Ole and Lena were eating dinner when Ole yelped and exclaimed…”Lena, vat did ya put in da food, it’s dam spicy!”. Lena said “Dat neighbor down da street gave me something and told me it would make da food da best food we ever had. Cripes, I knew he vas no good.” Ole…” What vas da spice?”. Lena…”Pepper.”
And that, my dear friends, sums up the whole spice profile of Swedish cooking. Okay, so there IS pepper and salt used in Swedish recipes. But that’s about all the spices good, traditional Swedish recipes have. They tend to be very bland by most other cuisine standards.
How do I know this? Well, I worked in a local cafe for quite sometime as a teenager in a MN town called Mora. Mora is all things Swedish. Mora is the home of a gigantic Dala horse, and a Mora clock commemorating the town’s Swedish roots. Mora’s sister city and namesake is Mora, Sweden. Mora DOES Swedish. And that little local cafe I worked at knew how to cater to its locals! Which meant it knew Swedish dishes inside and out.
At that cafe, I learned how to make many a Swedish recipe. Yes, even lutefisk. Gah!! Try getting that smell out of your clothes!
AND…AND…Nate is 1/4 Swedish. I remember when we first married and I met his great-uncles Raymond and Russell. They were 100% Swedish, spoke Swedish, cooked Swedish, and one was dressed in overalls every time you saw him. And they were huge, tall men. Nate’s grandpa and these great uncles were children of Swedish immigrants.
Quite a few years back Nate’s great-uncle was becoming too elderly to stay in his home by himself and wanted to clean out some of his belongings. I was utterly thrilled to be able to get one of the trunks that traveled with the family on the boat from Sweden. That, along with an original Swedish hymnal and Bible are treasures in our home. The stories and history those items have must be incredible!
Nate’s parents stick to meat and potatoes, salt & pepper as the only spices, and lots of cream in their dishes. Standard Swedish cooking. I am often looking for the salt and pepper shakers when we are at their home for dinner. The Swedish roots are strong with those two :).
Swedish Meatballs have their roots as leftovers. No really, it’s true! The meat came from whatever scraps of meat and fat were leftover from the week, and then ground. Which is why Swedish Meatball recipes feature a blend of multiple meats. Onions were readily available because of the ease of storing them in the winter. Breadcrumbs were the leftover pieces of bread that had become stale or not used. And cream? Well, what is a Swede without good cream?
Truly, Swedish Meatballs are the ultimate in leftover use!
- Ground beef. I like to use 80% lean for this recipe.
- Ground pork. Or called pork mince “back in the day” :).
- bread crumbs. White breadcrumbs will give you the most authentic flavor and texture but feel free to use panko breadcrumbs if that is what you have on hand.
- nutmeg. Allspice is a great substitute if you don’t have nutmeg on hand. But don’t skip…this is the secret for authentic tasting meatballs.
- Whipping cream. You need that full fat from whipping cream to get the authentic flavor and texture.
- Eggs. Eggs act as the binder and combine ground beef to stick together.
- onion. You can’t have a Swedish Meatball without onion. And often the onion would have been grated. I can’t stand that process so I just chop it up as fine as I can with my good ol’ knife.
Why did they cook them in a pan, on the stovetop, you wonder? Well, I’m thinking that they weren’t terribly concerned about perfect ball shapes for their leftovers. AND…ovens. Yeah, they weren’t quite as available, in that time, as a plain ol’ fire or cooktop.
Instructions for creating the Meatballs:
- Mix the cream & breadcrumbs in a large bowl and set aside.
- Saute the onions.
- Mix the cooked onions with the remaining ingredients.
- Form the meatballs into about 1 inch balls.
- Cook in melted butter for about 1-2 minutes.
How to form the meatballs:
YOu can use damp hands to create your meatballs like Grandma would have done. Or keep it easy (and less messy) and use the 2 spoon method OR the ice cream scoop method.
Traditionally, Swedish meatballs use the scrapings of the pan with a bit of cream and flour added to create the gravy that you pour on them. And, of course…serve with mashed potatoes and lingonberries.
Instructions for the creamy gravy:
- Mix the cream with the flour to create a bit of a slurry.
