This is a meal that my mom made for us growing up for as long as I can remember, even though we are not at all Swedish. I'm not really sure where the recipe came from (I guess my grandma had it before my mom, but I'm not sure where she got it), but all I know is that it's super good! It's not a very exotic meal, but it is much more of a challenge to make these from scratch than buying frozen meatballs from IKEA (there's nothing wrong with that though - I love IKEA's Swedish Meatballs)! Plus, Swedish Meatballs (köttbullar in Swedish) just such an iconic Swedish dish, so I think that regardless of how common it is, it still counts as a gastronomic trip to another culture!
First, soften 1/2 cup bread crumbs in 1/2 cup of milk.
Let them soak for a few minutes. This is when I took the opportunity to chop up half of a yellow onion. If you happen to have one, I find it very quick and easy to use a "Slap-Chop"-like contraption. I've been seeing these for sale from a number of stores (I even saw them in Aldi last weekend). Mine is from Pampered Chef. The only downside is that it's sort of a pain to clean up (especially if you're a bit lazy like me), and it's also just one more thing taking up that valuable kitchen space when you could just as easily use a knife. I happened to get mine as a wedding gift (before I lived in my tiny apartment), so I may as well put it to good use! I do love my tiny chopping board though - perfect for when you just need to cut up one thing, and also perfect for a tiny kitchen.
Then, in a mixing bowl, combine the 1 pound of ground beef, bread crumb and milk mixture, chopped onion, 1 slightly beaten egg, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper.
Thoroughly combine it all together. You can mix it up however you want, but I just used my hands. I find this to be efficient and it allows me to be sure I mixed it well.
Once it's all mixed together, shape the meat mixture into balls. Be sure they are pressed and compacted together well, or else they may fall apart when you cook them. Swedish meatballs are typically 1 inch in diameter. Mine ended up a tad bit bigger.
Mine did start breaking apart a bit, but not too badly. I gently rotated them with tongs in order to cook them on all sides.
Once the meatballs are cooked through, remove them from the pot. Stir 1/3 cup flour into the drippings and whisk together well. Dissolve 3 beef bouillon cubes (or 3 tsp Better Than Bouillon, which is what I use!) in 3 cups of hot water. Alternatively, I have just used 3 cups of beef broth in the past, which has worked just as well. Gradually add to the flour and drippings mixture, stirring constantly until smooth. I let it get a bit bubbly as well.
Nice and smooth:
Add 1 1/2 cups of milk and 1 1/2 cups of light cream or half and half. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes.
If it still seems too runny, make a slurry to thicken it. Combine 1/4 cup of the sauce with 1/4 cup of flour and whisk it together until smooth. Then pour it back into the sauce, stirring constantly while adding the flour mixture. Nice and thick!
Return the meatballs to the pot with the sauce and simmer 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and add seasoning salt as desired.
Typically, you would serve Swedish Meatballs with mashed potatoes and, if you are lucky enough to find it, lingonberry jam. I have never actually looked in grocery stores here for it because I usually buy a few jars from IKEA whenever I happen to be down in the Chicago area. They usually last me a pretty long time. If you've never had lingonberries, they are similar to currants, and the taste goes very well with meatballs.
Anyway, now that I've told you about the way this meal is traditionally served, I can now show you how I tend to break the rules of this tradition. As I said before, my mom has been making this for as long as I can remember, yet we are not even a little bit Swedish. Rather than serving our Swedish Meatballs with potatoes and lingonberries, my Italian mom would prepare pasta to go along with it instead! I don't know if that's how my grandma would serve them, but I just thought it was funny to see this slight cultural variation. So tonight, that is how I decided to make it.
I'd say the spaghetti works just as well as potatoes! I've had it both ways, and they are both delicious.
I had a hard time choosing an item to feature in my pop culture focus, as Sweden has been an important presence in pop music for a very long time! As far back as the 1970s, of course, there was ABBA, a hugely influential presence especially after they won the 1974 Eurovision with the song "Waterloo". Ace of Base ("The Sign", "All That She Wants"), The Cardigans ("Lovefool"), Rednex ("Cotton Eye Joe") and Eagle Eye Chery ("Save Tonight" - I had no idea he was Swedish and I had this CD in middle school!) were popular in the 1990s, and more recently we've seen Icona Pop ("I Love It"), Basshunter ("Vi sitter i Ventrilo och spelar DotA") and Avicii ("Levels"). All that, and I haven't even gotten into the heavy metal scene (Amon Amarth, Sabaton, Dark Tranquility... I could go on)! Aside from music, I can't mention Sweden without mentioning Minecraft, which was created by Swedish company Mojang. And then of course I've also mentioned IKEA, where I've bought plenty of furniture and had some delicious meals in their food court!
Hmmm.... I'd love to include all of the aforementioned music, but then this would get way too long. I'll go with the weird song and leave you with Basshunter:
1 lb ground beef
½ cup bread crumbs
½ cup milk
½ finely chopped onion
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 ½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
½ cup butter
¼ cup flour
3 beef bouillon cubes, OR 3 tsp Better Than Bouillon, OR 3 cups beef broth (if using this, omit water)
3 cups hot water
1 ½ cups milk
1 ½ cups light cream or half & half
Seasoning salt to taste
Soften bread crumbs in ½ cup of milk. Add the beef, onion, eggs, salt, and pepper, mix thoroughly. Shape into balls 1" in diameter. Heat butter in Dutch oven or large pot. Add meatballs & brown all sides. Remove meatballs & stir flour into drippings. Blend well.
Dissolve bouillon cubes or Better Than Bouillon in hot water. Gradually add to flour mixture, stirring constantly until smooth. Alternatively, just gradually add 3 cups beef broth to the flour mixture.
Add milk & cream, cook over low heat stirring constantly for about 3 minutes. Add meatballs to sauce. If it is still very runny, make a slurry to thicken it. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add seasoning salt to taste.