All posts filed under “Sweden

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Wild elderflower vodka (flädersnaps)

ElderflowerElderflower has a near mythical status in Sweden. Blooming in June, it dots the midsummer nights with a dusky light. Way back, women would make sacrifices to the bushes in an attempt to woo “hyllekvinnan” an elderflower godess of fertility. Most everything about the Swedish summer is centered around fertility. Here’s a great snaps to get it going.

You’ll need:
10 large bunches elderflower
10 cm slice of lemon peel
2 tbsp brown sugar
35 cl vodka (Brännvin special, with a softer taste and slightly lower alcohol content is ideal, but near impossible to get a hold of abroad. Absolut or Smirnoff are acceptable.)

Equipment:
Some kind of sealed glass jar
A siv

Do not rinse the flowers, but pick the large bunches apart with your fingers to remove insects and leaves, making sure you put only flowers in your jar. Add the lemon peel and sugar, followed by the vodka. Stir, seal, and let it rest somewhere dark in room temperature for three days. Then filter the mixture through a siv or cheese cloth, gently crushing the contents to extract the flavour. Pour it into a glass bottle, but don’t fill it entirely, as the best place to store it is the freezer. Serve freezing.

Foraging notes
Elderflower is great for many things, and often overlooked (at least in Belgium where tons of it grows in abandoned places). You can make the world’s best cordial from it, sorbet, or pick the berries to make fake capers (although my experience with making fake capers is to just let this one be). You get the most aromatic and floral notes from the first flowers of the early season. Look for it at the sunny fringes of the forest, in the bushel along train tracks, or in hedgerows between fields.

 

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Falafel heroes at Saras, Malmö

Messy falafel roll

Bear with me, it’s difficult taking a decent picture of a falafel roll.

Falafels rolls are ubiquitous in Malmö, where the newspaper has a blog dedicated to them and the combination of hipster vegans and middle eastern migrants has married splendidly. When I grew up, a large falafel roll with salad, salty pickle and spicy sauce would set you back 15 kronor (less than 2 euros). But the low price of the rolls isn’t their greatness. What makes me love them is the perfect crisp of the little balls, and how soft and velvety they are inside. In Malmö, falafels are normally served with salad, salty pickle, parsley and spicy sauce, and they are never dry.

Saras falafel Malmö

My favourite falafel place in Malmö is called Sara. They bake their own bread, and the chef has given me his smoky baba ganoush recipe. These days, a large falafel roll with extra feta cheese, baba ganoush and an Ayran to drink costs about 50 kronor (a little over 5 euros). It’s so worth every penny of that. If you visit Malmö, I would recommend a visit to Sara as much as I would to any fancy Swedish restaurant in the region. It’s a pure delight. My brother laments the loss of falafels when he talks of his move to Stockholm. Something called “falafel” might be served there, but it’s a different thing entirely.

Sara, Bergsgatan 24, 214 22 Malmö, Sweden

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Food for the zombie invasion (or pretty poor home-made capers)

Capucines

I’ve long had a thing for zombie-knowledge. That is, things that would be useful to know (perhaps) in case of a zombie invasion or the outbreak of a third world war, such as mending your clothes, collecting rainwater efficiently, or making your own capers.  But I have a long way to go for the last skill. I got the idea of making capers with dandelion buds from the Wild Plant Forager blog, and set out in the forest with my friend Johanna in May to gather some, in true Swedish spirit. As all Swedes ought to know, dandelion doesn’t really grow in the forest, so our yield was pretty poor.

Salted dandelion buds

Nevertheless, we pickled our trove in salt and vinegar, and let them sit for two weeks. We tested the result on a group of four, out of whom three almost had to spit them out. (It shall be noted here, however, that person no. 4 claimed to kind of enjoy them).

Dandelion buds in vinegar

After this failure, we tried following a Finish recipe for pickled dandelion buds and bedded them in layers of salt, where they were supposed to rest for three months. We tried them after one month, at which point they tasted of hay and salt. Not as bad as before, but not by any means a decent substitute for capers. The test group results this time were 2 for(ish), 1 against, and 1 abstention. They are still sitting on a shelf in the kitchen waiting for something magical to happen in the next two months.

