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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker


Time to add Swedish Meatballs to your rotation

Swedish meatballs are a classic comfort for some, but I didn’t grow up with them. My first encounter was at the cafeteria of IKEA. Fast forward a few years when I married into a very proud Swedish family from Minneapolis and started to perfect my husband’s favorite childhood dinner. I admittedly had some sub-par attempts that were just “fine,” but what has evolved is a very flavorful, quite traditional and easy recipe. The sides, while inspired by classic Scandinavian flavors like beets and dill, have my personal stamp all over them. They are each healthy, colorful and delicious.

The bed upon which the meatballs and creamy gravy rest is a cauliflower-and-potato puree that is lighter in texture and carbohydrates than your traditional mashed potato. A high-speed blender is your best friend here to get that uber-silky texture, but an immersion blender or food processor are the secondary choices. Just be sure to blend and scrape down the sides as needed until the mixture is super smooth.

The first side dish is an addictive beet-and-apple salad that alone is a recipe worth having in your back pocket. It’s bright, tangy and can go with so many different kinds of proteins all year round. Creamy dilled cucumbers are a classic Scandinavian side dish that comes together in minutes and is a true crowd pleaser.

This dinner is that kind of traditional square meal that screams family and togetherness. And the big treat for the cook is that most of the elements can not only be made ahead, but taste better with some time in the refrigerator.

Each time I make this, these are the steps I do the day before: Make the meatball mix, make the beet-and-apple salad, and make the creamy dilled cucumbers. You can even make the cauliflower-potato puree ahead and gently reheat it in the oven or microwave. If you’re lucky enough to have any leftover meatballs and gravy for the next day, they are all but begging to be reheated, placed on a piece of toasted sourdough bread, sprinkled with a little dill and eaten as an open-faced sandwich.

Swedish Meatballs - Serves about 4


2 small slices sourdough or white bread, crusts cut off

2 tablespoons whole milk or heavy cream

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 small shallot, peeled and minced or grated

1½ teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg

A few grinds of fresh-ground black pepper

1 pound ground pork (this could also be a mix of beef & pork)


1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon neutral oil

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 cups of chicken stock

2 tablespoons heavy cream or sour cream

Tear the bread into little pieces and place in a large bowl. Add the milk or heavy cream, egg, shallot, salt, allspice, cardamom, nutmeg and pepper. Gently mix the ingredients until the bread has soaked up the milk and egg. Add the ground pork to combine. Form meatballs a little smaller than a ping pong ball and transfer them to a plate. Cover with plastic wrap if you decide to refrigerate overnight.

Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the butter melts, carefully add the meatballs. Cook, gently turning every so often, for about 5-6 minutes until the meatballs are lightly golden brown. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

For the gravy, make a roux by melting the butter and sprinkling in the flour in a skillet. Whisk over medium high heat until pale golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the mustard and whisk one minute more. Pour in the chicken stock and whisk to combine.

You’ll have lots of brown bits floating around and you can either leave them or, if you’re like me and want a smoother look, you can strain the gravy into a large measuring cup. If you choose that option, wipe out your skillet with a paper towel before returning the gravy. Reduce heat to medium. Season with salt and whisk in the heavy cream. Add the meatballs to the gravy and simmer for 5-8 minutes until the gravy has thickened and the meatballs are cooked through. Taste gravy for salt.

Your Swedish meatballs can sit off the heat for a little while if you need time before serving. When you’re ready, heat and stir to break up any skin that may have formed on the gravy. Not to worry, a stir and some heat will take care of it!

Creamy Dilled Cucumbers

Serves 4

1 English cucumber or 4-5 mini cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons sour cream (or creme fraiche)

1 tablespoon white or rice vinegar

Big pinch of salt

A few grinds of pepper

½ cup dill, roughly chopped

Combine all of that together really well and let it marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Beet & Apple Salad with Horseradish

Serves 4

2 large beets

1 apple (any kind)

3 tablespoons sour cream (creme fraiche is even better)

2 tablespoons horseradish

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon salt

Prep the beets and apples; I like to wear rubber kitchen gloves for this. Peel both the beets and apples. Trim any root ends on the beets, and core the apples. If using the food processor with shredding attachment, cut everything into wedges that will fit into the feed hole on your food processor. If using a box grater, leave the beets whole and the apples in big pieces.

Shred the beets and apples either using a food processor fitted with the shredding attachment or on the larger holes of a box grater.

Meanwhile, combine the sour cream, horseradish, caraway seeds and salt in the bottom of a large bowl. Mix well, then dump the shredded beets and apples right on top. Mix until everything is combined. Taste the salad for salt.

You can serve this right away, but it gets better and better as it sits in the refrigerator. I like to make this the day before.

Cauliflower & Potato Puree

Serves 4

1 small head of cauliflower cut into florets (about 6 cups)

1 smallish Yukon Gold or Idaho potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (about 2 cups)

2 garlic cloves, left whole

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup sour cream or creme fraiche

Set a steamer basket in a large pot filled with a few inches of water. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Place the cauliflower, potatoes and garlic cloves inside the basket, cover it, and steam it for 10 to 15 minutes until both the cauliflower and potatoes are very soft.

Meanwhile, put the butter and sour cream in the bottom of your blender. Place the hot vegetables on top; this will melt the butter. Season with a generous pinch of salt.

Blend, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed, until very smooth and creamy. Taste and season with more salt, if needed.

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