Food and the Hungry author/Edible Stieg Larsson: RECIPE: Swedish meatballs

This post is in conjunction with my friend Ariadne’s blog, where she reviews literature in some very funny themed blog posts. If you want to know what to read, Ariadne will show you the way. She’s written a post on food in books and I’ve created some recipes to go with her reviews. This first post is about her comments on the Millenium trilogy (so good!).

I only recently (as in, tonight!) finished reading Stieg Larsson’s acclaimed series of books, and I’ve seen the Swedish film version of ‘Men who Hate Women’ (published in the US and UK as ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’). It was an excellent film, made slightly awkward by the fact that I was watching it with my dad (there’s a lot of graphic sex…), who is an ardent fan of the books and has been pushing me to read them from the moment he picked up the first one. And I finally did! I needed a new series to get stuck into after finishing the Jasper Fforde books…(even worse in terms of food and diet…the characters pretty much survive on Battenberg cake).

While discussing the Stieg Larsson books with me, Ariadne mentioned “the only thing I can remember them eating is sandwiches!” (Salander pretty much exclusively eats cheese and pickle). And of course, Billy’s Pan pizza and lots and lots of coffee (Larsson apparently modelled Blomkvist after himself, and apparently the writer was absolutely addicted to coffee). Quite frankly if I drank half as much coffee I’d be weeing all the time, not fighting prostitution rings.

I actually thought the food was okay throughout the books, though as Ariadne says they have appalling diets, revolving around bread, cheese, kefir, caviar and shop-bought pizza. The only thing we see Mikael cooking is lamb chops in red wine sauce, which he seemed to make for every woman he had sex with. The healthiest food they ate was the food at Samir’s Cauldron.

Creamy meatballs, new potatoes, broccoli!

It seemed fitting to make Swedish meatballs (Köttbullar) – just the thing to stick to your ribs after a long day of protecting the Swedish constitution. Even though, ironically, it’s one of the members of the Section who thinks about meatballs. If you don’t have time to cook anything (or if the safe house you’re hiding out at doesn’t have a stove!) they can be picked up at IKEA (the largest IKEA store in the world is in Sweden!).

Swedish meatballs a la IKEA

Let’s not beat around the bush: I haven’t been to Sweden and the closest I’ve been to Swedish food is the meatballs and potato salad in IKEA. I based this recipe on the many I found on the internet. I considered relying more heavily on the IKEA recipe but frankly wanted something more flavourful and richly spiced, and something a bit less work. I included milk because the original included cream in the meatballs, used breadcrumbs instead of rusks and omitted the potatoes.

I used home-made breadcrumbs (you know, from stale loaves blitzed in the processor), and their surface area was larger than those of bought crumbs. If you’re using bought crumbs or chapelure you may need to add more or less: bought crumbs tend to be finer and drier and so may soak up more liquid, but your mileage may vary.

For the meatballs:

1 small onion, finely chopped and sauteed till golden in 1 TBS butter
250g beef mince
250g pork mince
1 egg
75g breadcrumbs
60ml milk
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice

For the sauce:

300ml single cream
300ml chicken stock
1 – 2 TBS lemon juice
1 – 2 TBS chopped dill
2 TBS plain flour

1) Mix together all the ingredients for the meatballs until thoroughly combined. I used my hands

2) Form the meat mixture into fairly large rounds – mine were about 1.5 TBS. You can lay the formed balls onto a plate or baking tray, cover and leave for a few hours if this is more convenient than using at once.

3) Heat up frying pan over a medium-high heat. If you’re using very lean mince or if (like me!) you’re using a cast iron pan that hasn’t yet developed non-stick properties you may need to melt a little butter in the pan. Otherwise the fat the meat gives off should be enough to cook it. Add the meatballs (you may need to do this in batches) and turn heat down to low to cook gently. Let brown on both sides and make sure they are thoroughly cooked through (it took me about 10 mins per batch). Remove meatballs from pan and let drain on a plate lined with paper towels. This can be done in advance

4) Pour out most of the fat from the empty pan. Pour in cream, stock and lemon juice to taste. Whisk in the flour, making sure to remove all lumps. Bring to a boil

5) Add the meatballs and chopped dill and let simmer for five minutes to heat through thoroughly.

Serves 4.

Serving suggestions: boiled, buttered new potatoes with dill; buttered peas; steamed or blanched broccoli

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