When it comes to iconic Nordic dishes, the Swedish meatball is one of the most well known. The popularity of meatballs in the Nordic region though spreads far beyond the borders of Sweden.
When studying the history of meatballs in the Nordic, the fact that almost all the countries have their own version lends itself to the theory that the dish is actually a more recent development.
Older recipes tend to be more regionally specific, sometimes only being made in one small community. Newer recipes, developed or introduced after travel between regions became easier and more common, tend to spread both more quickly and further.
The first written references to meatballs in the Nordic seem to be linked to the early 1700s exile of the Swedish King Charles XII to the Ottoman Empire. This theory, that the King brought back the idea of meatballs to the Nordic region, makes sense considering how common meatballs are as a staple in the Middle Eastern diet.
It also seems likely that a dish favored by the royal court of Sweden would spread easily to other royal courts of the region.
Today, meatballs are a popular dish throughout the Nordic.
In Sweden they are called köttbullar and are usually a mix of beef and pork, though moose meat is used sometimes as well. Norwegian meatballs, kjøttboller, are quite similar to southern Swedish meatballs, usually with more pork. In Denmark, you find many boiled meatball recipes that call only for minced pork (frikadeller). Finland's meatballs, lihapullat, can sometimes even incorporate reindeer meat. For some of the region's biggest meatballs, try the Faroe Islands' kjötbollar.
Beyond the regional differences, recipes for meatballs in the Nordic differ even between neighbors. If you ask two different grandmothers anywhere in the Nordic region how to make the dish, you will get two very different answers.
Meatballs are thought of as "grandmother recipes" - recipes that are unique to each family.
With that in mind, any recipe for meatballs from the Nordic region needs to be viewed less as a recipe and more as a guide. Don't be afraid to experiment and create your own unique recipe.
After all, recipes are not just written bits of ingredients and directions - they are living, changing, growing representations of our communal food culture.
Though you will find meatballs throughout the Nordic region, recipes can vary quite a bit
22 oz (600g) minced meat (any combination of pork, beef, or even reindeer and moose)
1⁄2 cup (50g) breadcrumbs
1 cup (230ml) milk
Salt, pepper, and/or allspice (to taste)
In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, breadcrumbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Be sure no lumps remain and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes.
To the dairy and bread mixture, add your chosen minced meat and an onion, either diced and sauted or grated raw into the mixture. Combine well and season as you wish with salt, pepper, and/or allspice.
Form the mixture into meatballs, size based on your preference. In a large frying pan, melt some butter and add the meatballs, cooking until browned on all sides.
Nordic meatballs are often served with potatoes, topped with lingonberries, with a thick gravy or in the thin meat sauce left over in the fry pan, and sometimes with a pickled element for freshnes and crunch.
*The recipe above is only one basic style of meatball you will find in the Nordic region