COOKERY writer and presenter Rachel Khoo explains why meatballs are a non-negotiable necessity in Sweden...

When you're in another country, perhaps the easiest way to begin to fathom a culture is through its food - and Rachel Khoo is an absolute expert at doing just that.

Born in south London, the food writer and presenter switched Croydon for Paris in her 20s, to study patisserie at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu cookery school. It led to her breakout cookbook, The Little Paris Kitchen, and now it's Sweden's turn to get the Khoo treatment.

Khoo, now 37, moved to Stockholm in 2016 with her Swedish husband Robert, and The Little Swedish Kitchen sees her explore the country's tradition of 'husmanskost' - or home cooking. The focus is simple, seasonable, affordable ingredients "and making the most of what you have".

Husmanskost is a way of doing things born of Sweden's short and difficult growing season, cramped by the harsh winters. "You had cabbage, potatoes, root vegetables - that was your basis of ingredients," says Khoo. "Plus, game and seafood; you had to be creative with a small amount of ingredients." She takes this ethos and experiments (her cabbage recipes, for instance, don't involve boiling, thankfully).

Arguably, nothing is more Swedish or representative of husmanskost than meatballs. "I do some vegetarian meatballs in the cookbook," she explains, with a good-natured eye roll, "and I was told I have to include the original meat-meatballs too." They're usually served with a smooth gravy, creamy mash, tart lingonberries and tangy pickled cucumbers (yes, almost exactly like they do them at IKEA).

"You start eating meatballs as soon as you've got two teeth. The kids at kindergarten, they get meatballs for their lunch," says Khoo. "It's so much ingrained in the country - a bit like a Sunday roast for Brits - it's an everyday food that follows you from kindergarten to the canteen at work. You'll find them pretty much everywhere." The only place not willing to enter the meatball fray in Sweden is, incredibly, McDonald's. Who knew?!

Other Swedish customs we really ought to take up include fika and knackebrod. "Fika is one of the first things I learnt about," says Khoo. "[People say] 'Oh, let's go for fika' - and you meet for coffee and a bun." Flavour-wise, she recommends classic cardamom and cinnamon buns, or a brioche bun (also with cardamom), filled with almond paste and whipped cream. "It's pretty amazing," says Khoo.

Knackebrod, meanwhile, isn't a treat. The rye crispbread is a staple at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and "butter is necessary" says Khoo, explaining that how you butter your knackebrod (which is smooth on one side, and bobblier on the other) is thought to give a glimpse into your personality. "If you butter the side with more bumps, you like less butter, because on the other side, you can put more on - so you're a more generous person," says Khoo with a laugh.

She's currently learning Swedish, which will be her fourth language. "I can have a basic conversation, like the level of a two-year-old," she says, laughing. The moment she really thought she was beginning to grasp it was when she decoded Swedish favourite, gravlax. "'Grav' means 'to bury'; 'lax' means 'salmon', so you're burying your salmon in a sugar/salt mix to cure it. I was like, 'Oh! I now understand!'" she recalls proudly.

Seafood is a huge part of Swedish cuisine, although you won't find Khoo scoffing surstromming (fermented herring in a tin). "The tin bulges because of the gas," she says, screwing up her face. "You eat it outside on knackebrod; apparently it doesn't taste as bad as it smells, but it's not my cup of tea. Don't open it on public transport or you will have the whole train carriage to yourself."

More to her taste are the plump and peachy langoustines, lobster, crab and salmon hauled in along the west coast of Sweden, while inland it's crayfish territory which, come summer, means traditional Swedish crayfish parties galore (kraftskiva). Khoo describes how you drop frozen herring as bait into lobster pot-style cages, and pull them up the morning of your party, full of clacking crustaceans. They're then brined in beer, lots of salt "and dill", yelps Khoo. "You can't get enough dill!"

There's not much meat on a crayfish, though. "You have to hold the body and..." she says, making a whooshing, sucking sound, "suck all the juices out; the brine is really tasty. Then you crack it open, and you usually eat it with a vastabotten pie, similar to a cheese quiche topped with chanterelle mushrooms - and there'll be schnapps involved."

Schnapps is, of course, crucial to any Swedish party. "They love to sing their songs and drink a little schnapps," says Khoo with a smile. "It's really good fun. I don't down the whole shot, I can't keep up otherwise - too many songs."


