I’m well versed in lefse, rosettes, spritz and krumkake, but somehow managed to live 27 years in Minnesota minus any memorable encounters with Swedish meatballs, which I attribute to (a) youthful pickiness, (b) a generally noncarnivorous nature, and (c) the fact that they didn’t open an IKEA in the Twin Cities until after I moved away. In exile from my Midwestern homeland, my interest in things Scandinavian has grown exponentially, and one of my favorite ways to eat meat now is in ball form (well-seasoned, bite-sized tidbits beat big boring slabs any day), so it seemed appropriate to finally get into Swedish meatballs.
I bookmarked a number of recipes over the years, but never felt inspired to take the plunge (who really needs more meat and cream in their lives?) until I saw a photo of this Jet and Indigo recipe somewhere online and fell in love with the idea of taking things to the Nordic next level with a gorgeously colorful topping of pickled vegetables.
I went with America’s Test Kitchen (via Elly Says Opa) for the meatballs themselves, and they’re the best I’ve ever made. I don’t quite know what does it (the mixture of beef and pork? the grated onion, which at least on my crappy grater turns into a watery, gelatinous mess that seems like it’s going to make everything sodden but is in fact the perfect way to spread oniony goodness through every cell of the meatball?), but dang, they’re tender and delicious. I found the inclusion of sugar a bit odd, especially in the sauce, and the first time I made this, everything just seemed off-puttingly sweet, especially when combined with the pickled veggies (which tend toward the sweet side as well). I investigated a number of other Swedish meatball recipes and found a few that had sugar in the meat but none that also used it in the sauce, so on the second go-round I omitted it and everything was perfect. It’s possible the sugar works better with heavy cream in the sauce—the first time I used creme fraiche because I happened to have some on hand, and the second time I opted for sour cream, which seemed more traditional. I also threw in a big handful of parsley, just to freshen things up, along with a ton of dill in the pickles. I hate that the recipe calls for just “1 slice sandwich bread,” which seems a lot vaguer than measuring the bread in ounces (I tend to keep odds and ends of various breads in the freezer for making crumbs, but rarely “sandwich bread” per se), but hilariously, on my second try it ended up forcing me to double down on Scandinavianness when it turned out that all I had on hand was marble rye. I can’t say I could taste the caraway in the finished meatballs, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
I know it might seem weird (it certainly did to me; kudos to A for encouraging me to forge ahead) to take a perfectly normal serving of meatballs in a nice gravy and then dump some cold, sweet-and-sour radishes and cucumbers all over it, but I’m telling you, that’s what takes this dish from solid to WOWZA. The brine cuts the richness of the meat and cream, and the cool crunch and beautiful pink and green hues are the perfect foil for the velvety beigeness below. If you simply can’t bring yourself to mix them, you can serve the pickles as a sort of side salad and alternate bites between the two dishes, but trust me on this one: PICKLES ON TOP 4 LYFE.
High-fives were exchanged over the dinner table during this meal (in a very brief pause from shoveling the food into our mouths; I’m a too-fast eater to begin with and yet still embarrassed by how extra quickly I devoured these meatballs every time). I’m ridiculously pleased with it, not only because I managed to merge two recipes and totally nail it (on the second attempt anyway), but also because, like many of the recipes I’ve been trying lately, it represents something that would have repulsed (or at least failed to interest) my younger self. It’s been fun to have the chance to discover foods gradually in my own time instead of just being a jaded sushi eater by age 8, but still, my younger self was totally missing out! I’ll just have to eat many more Swedish meatballs this year to make up for it.
¼ cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
7 ounces radishes, thinly sliced
2-3 small Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
About 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 large egg
¼ cup heavy cream (or half-and-half or milk)
1 slice sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into ½-inch pieces
1 small onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ pound ground pork
½ pound ground beef
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
½ cup chicken broth
¾ cup beef broth
¾ cup sour cream or heavy cream
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 large handful fresh parsley, minced
8 ounces egg noodles, cooked and drained
- To make the pickles, combine the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl, and mix well until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add the cucumber and radish to the bowl, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, mixing occasionally. When ready to serve, stir in the dill.
- To make the meatballs, whisk the egg and the cream (or half-and-half or milk) together in a large bowl. Add the bread and stir to combine. Let sit for 5 minutes or so.
- Add the remaining meatball ingredients, except for the oil, and mix together lightly with your hands or two forks, just until combined. Form into about 25 to 30 1-inch meatballs.
- Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the meatballs in a single layer. Cook for a few minutes per side, until browned all over but still slightly underdone. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate. Repeat with the rest of the meatballs.
- To make the sauce, return the empty skillet to medium heat and melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk constantly until it’s light brown. Whisk in the chicken and beef broth, and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the sauce is reduced to about 1 cup, which will take approximately 5 minutes. Stir in the cream and return to a simmer. Add the meatballs and simmer for about 5 minutes to warm them through and finish cooking. Add the lemon juice and parsley, and season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over egg noodles and top with pickles.
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; store pickles separately.