As I mentioned, I recently read Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s memoir, Yes Chef. As an Ethiopian-born Swede, Samuelsson trained in Sweden before coming to New York (with stints in Switzerland and France). I found his descriptions of Swedish cuisine fascinating – from his grandmother and mother’s home cooking to the more “haute” cuisine of Swedish restaurants.
There are, of course, many facets and well-known Swedish dishes, but these are what I found interesting.
– The Swedes use dill frequently (my least favorite herb actually).
One of the most iconic Swedish dishes is gravlax where salmon cured with salt, sugar and dill is served with dill and mustard over toast.
– Sweet and sour is an important component of Swedish cooking. It seems almost all dishes have these two elements (seen above in gravlax or with swedish meatballs which are served with salty pickled cucumbers and sweet lingonberries, a popular accompaniment in many dishes).
– Pickled herring is a central feature of smörgåsbord, one of the most renowned Swedish culinary traditions. These buffet-style meals are usually served for special occasions and holidays, including New Years and Christmas. (Fun fact: a Christmas smörgåsbord is called a julbord).
A smörgåsbord has five courses or stages
– 1) a variety of herrings, sharp cheese and boiled potatoes;
2) cold fish and shellfish dishes;
3) meat dishes such as cold cuts and pates;
4) warm main dishes such as meatballs; and finally
I recently went to Smorgas Chef at New York City’s Scandinavia House and tried their classic Smorgasbord. This is the first time I’ve eating gravlax and herring!
– Apparently, pea soup and pancakes are commonly eating on Thursdays. One story is that maids work half days on Thursdays and soup and pancakes were a simple meal to prepare in advance. (Fun fact: peas are associated with Thor).
– Crayfish parties (or kräftskiva) are popular in the summertime (as in other Nordic countries). The crayfish are boiled with dill and eaten with one’s hands. Lots of drinking, drinking songs, and festive hats apparently.
Donal Skehan is this Irish singer/television presenter who also has had cooking programs. After being in a boy band, he now hosts Junior MasterChef and is a cookbook author.
– Aquavit is a traditional spirit flavored with dill or caraway. It is usually drunk from small shot glasses in a ritual called snaps.
– A popular dessert is princess cake or prinsesstårta. This cake consists of yellow sponge cake lined with jam and vanilla custard and a topping of whipped cream. The cake is then sealed with marzipan, usually bright green. Fun fact: the third week of September is prinsesstårta week.
– Another popular dessert are heart-shaped waffles, Våffeldagen, which are topped with jam and whipped cream. In Sweden, March 25th is Waffle Day (just the other day!) – this happens to be the day before my birthday so I’ll celebrate every year!
But, for my entry into Scandinavian cuisine, I decided to make Swedish meatballs (Marcus Samuelsson’s own recipe!) (which I’ll post in a few days).
Last but not least, an honorable mention to my dream Swedish husband, Alexander Skarsgård…that Swedish accent is very sexy (and he’s 6’4″!). Do yourself a favor, ladies and spend the rest of the day watching True Blood – a shirtless Alexander Skarsgård doing dirty vampire things… you’re welcome.