A celebratory pie for all seasons.

"The Brits have Cheddar, the French have Comte and the Swedes have Vasterbotten; a good, hardy, flavoursome cheese that can be cooked with or eaten as is," explains cookbook writer Rachel Khoo. "Vasterbotten is an area in the north of Sweden; the cheese is renowned throughout the country and almost everyone has a piece of it in their fridge.

"This pie, which I've eaten my fair share of, nearly always crops up at midsummer and crayfish parties, and at Christmas," she continues. "Pie like this shouldn't be eaten just on celebratory occasions though; a slice in your packed lunch with a green salad on the side will make a perfectly satisfying meal."


(Serves 8)

For the pastry:

130g plain flour

1/4tsp fine sea salt

1tbsp wholegrain mustard

80g cold butter, cubed

1tbsp vodka

For the filling:

3 medium eggs

300ml single cream

1/2tsp fine sea salt

1tsp black pepper

300g Vasterbotten or mature Cheddar cheese, grated

1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced

For the mushroom topping:

75g butter

250g chanterelle mushrooms, brushed clean

A small handful of fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped


1. To make the pastry, mix together the flour and salt. Add the mustard and cold butter, then use your fingertips to rub it all together until you have a sandy texture. Add the vodka to bring it into a dough. Place between two sheets of baking paper and roll into a circle that is larger than your quiche tin (21cm, 4cm deep). Leave to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas 4.

2. Remove the pastry from the fridge and use it to line the pie tin. If the pastry is too hard, leave to soften for five to 10 minutes before lining the tin. Prick the pastry in the tin with a fork. Line with baking paper and pour in baking weights. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the baking weights and paper and bake for a further 10 minutes, or until the base is dry and firm.

3. To make the filling, beat the eggs with the cream, salt and pepper until you have a smooth mixture. Stir in the cheese. Pour into the pie case, put the onions on top and bake for another 25-30 minutes, or until the mixture is set but still a little wobbly.

4. When the pie has cooled, heat the butter for the mushrooms in a large frying pan. Once the butter is foaming, add the chanterelles and cook for four to five minutes, or until lightly golden and cooked through. Leave to cool slightly. Scatter the pie with parsley and top with the mushrooms to serve.


Breakfast is sorted.

"I had my first Swedish waffle when I visited Skansen, Stockholm's answer to a zoo and amusement park. There's plenty to see, with native animals such as moose, wild boar and lynx, and also old Swedish farmhouses where the guides (dressed in traditional costumes) demonstrate how to make typical Swedish food, from knackebrod to home-smoked fish," recalls cookery book writer Rachel Khoo. "The sweet smell of freshly-made waffles enticed me past the wild-boar burger stand in pursuit of a waffle I had spotted earlier, served with a generous dollop of whipped cream and strawberry jam.

"Butternut squash definitely doesn't feature in a regular Swedish waffle, but it does give it a natural sweetness, which means you can reduce the refined sugar normally added to the batter," she continues. "It also gives you the option of turning this into a starter (or even a main when served with a crisp green salad), instead of serving it as a sweet."


(Makes 8)

For the waffles:

300g roasted butternut squash or pumpkin

100g cooled melted butter, plus extra for greasing the waffle iron

200g buttermilk

200ml whole milk

2 medium eggs

1/2tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

1tsp fine sea salt

200g plain flour

2tsp baking powder

To serve as a sweet:

Strawberry Jam

Whipped cream

To serve as a savoury option:

4-6tbsp creme fraiche

1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped

2tbsp finely chopped fresh chives

2-4tbsp caviar


1. Mash the roasted butternut squash or pumpkin and mix with the butter, buttermilk, whole milk and eggs.

2. Sift together the remaining waffle ingredients into the bowl and fold to incorporate. Don't overmix or you'll get a heavy batter. Leave to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.

3. Heat up your waffle iron, brushing with melted butter if required (no need with non-stick ones). Pour a ladle of batter into the middle. Gently close the lid and cook for a couple of minutes, or until the outside is crisp (this will vary, depending on the heat of your waffle iron).

4. Leave to cool for a minute before topping with the garnish of your liking.

n The Little Swedish Kitchen by Rachel Khoo is published by Michael Joseph, priced £20. Photography David Loftus. Available now.