Swedish meatballs trigger a rather strong wave of nostalgia for me. Back when I was a wee little munchkin, my Maman and our Swedish family friends would take these epic trips to Ikea together- the kind of trips that would make my insides do gymnastics with excitement. And while the wild assortment of types of furniture I never knew existed – or much less needed – was an adventure to see, it was always the possibilities of what lurked in the cafeteria that sent me head over heels into a thrill. There were slices of Smorgasbord cakes draped in colors and cream, crisp shrimp salads with mouth watering cocktail sauces, oozing goopy apple pies with cream sauce, and lingonberry anything to your heart’s desire. However, the real dream come true was the Swedish meatballs.
Swedish meatballs have always been the epitome of comfort food to me. At my many childhood adventures at Ikea, they’d be served with a cream sauce with some sweet, yet tart lingonberry preserves on the side, and of course, the undeniable presence of happiness in result of the great company I had. Every last bite of those meatballs provided everything I could have possibly wanted in a meal: warmth, comfort, happiness, sweetness, and exceeded satisfaction.
Eventually, our trips to Ikea became less frequent as our beloved family friends moved out of state. But that didn’t stop me from chasing them after the emotional flight that this meal would give me. Even after becoming a vegetarian – a vegan at one point, too – I still longed for the encapsulated bubble of joy hidden in this dish. I even tried re-crafting the memories by purchasing meatless meatballs from Trader Joe’s and some lingonberry preserves from Ikea. And while I could always find comfort in the familiarity of the flavors, I longed for the complete nourishment of this dish, with the company of our sweet friends.
I eventually was able to revise a fairly authentic recipe for Swedish meatballs to make it a bit more friendly to those who appreciate the goodness in a sauce made from whole milk. I also wanted my dish to be accessible to those who seek a familiar comfort in dishes that are now forbidden due to unrelenting repercussions of consuming said dishes.
Although it’s been years since our family friends have moved out of state, having this meal always brings back those memories that are so dear to my heart. And instead of mourning the empty chairs and dishes that I lay out and assemble in my head, I’ve learned to welcome the nostalgia as an essential part of the nourishment of this very precious meal.
- 3/4 cup of beef stock to boil down to 3-4 tbsp of concentrated stock, PLUS an additional 1/2 cup of beef stock for later
- 1 bunch of Dino kale
- 1 shallot
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 1 small bunch of chives
- 2 large Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes
- 4 tbsp butter, divided into four 1 tbsp portions
- 1 cup of organic half-and-half, separated into two 4 oz portions
- 2/3 lb of ground pork
- 1 heaping tbsp of creamy almond butter
- 2 tsp of arrowroot or tapioca starch
- 1 tbsp of Balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup of slivered almonds
- 1/2 tsp of nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp of allspice
- lingonberry jam to taste
- sea salt
- Start by simmering the beef stock in a small sauce pan on medium high. Periodically check on the stock to see if it has reduced to 3-4 tbsp.
- For the mashed potatoes, set up a medium large pot of heavily salted water and put it on medium high to boil. While the water is boiling, start your mise en place by cutting the kale into chiffonade-like slivers, mincing the shallot and garlic, finely chopping the chives, and rough chopping the potatoes. Place all of the ingredients in their own bowls and set aside.
- Carefully lower the chopped potatoes into the boiling salted water and cook for about 15 minutes or until a fork can easily pierce the potato. After 15 minutes, drain the potatoes, and place them back in the pot. To them, add 1 tbsp of butter, 1/2 cup of half-and-half, and salt and pepper to taste. With a wooden spoon or a whisk, mash the potatoes until they are uniform in texture. Keep the mashed potatoes on low heat and stir periodically. Check the reducing stock and see if it has reached the desired volume.
- In a large bowl place the ground pork, almond butter, shallots, nutmeg, allspice, salt, and pepper, and mix thoroughly. Be sure not to over mix. Roll the mixture into small meatballs, about 15-19 meatballs total.
- Heat a medium sized pan to medium heat and add 1 tbsp of butter. Once the butter has melted, place the meatballs into the pan. Once the meatballs are browned and caramelized – approximately 5 minutes – remove them from the pan.
- To the same pan, add another tablespoon of butter and the arrowroot or tapioca starch. In essence, you are making a quick roux for the cream sauce. Continuously stir the starch into the butter for about 1 minute. To it, add the reduced beef stock, 1/2 cup of half-and-half, 1/2 of beef stock, and salt and pepper to taste. Make sure to stir continuously for about 3 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. If the sauce appears to be gummy or lumpy, add a bit more beef stock and half a tablespoon of butter and blend it in a blender.
- Lastly, in a separate pan, heat up another tablespoon of butter on medium high heat. To it, add the minced garlic and let the garlic toast for about 45 seconds. Then add the slivered kale, and salt and pepper to taste and continuously stir for about 2-3 minutes, until the kale has wilted. Remove the pan from the heat, and while being mindful to keep your face out of the steam, add the tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar and stir thoroughly. Add the slivered almonds and stir.
- To plate, place a layer of kale onto a small plate, top it with a dollop of mashed potatoes, and place a few meatballs on top. Then add some of the cream sauce, lingonberry preserves, and a sprinkle of the finely chopped chives and enjoy. Bon appétit my friends!