Lagom: n. just the right amount, balanced, harmonious. In Lagom, Steffi Knowles-Dellner shares genuine insight into how Swedes eat and cook
Eating and cooking in tune with ‘lagom’ means embracing food that is good for body and soul, unfussy, delicious and sustaining, and all in harmony.
The Swedes understand that balance is everything – that you crave comforting food when a bitter wind is howling outside, that refreshing, lighter meals suit hot, hazy days, that a mid-morning bun is good for morale, and that a long, sociable lunch with friends and family on a Sunday is the most rewarding way to end the weekend.
“There is a time and place for every kind of food, and when everything is in equilibrium, you will be content and satisfied.”
Over the past few years, the term “Scandi” has become a byword, a shorthand for a particular brand of minimal, effortless cool. And though our crime writers have a knack for depicting a land full of darkness and horror, in actuality Scandinavia is more often spoken about as a kind of utopia, an image bolstered by affirming statistics on health, equality and well-being.
Sweden, in particular, is hailed as the ideal place to live and whenever I mention where I’m from people frequently sigh and respond: “they seem to have got so many things right over there”.
“When it comes to our food, however, few people seem to know very much about it beyond what can be found at IKEA.
Perceptions seem to fall into one of two categories: either outlandish New Nordic gastronomy with a side of moss and ants or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, homely meatballs in cream sauce, beetroot and enough dill to fill a field.”
This doesn’t really paint a picture of the food that I grew up with or the meals that my Swedish family and friends cook back home. Everyday Swedish food has evolved over the years, embracing a variety of ingredients, cultures, cooking styles and, above all, placing a much greater emphasis on balance and health.
For me, the word that encapsulates the way we eat in Sweden is lagom. The Swedes themselves are the first to admit to their peculiar attachment to this small, loaded word, even to the extent of joking about how lagom they are. “Lagom är bäst” (“lagom is best”), they say, rolling their eyes.
“Notoriously difficult to translate, lagom can be used to describe almost anything: you can be lagom well, your friend can be lagom tall, your coffee lagom strong and the weather lagom warm.”
But to dismiss it as simply a quantifier would be to underestimate its importance. Lagom goes right to the heart of Sweden’s national psyche and characterizes everything from Sweden’s political leanings and stance on gender equality to their aversion to anything too ostentatious. It is at the core of many typically Scandinavian ideals like fairness, consensus and equality.
“For us, eating has never been about extremes – swinging from one day to the next between excess and denial – but about harmony and enjoyment.”
Taking time to eat well, but also according to your means, the seasons and environment, while not shutting out pleasure or the rich food world beyond Scandinavia’s borders – these are the core food philosophies that come naturally to Swedes.
Try a taste of the lifestyle for yourself with these five delectable recipes…
1 Chanterelle toast with poached eggs & kale
This breakfast is a wonderfully savoury way to start the day. Omit the garlic if you find it too much first thing.
2 Little coffee pavlovas with blackcurrant jam
This may seem like a surprising combination, but one that works beautifully.
3 Scandi fish & chips
The chips in question aren’t chips so much as mash, which is as much of a staple to our fried herring as chips are to British fried cod. Here, the shallots play the role of a crisp, crunchy element instead.
5 Cardamom buttermilk panna cotta with dried fruit compote
This is a perfect pudding when there is a dearth of fresh fruit. The cardamom and tea lightly spice the dessert, cutting through the creaminess of the panna cotta.
5 Avocado & crayfish spelt spaghetti with lemon, dill & rye crumbs
Crayfish are revered in Sweden. We like to simply boil ours with dill and serve with crispbread, strong västerbotten cheese quiche, and an endless supply of beer and snaps.
All recipes courtesy of Steffi Knowles-Dellner, extracted from Lagom.