In honour of Eurovision being held in the lovely town that I made my home for a little while, Malmö, and also of my father’s 60th birthday today, I give to you … my köttbullar (Swedish meatballs).
The annual Eurovision Song Contest is a special event for my family. For as long as I can remember, it has been a family tradition to stay in on a Sunday night in May and watch the finals. I have memories of being a small child and repeating like a parrot, ‘le Royaume-Uni, deux points’ (the United Kingdom, two points … sorry UK!), learning country names in French before I even knew where they were. My dad introduced a home scoring system, and in a very serious fashion, we awarded points as we saw fit. I discovered at this young age that being of mixed origins (or a ‘mongrel’, as I like to call myself) had its benefits. When one of my countries, say Greece, were performing in a below average manner (not uncommon for poor Hellas), I could switch to Spain, then Cyprus, and if desperate, France (the French connection is a lot thinner than the others). Funny how each of these countries has economically fallen to pieces in a similar order … I’m sure there’s a Tante Helga somewhere in that lineage of mine!
Anyway, Eurovision! Aah, Eurovision … so bad and so good all at once. Newer members of my family have had to watch on with heads shaking, as we have sat and seriously considered the talent, the costumes, the special effects and the sheer number of coordinated back-up singers for each act. There have been phone calls to the Greek-Cypriot grandparents when Greece or Cyprus has actually shocked us with a good performance, or from my Uncle John (the Dutch connection) when Holland have had their go. For the record, Uncle John, I actually love the Netherlands song this year … one of my faves.
Fortunately, way over here in Oz, we now get to watch the two preceding semi-finals … which means whole weekend of Eurovision. So this year, I invited myself over to the home of dear friends, Sarah and Shan, for some forced Eurovision-watching and meatball-eating. Köttbullar (pronounced ‘shirt-bullar’) are distinctly different to other types of meatballs and one of the ultimate comfort foods, in my book. Soft, creamy and infused with winter spices – it’s no wonder IKEA sell a tonne of these. I often made this at home in Malmö, with a serve of mashed or boiled potatoes (Swedish style, with lots of dill). In Malmö, I was spoilt for choice with Lingonsylt. Some, like the IKEA version, were more jam-like, others were packed with whole lingonberries, and made the meatballs so much better. If you can get your hands on one of these varieties, I highly recommend it.
So, last night, I took over poor Sare and Shan’s kitchen in a meatball-making extravaganza, putting them both to work in the quest to make the perfect Swedish meal in time for some amazing television. As Shan went to work on the mince, I could tell he was less than enthused about the talent he was about to witness. Sarah, who had never been touched by the delights of Eurovision, was full of anticipation, frying meatballs as quickly as possible. After creating the finishing gravy to complete the dish and making a complete mess of their beautiful kitchen, Sarah performed her photographic magic to capture my meatballs in all their glory. We sat down in time for likes of Albania (slightly creepy guys in leather with fireworks galore), Hungary (surprisingly subtle and modern … no sign of the dude wearing the tightest jeans ever … think he was Mr 2009?) and then Romania. What can I say about Romania? It was lucky we’d finished our dinner … one of us would have definitely choked on a meatball watching Cezar, the Romanian ‘man’ who grew in front of our very eyes, with a falsetto to rival Maria Callas. If you only watch one act, please make it this one. It will disturbingly remain in your minds and hearts forever.
500 g mixed pork and beef mince
1 onion, finely chopped
2/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 ¼ cup milk
2 tablespoons fresh dill
2 teaspoons allspice
a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg
butter or oil for frying
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
squeeze of lemon juice
1 ½ cups beef stock
¼ cup cream
1 tablespoon fresh dill
1 tablespoon lingonsylt (lingonberry jam), plus extra to serve
600 g potatoes (go with a creamy variety)
50 g butter
cream (at least 50 ml)
In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and milk. Set aside. Sauté the chopped onions in a little butter for about one minute in a hot pan. You want these to be translucent, but not too golden. In a large bowl, combine the mince, egg, onion, spices and dill. Add the milk and breadcrumb mixture to the mince, ensuring all breadcrumbs have been soaked well in the milk and the mixture has a doughy consistency. Season the mince well and be sure to get your hands in there and combine the ingredients so the flavours are well distributed. At this point I taste a little of the mince to check for seasoning. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, which I understand, make sure you’ve added about two teaspoons of salt. Roll the mince into small balls – not too small, as they will shrink a little – place in a tray and refrigerate for at least half an hour.
Peel the potatoes and cut into large chunks, then place in a large pot of cold water. Boil the potatoes for about 15-20 minutes on a medium heat, or until cooked through. Drain in a colander and then toss the potatoes back into the pot to steam-dry. Cover to keep these warm.
Once your lovely little meatballs have set, begin frying these in large saucepan on a medium to high heat. Ensure there is enough butter or oil in the pan so these can shallow-fry without burning. Batch the meatballs if necessary so as not to overcrowd them in the pan. Turn the meatballs after about two minutes, or when each side is golden, then set aside on a plate with plenty of absorbent paper and place in a warm oven. Set the pan with drippings aside.
Once all of the meatballs are cooked, quickly get to work on the gravy and mash, or enlist the help of your very own Shan and put him to work on one of these jobs! For the mash, either run the potatoes through a mouli or push them through a large sieve, if you want them extra smooth. You can cheat and beat them, but I find it changes the consistency and flavour a little. Add butter and salt to taste, then add enough cream (or milk, if you’re being less sinful) to give it the consistency you like. I’m not going to be too prescriptive about mash – everyone has their style and version, I know. For this dish, and other dishes with a lot of flavour happening, I like a classic mash.
For the sauce, add the butter and flour to the pan drippings, over a medium heat. Mix well, so that the flour is cooked through and you have a paste-like roux. Add the beef stock, whisking to combine with the paste. This should quickly thicken, so add extra hot water if necessary. Add the cream and lemon juice, and a little pepper and dill. Continue whisking until the sauce has a lovely silky consistency, then add the lingonsylt. This gives the sauce some depth and a hint of berry tartness. Check for taste and season if necessary. If you wish, add the meatballs to the gravy so as to coat the meatballs and add some meaty flavour to the gravy. I added mine for a couple of minutes then removed them, placing about eight, slightly-coated meatballs on a bed of mashed potato on each plate. Spoon a little extra gravy over the meatballs, then a good serving of lingonsylt and scatter any extra dill over the top. Serve with some steamed beans or something green – it will help you feel a little less bad for all of the richness you’re about to consume! Enjoy with some dear friends at your very own Eurovision party tonight!
As for me, I will be enjoying my Greek mother’s rendition of paella with my dad and the fam, on this very special day of his 60th birthday, which wonderfully coincides with the Eurovision finals. I will enjoy every key change, every emission of dry ice and every time my too-cool-for-school DJ brother rolls his eyes!
Happy birthday, Dad! Thank you for the cultural education that keeps on giving. Love you xx