The definition of a smörgåsbord is a buffet style meal of Swedish food made up of hot and cold dishes. In that respect, my Swedish dinner was probably the saddest smörgåsbord in the history of Sweden. However, I still made a dinner, and though it wasn’t quite a buffet, it was still quintessentially Swedish.
My research about Swedish cuisine has taught me that Swedes like sweets. Lots and lots of sweet. Sweets and dairy. Between the lingonberries, candies and princess cakes it makes you wonder how they all still have their original teeth. They even have something called lördagsgodis, which means “Saturday sweets.” Unfortunately, the local grocery store was out of lingonberry jam and the traditional crispbread, and I didn’t feel like making marzipan.
I chose to make kåldolmar, which are cabbage rolls, traditionally served with…..you guessed it: potatoes! Usually accompanied with mashed potatoes, kåldolmar is ground beef or pork wrapped in cabbage and baked. Instead of the mashed potatoes, I made pitepalt, which are potato dumplings. I’m sure one of these days I’ll try pickled herring, but I haven’t quite worked my way up to that yet.
Kåldolmar is a variation of the Turkish dolma. It is made up of ground beef or pork and sometimes rice, wrapped up in cabbage leaves. It is such a popular dish that they even celebrate Day of the Cabbage Roll on November 30th, which is also the death day of King Charles XII, who was a huge part of introducing the dish to Sweden.
I decided to use beef for the cabbage rolls because I was putting pork in the potato rolls. You start by combining the meat with allspice, thyme, egg, salt and pepper and boiled rice. Once it is all mixed together you can prep the rolls.
The easiest way to handle the cabbage leaves is to dunk the whole head into a pot of boiling water for about thirty seconds. This will soften the leaves and you can just break them off the stem to make them easier to roll. If you leave the water boiling, just re-dunk the head as you start getting to layers that were too buried to soften with the first dunk. Once you have your leaf, put a spoonful of the meat filling on it and roll it up, making sure to tuck in the sides as you go so nothing can fall out.
Melt some butter in a skillet and just sear the side of the rolls that have the flap to keep the roll more secure and give the cabbage a little flavor.
They weren’t the prettiest looking rolls, but my cabbage leaves were a little small. Once you have given one side a good browning, place them browned side up in a casserole or oven safe dish and add beef stock and a little milk. Some recipes I found also added some treacle syrup, but I skipped this step since I didn’t want them too sweet. Make sure the rolls are mostly submerged so that they cook slowly and then bake them at about 400ºF for about thirty minutes or until the cabbage is nice and crispy.
While my cabbage rolls cooked, I got a big pot of water boiling and started making my potato dumplings. I shredded the potato with a wide cheese grater (like you would use to make hash browns or something) and mixed it in a bowl with flour and salt. My advice: be a little heavy handed with the salt and add garlic powder and pepper, maybe include some other spices too. Basically any flavor you might put in mashed potatoes would work. Once I had a good dough, I took a handful and pressed cubed pork into the center, then folded it around the meat center to make the dumpling.
Flavor the pork with salt and pepper also or whatever you would like on it. I didn’t put anything on the pork and eating it later, I wish I had. This dish is usually served with lingonberry jam so that gives it a little bit of sweetness and breaks up the heavy potato. I tried it with some strawberry jam, which tasted really good, but just by itself it was a little bland and was very reminiscent of plain old boiled potatoes. The other thing I would do if I tried this again would be to use less potato. You don’t want your dumplings to come apart and have pork spilling out, but you don’t want too much potato to overpower the meat. As I formed each dumpling, I dropped it into the pot of boiling water and once they were all in the pot, I let them cook for about 20 minutes.
Once the cabbage rolls are done cooking, remove the rolls from the dish and strain the liquid into a saucepan. Reduce the sauce a little and then add salt, pepper, and a little cream. After that, you can add your thickening agent of choice (I would suggest some cornstarch mixed with water) and ta-da! These cabbage rolls are also often served with lingonberries also. I’m telling you, I have to find these berries!
So, I had my meat and potatoes dinner with barely a vegetable in sight (the cabbage only counts a little). It made the plate look very boring, but it was hearty and delicious and even though the dumplings didn’t come out quite right, the cabbage rolls were so yummy! I didn’t want to just make a random vegetable side dish for the sake of it, but I do want to try and keep my meals a little more balance as I move forward. I started out well but I’m running out of ways to prepare cabbage! This meal was decidedly heavier than my previous ones, but it still hit the spot.
I would like to try to make some traditional blåbärssoppa, or bilberry soup, sometime, but I have never seen bilberries in any grocery store, ever. If I choose to believe what I read, even though bilberries are similar to blueberries, they are not the same thing. Perhaps the Swedish cooking gods will forgive me, and I’ll make it for dessert one night, since the word “soup” in this case, loosely translates to cooking berries with water and sugar.
One Scandanavian country to go and then I start moving south. Stay tuned!