Pickled dandelion buds

This long wait took me to round number three: capucine capers. I happen to have capucine growing everywhere on the terrace, so gathering their seed-pods was easy enough. I followed the steps laid out on various Swedish blogs on how to pickle them, which entailed covering them in boiling brine (salt and water) and leaving them for three days, after which they should be rinsed, then soaked in boiling vinegar, salt and bay leaf.  After three days in the fridge, I must say, of the three batches I tried, these ones were the best. They have a strong taste of vinegar and are very salty. I suppose they could tenuously be compared to the pickled cabbage served at Turkish restaurants. But I will perhaps manage without capers should a zombie outbreak occur.

Capucine capers

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Pelikan, Stockholm

Filip and ham hock

Pelikan is a legendary Stockholm establishment I’ve longed to visit for ages. It’s been around for as long as any living person can remember, and has the same air of grand old lady as Judi Dench. I’m currently reading a book about poor Stockholmers at the turn of the century where Pelikan was the place to go if you wanted to splash out a little. Pelikan serves traditional Swedish food in style of Den Gyldene Freden but at truly huge portions, and a more digestible price. It’s now one of my favourite places in Stockholm.

Shrimp sandwich

We visited on a busy Friday night, but the service was impeccable (contrary to stories I’ve heard from previous guests). Pelikan’s staff are little older than the average Stockholm waiters, and they take great pride in their work. This, as far as I understand, means they can be very grumpy sometimes, but also brilliant. My brother’s starter was a delicious trio of herring, with wonderful cumin cheese and crisp bread. My starter, gubbröra, is a Swedish classic of anchovies, red onion, fresh herbs in sours cream on dark, sweet rye bread,  which was also delicious. The most insane starter was Fredrik’s shrimp sandwich, which was about the size of two mains. It was great, but should really have been presented as a main (to share).

Meatballs

The mains were great, both in size and taste. Filip’s ham hock was the size of a cauliflower head, servedwith hutspot and three different kinds of mustard. A true classic. My meatballs were also huge, with lovely lingonberry and proper salted cucumber in cream sauce. As far as meatballs go, I prefer the ones served at Den Gyldene Freden, but these still tasted very Swedish. Fredrik’s salmon was luckily smaller than his starter, and slipped down easily. Pelikan is as much about the food as the ambience: the huge old beer hall transports you back to old times lost. Enjoying traditional herring in the light of candles and the pale Stockholm night is quite a treat. Just be prepared to bring a doggy bag home.

Pelikan, Blekingegatan 40, 116 62 Stockholm. 08-556 090 90. Reservation recommended.

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Swedish train gastronomy

SJ trerätters

Judging by the common complaints against the Swedish  train services (SJ) – the constant delays and breakdowns, the high prices, and the 50 years of overdue track repairs – I never expected much of their food. But given SJ’s weird booking system, I recently came across a first class ticket between Lund-Nässjö which oddly was cheaper than a 2nd class ticket. Having saved 100 kronor by travelling first class, I opted for the “Three Course Menu” for 145 Swedish kronor (appox. 16 euros) with quite some excitement.

Swedish train menu

Having rolled out of a rainy Lund with only 1h 30 to eat, I was delighted that the food arrived promptly after 20 minutes. It was so hot that I burnt my finger, and the entire meal was presented on a tray like airplane food. The heavy china with the SJ logo on was a nice touch, as well as the little note presenting the food. But my optimism was slightly quashed by the first forkful. The ‘starter’ consisted of marinated mussles with a slice of chorizo and some chopped red pepper. They were marinated in something tangy, but had a fishy aftertaste, and I set my hopes higher for the next dish.

SJ chorizo with mussels

The ‘main’ was, unfortunately, a slight downward ride from the mussels. Of course, it was foolish to get my hopes up for something  described as “Herby chicken with tagliatelle”. The chicken was hot, which was good, but rubbery at places, and the tagliatelle was overcooked. The most troubling part was the sauce, which was so thin that it kept splashing across to my fellow passenger (whom I didn’t know, and probably wasn’t appreciating my eager food analysis).

Herb chicken with tagliatelle

The dessert, a “Chocolate and blueberry mousse”, looked cute, but sounded like a combo that would be weird even in the poshest restaurant. Luckily, the promised fusion didn’t actually materialise – instead it tasted like soft chocolate sponge cake with some tangy chocolate mousse on top. It was decent.

