Sunday, 21 June 2015

Meal 55. Swedish midsummer meal: gravad lax and dill potatoes

My cousin Adam and Simone will dill potatoes on the hob
Simone has been roped into cooking a typical Swedish meal for me by by cousin Adam, who studies Early Music with her at the conservatory in The Hague (The Netherlands, where I am based once more, albeit temporarily). His specialty is the harpsichord. Many friends have been invited and I am amused that the opening question for newcomers seems to be:"Which instrument do you play?"
For Simone, the answer is 'baroque violin'!
She describes the dinner we are having as a 'midsummer meal', which is traditionally served around the shortest night of the year. It consists of various elements: new potatoes cooked with dill (kokt dill potatis). The traditional topping makes it more luxurious: sour cream with chives ladled generously on top.
Then thick slices of cured salmon (gravad lax) and boiled eggs. Though I am not normally easily shocked, somehow it is mind boggling that the Swedish slice their boiled eggs in half differently from what I am used to. They slice them through the short side rather than the long side (see picture).

The smörgåsbord
The salmon, potatoes and eggs would already be a filling meal, but it is accompanied by a do-it-yourself buffet of knäckebröd with toppings. You can put different varieties of pickled herring on top, or 'Kalles kaviar' from a tube, or cheese, liver pâté, etc. All the music students swarm around the table like bees and dive in. Is it literally a smörgåsbord, a word I did not realize the origin of till refers exactly this type of buffet with cold and warm dishes. I mainly had heard the expression used to mean 'a wide variety of choices', not per se referring to food.

Simone shaking up the cream
We discuss some of the stereotypes that exist about the Swedes. Apparently, they are known to be punctual. However, Simone teaches Swedish to a Dutch secretary at the Swedish embassy who says:"Pshah! Punctual!? Not really!" Everything is relative, of course...
There is also the idea that the Swedes, despite their economic good fortune, have much higher rates of depression, possibly due to getting less sunlight. Simone does not have the answers to why exactly, but will say she personally is happier outside of Sweden! The last couple of years, she has noted that Dutch people especially love stuff from her country. Design products, furniture, clothes (H&M or more upscale brands), even crime books. To be fair, not all Dutch make much distinction between Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries!
As a dessert, we are served fresh strawberries with cream, always a winner. There does not seem to
be a mixer or whisk on hand, so Simone just pops the cream in a tupperware (see pic) and gives it a good shake for a few minutes...with wonderful thick whipped cream as a result. Low tech sometimes works wonders!

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