- Slowly whisk the mixture into the drippings of the pan.
- If desired, add beef broth for more liquid.
- Simmer until thickened., stirring often. Add salt to taste.
Tips for making Swedish Meatballs:
- The meatball mixture can be really soft and easily fall apart when handled. Use a small cookie scoop to portion the meat out, then wet your hands before rolling them to help.
- Add your beef broth slowly to help your sauce stay thick.
- Don’t let your cream come to a boil or it may separate—just let it simmer.
Notes about making Swedish Meatballs:
- Traditional Swedish Meatballs are soft in texture, this is normal.
- Balls that are only 1 inch in size is traditional. Probably because of how quick they were to cook.
- Traditional Swedish Meatballs aren’t really balls. More like triangles. They are cooked on a side and then turned, resulting in more of a triangle shape. Perfect.
- Traditional Swedish Meatballs are rather bland, almost sweet (because of the nutmeg) in flavor. Feel free to adjust the recipe as you prefer.
This is a larger recipe because…leftovers! I make this large batch and freeze about ½ for a later meal. Soooo good! To make the Swedish meatball sauce I use beef broth in place of the drippings from the frying pan.
What makes Swedish meatballs different than Italian meatballs?
Well, lots, actually. Traditional Swedish meatballs, made with ground pork and beef, are often smaller and less round than Italian meatballs, usually made with just ground beef (and sometimes sausage). The seasonings are totally different—Italian ones use things like parmesan and oregano while Swedish ones use allspice or nutmeg. The way they are served is also totally different. Italian meatballs are usually served with tomato-based sauce and noodles, but Swedish meatballs are served with creamy brown gravy, mashed potatoes, and lingonberries.
What is a good side dish for Swedish meatballs?
Personally, I have to have mashed potatoes and lingonberries (or lingonberry jam) with my Swedish Meatballs. It’s the Swedish way! I’ve known some people who use egg noodles or rice instead of potatoes. Roasted veggies—brussels sprouts or broccoli—are also great on the side.
Make ahead Swedish Meatballs:
Sometimes, doing a little bit ahead of time makes a big difference when that evening crunch time rolls around! You can make your Swedish Meatballs in advance and store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a couple of days. Pull them out when you’re ready to make the sauce. Of course, you can also make the meatballs and sauce in advance and reheat them, too.
How do I store leftover Swedish Meatballs?
Store your leftover Swedish Meatballs in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. You can reheat in the microwave or in a saucepan over medium-low heat or put the meatballs and sauce in a covered dish and bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes. –>You may need to thin the sauce with a little water or cream as it tends to thicken in the fridge.
Can I freeze Swedish Meatballs?
I do not recommend freezing the sauce—it separates and just never really comes back together right when thawed and reheated. But you can freeze the meatballs! Allow them to cool completely, then place them in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. You can also freeze them uncooked on a parchment-lined cookie sheet before transferring them to an airtight container and putting them in the freezer. Before cooking, allow them to thaw in the fridge.
Authentic Swedish Meatball Recipe
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 2/3 cup whipping cream
- 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
- 2 eggs beaten.
- 1 tablespoon butter.
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoons salt
- 3 teaspoons pepper
- 2 tablespoons beef bouillon
- 3/4 cup whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 tablespoons beef bouillon, optional
- Put the cream into a large bowl, add the breadcrumbs, set aside.
- In a large skillet melt the butter and add the chopped onion. Cook for about 3 minutes.
- Add the onion, meat, egg, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to the breadcrumbs and cream.
- Mix everything together only until well mixed…do not overmix.
- In the same skillet as the onion, melt 4 tablespoons of butter on medium heat.
- Using two spoons, damp hands, or a small ice cream scoop, form the meat mixture into 1 inch balls and place into the skillet. Leave room around each meatball.
- Cook on each side turning to the next side after about 1-2 minutes. Set cooked meatballs into a pan in a low-heat 200 degrees oven while cooking the remaining. Cook meatballs to 165 degrees internally.
“Delicious! My young kids loved the meatballs even without the homemade gravy. We made the whole batch and our family of five ate all, but two meatballs!Sheila