkers. (Contains gluten, dairy, egg; vegetarian.)
Available at A&L Wine Castle
Derived from the Latin aqua vitae, or “water of life" this herbaceous spirit is a favorite across the Nordic region and has been distilled throughout Scandinavia for over 500 years. Often touted for its medicinal properties, akvavit is distilled from either grain or potatoes, and then flavored with a variety of herbs and spices. Recipes vary by brand and country, but the principle flavor is almost always caraway seed, which lends the drink a spicy, rye flavor. Other frequent additions include cardamom, cumin, anise, fennel, dill seed and lemon or orange peel. It’s sometimes aged in oak casks, especially in Norway, which lends the spirit an amber color. We like ours ice cold, taken as a single shot after a bite of pickled herring as recommended by chef Magnus Nilsson. In his words it should be “frozen to the point of the alcohol becoming viscous. It should feel like a tasteless, frozen lead pellet hurtling past your larynx when swallowed. A teardrop of ice that, seconds later, heated by the warmth of your body, blossoms into an aromatic fire that roars up your throat with aromas of caraway, aniseed and perhaps bitter wormwood.” Skål!
What pops into your mind at the mention of Swedish food? The meatballs and cinnamon buns of IKEA? Well, you’re not alone, and you’re not wrong! Meatballs and cinnamon buns are traditional Swedish foods, but there is much more to the cuisine and the culinary traditions of this country! Sweden is one of four countries that make up Scandinavia (along with Denmark, Norway, and Finland), and its capital city of Stockholm lies entirely on an archipelago off the eastern coast of the country, where Lake Mälaren flows into the Baltic Sea. Stockholm is made up of fourteen islands connected by 57 bridges, and directions are sometimes given in terms of how many bridges you’ll have to cross to get to your destination.
Sweden is one of a short list of countries that are considered genuinely neutral with respect to foreign policy and military engagement. Once the Vikings and their marauding ways (793-1066CE) faded into history, King Gustav XIV declared Sweden a neutral country in 1834. Unlike many of the locations/cultures we’ve featured recently, Sweden’s history has been uninfluenced by invading forces, its monuments and historic buildings are intact, and its population largely unchanged by immigrants. Sweden has remained ethnically and religiously extremely homogeneous (Swedish and Lutheran), though immigration has begun to increase diversity, especially in the major cities of Stockholm, Goteborg, and Malmo. There is a very small indigenous population (the Sami) - distinct from the Germanic ethnic Swedes - in the far north of the country, whose culture revolves largely around reindeer husbandry.
The relatively flat landscape of Sweden is dotted with lakes and rivers - it is one of the largest countries in the EU, but also one of the most sparsely populated, and it is known for its vast expanses of dense forests and green spaces. Sweden spans a wide range of latitudes, so the weather varies dramatically from the north to the south. Throughout the country, though, winters are long, cold, and dark (only 5.5 hours of daylight in Stockholm in the depth of winter), and summers are short, mild, and dry. Swedish children grow up hearing that, “There is no such thing as bad weather - only bad clothing.” Despite the long winters (or perhaps because of them), Swedes, in general, have a great appreciation for the outdoors. Allemansrätten (everyman’s right) is a long-standing concept (now a law) allowing for public access to pretty much the entire country - including private land (excepting, of course, private dwellings!). During the warmer months, picnicking is very popular, and parks are easy to find in Stockholm. During those long, dark winters, the Swedes embrace the notion of mys (coziness), lighting candles and piling on the fuzzy blankets.
The word “lagom” comes up repeatedly in descriptions of Swedish cuisine and culture. Lagom does not have a literal English translation, but it encompasses the concepts of sufficiency, moderation, adequacy, balance, and humility - it does not have the negative connotation that many of these concepts have to Americans, where the ideal of “mostness” often reigns. Lagom weaves through every facet of Swedish culture - family, relationships, work, recreation, and food.
In the early 2000s, several young Scandinavian chefs began working to revitalize Nordic cuisine with a return to local foraging and adaptation of traditional cold-climate cooking. Ambitious, chef-driven restaurants (especially Geranium and Noma in Denmark, and Fäviken in Sweden) started a movement so organized and intentional that it has been dubbed “the New Nordic cuisine.” This cuisine relies heavily on traditional ingredients and historic techniques, but it often showcases lighter and brighter versions of traditional fare. In the 20 years of its existence, the movement has transitioned from the domain of haute cuisine into schools, politics, and food production. The New Nordic movement has a set of guiding principles that ultimately boils down to sustainability, and yes - lagom.
Our menu relies heavily on the work of Magnus Nilsson, who helmed the pioneering restaurant Fäviken for over a decade. While you won’t find Fäviken’s vinegar dust, parsley jelly, or marrow mousse on this menu, you will find dishes that include traditional Swedish ingredients (such as root vegetables, herring, beef, cabbage, and berries) prepared in a contemporary fashion.
Since our Michigan weather is so unpredictable right now, this menu is delightfully adaptable. If it’s a warm and humid evening, enjoy this meal as a picnic! If it’s blustery and cold, light some candles and embrace the mys! Either way, “Smaklig måltid!”
Featured Recipe: Morotsallad
Shredded Carrot Salad with Dill
Makes 6 servings
2 lb carrots, peeled and coarsely grated on a box grater or food processor
For the dressing:
50 ml lemon juice (about juice from one lemon)
Lemon zest from one lemon
4 g garlic, grated
90 ml (6 tbsp) sunflower oil
20 g sugar
Start with ½ (10 g) and increase depending on the natural sweetness of the carrots
Half bunch dill, large stems removed and coarsely chopped
White wine vinegar to taste
1 tsp kosher salt + more to taste
Black pepper to taste
Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a bowl
Toss the shredded carrots & dill with the dressing
Recipes Inspired By:
Sweden has a very interesting and complex history of emigration and immigration.
Read more about the indigenous Sami people, who live in the far north of Sweden, Finland, and Norway.
Learn more about the nuanced Swedish concept of lagom.
This beautiful (if slightly impractical) cookbook features the recipes for every single dish prepared at Faviken during its 11-year history, along with some wonderful commentary from Chef Magnus Nilsson.