Chocolate and blueberry mousse

All in all, the SJ lunch tasted much like airplane food, which I suppose is what you should expect given the price, the setting, and the standard of SJ services. So nothing terrible, yet not quite worthy of the lush “3 course menu” description on their website, or their elegant wine suggestions to go with it. I imagine it’s a lifetime of difference from the food on the Orient Express, where a single trip from Paris to Istanbul sets you back almost €7000. I long for trying it. Until then, I leave you with a wet photo of the Swedish countryside, to match the SJ gastronomic experience.

Sight from the Swedish train

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Chanterelle foraging

Because of the terribly rainy summer, Sweden is invaded with golden chanterelles at the moment. My stepmum complains over being bombarded with everyone’s beautifully instagrammed pictures of them. The chanterelles, which only grow in the wild, have a floral,  slightly nutty flavour with hints of apricot, and are known in Sweden as forest gold (and the price tag for fresh ones in London suggests there’s something to that name). All the more reason to write about these tasty beauties, so here is my mini-guide to finding, picking and eating them.

Finding. My sister-in-law who is from the dark forests of Värmland has what we in Sweden call kantarellnäsa – chanterelle nose. This has nothing to do with the appearance of her cute, shapely nose, but rather to her mysterious talent of finding chanterelles in the wild. No matter how hard I try, I never find as many. Her main tips are to look on small, sunny hills in the forest, in areas where birches grow sparsely together with large fir trees. If you lift the lowest branches of fir trees growing in these conditions, you can often find some chanterelles. Also, stay clear lingon and blueberry bushes, because if you find one of these you’re rather unlikely to find chanterelles nearby. Chanterelles like rainy summers but also heat, so like grape vine they enjoy hillsides where they can soak up as much warmth from the sun as possible (however they tend to live in the undergrowth, so you rarely find them in direct sunlight).

Foraging. Whilst picked berries can be placed and stored in plastic containers, mushrooms should ideally be placed in an airy basket lined with newspaper, and be wrapped in newspaper in the fridge when stored at home. If you actually make your way to Scandinavia to forage, mosquito repellent and long-sleeved thin clothing is essential. Mosquitos proliferate in the forest if it’s been rainy and hot, which means they co-exist with the chanterelles. Also, large parts of Scandinavia have ticks in high grass, which sometimes carry Borrelia, a very serious disease if  untreated. So make sure to check your elbows, knees and other skin creases after coming back from the forest or meadows with high grass. If you’ve caught a tick, gently remove it with a tweezer. Normally that’s all there is to it, but if you get a red circular rash developing around the bite after a few weeks, see a doctor.

A final hazard of foraging in the wild is the risk of picking the wrong kinds of mushrooms. Unless you’re an expert, stick to picking only golden chanterelles which are unmistakably golden and hard to confuse with anything else. Do not pick any white mushrooms at all, as you might accidentally pick Vit Flugsvamp, aptly named Destroying Angel in English, which looks like this. Even a small quantity can lead to a slow and painful death, so it’s important to wash your hands if you accidentally touch one.

On the upside, most of the berries you find in the forest and meadows are perfectly edible, so after all those heavy warnings, here are some cute photos of blueberries and wild strawberries.

Cleaning. Once you’ve gathered a basketfull of chanterelles for yourself, it’s time to clean them. For this you need a small brush and a knife. Cut the very bottom of the stalk (just the dirty root), and then carefully remove any other dirt on the mushroom with a little brush. You can use an egg brush for this. This is rather time-consuming, but do not under any circumstances wash the chanterelles, as this removes a crucial part of their flavour and makes them soggy. If you’re too impatient or scared of bacteria for this process, you may simply have to stick with green-house grown mushrooms.

Cooking. With their distinct flavour, chanterelles take-over or accompany a great array of dishes and they blend beautifully in salads with apple, in reindeer stews with lingonberry, or with scrambled eggs. However, I prefer to just enjoy them on their own, pan fried in butter, served on toast. This is particularly delicious if toast the bread on high heat in the pan you’ve cooked the chanterelles in. Pan-fried chanterelles require a hearty spicing of butter (and if you even consider replacing it with something lighter you might as well not bother), however you must not put it in at first, but instead turn the water out of the mushrooms by dry frying them. This is a heartbreaking process in many ways, as you’ll see your large batch of chanterelles shrink considerably.

Once their water has evaporated from the pan, add a large knob of butter and let the chanterelles soak in this whilst frying for a few more minutes. Remove them from the pan, increase the heat and pan-toast your bread in the leftover butter. Place the mushrooms on top of the toast and sprinkle with salt and white pepper before serving. Absolutely delicious.