Scandinavia might not be as known for its food as other parts of Europe, but that doesn’t mean its cuisine isn’t just as delicious and diverse. The food in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark is natural, unfussy, and honest – and many recipes go all the way back to the Viking times.
From Swedish meatballs to smörgåsbords and sweet pastries, there’s something for every palate. So, if you’d like to learn more about the flavours of this unique part of Northern Europe, here are eight recipes to inspire you.
One of the most famous Scandinavian meals is a smörgåsbord, which is a buffet-style meal that features several hot and cold dishes. The most important of these dishes is smörgås – which is Swedish for ‘sandwich’.
However, a smörgås isn’t your average cheese and pickle sandwich; it’s an open sandwich, usually made with rye bread and, topped with fillings including fresh fish, meat, cheese, salads, pate, and spreads.
Making a smörgås is super easy – you just butter your bread or toast and add your toppings. Choosing what to put on it can offer a great chance to get creative in the kitchen.
There’s an endless array of smörgås recipes, and most feature classic Scandinavian ingredients like pickled herring, smoked salmon, dill, potato salad, beetroot, and capers. A good smörgås should always have some crunch, so adding pickles, raw onion, cucumber, and radishes is a good idea.
Why not try this pickled herring smörgås from Serious Eats or this salmon smörgås with cucumber and sweet mustard sauce?
Or, to find out more about making the perfect smörgås, check out the video below.
Thanks to the popularity and prevalence of IKEA, Sweden’s most famous culinary export is probably the meatball – also called köttbullar. Meatballs are eaten all across Scandinavia, though there are key differences depending on where you are.
The Swedes tend to make meatballs using a mixture of pork and beef, whereas in Denmark, pork and veal are more common. Plus, Swedish meatballs are usually small, whereas Norwegian meatballs tend to be much bigger.
Because they’re so popular, we’ve chosen a Swedish köttbullar dish, where you cook meatballs in a creamy sauce and typically eat them with potatoes – either boiled or mashed – and lingonberry jam.
Lingonberries are similar to cranberries, and while you probably won’t be able to buy the berries themselves from your local supermarket, most large supermarkets do stock lingonberry jam – and you can get it in IKEA too.
You might want to try Olive Magazine’s recipe for Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce – or why not watch the video below to find out more?
Smoked salmon is one of the first dishes that comes to mind when thinking of Scandinavian food, and gravadlax is particularly popular.
Gravadlax is eaten all across the Nordic countries, and it has a fascinating history. The name gravadlax means ‘grave salmon’ in Swedish and harks back to when fish was salted, covered with dill, and then buried in the ground to preserve it for the winter ahead. The weight of the ground forced the salt into the fish, giving gravadlax its customary melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Luckily, you don’t need to dig a hole in your garden to enjoy gravadlax, as you can easily make it in the kitchen. Simply rub the salmon with sugar, salt, pepper, and dill, then put a board or plate over the fish and weigh it down with something heavy. Then, leave it in the fridge to force the flavours into the fish.
In Sweden, gravadlax is served with mustard and dill sauce – though it’s also great with toasted rye bread or a salad.
Why not try this gravadlax recipe from Delicious Magazine, which serves it with soda bread and horseradish cream? To learn more about making the perfect gravadlax, check out this article by The Guardian. You might also want to watch Jamie Oliver’s gravadlax video below.
Brunkålis is Swedish for ‘brown cabbage’ – and while the name might not sound too appealing, this is a simple and delicious dish that’s considered comfort food in many Nordic countries.
Originating from Skåne, in southern Sweden, brunkål is usually eaten at Christmas in Scandinavia alongside meat or veggie alternatives – though you can enjoy it at any time of year.
Traditionally, the cabbage was cooked in the leftover broth from boiled ham, but today, it’s more commonly prepared with vegetable stock or water to keep it suitable for vegetarians.
To make brunkål, simply cook your cabbage in butter until it’s starting to brown, add golden syrup or sugar, stock and caraway seeds, and bake in the oven until it’s a rich brown colour.
Why not try this brunkål recipe from Delicious Magazine? Or check out the video below from Helen Rennie, which shows you how to make caramelised brunkål using pomegranate molasses.
If you love pancakes, you might want to try making sveler. These Norwegian pancakes are traditionally served in ferry cafés along the west coast.
Pancakes – or pannekaker – are entrenched in Norwegian culture. They’re seen as the classic ‘farm to table’ food, where all the ingredients are sourced from local farms: eggs from hens, milk from cows, grain from the fields, and even the classic topping – lingonberry jam – is picked from the bushes.
Pancakes are so beloved in Norway that their version of The Gingerbread Man story is about a pancake!
Sveler are thinner than American pancakes but fatter than crepes. They have a delicate, eggy taste – though they’re also hearty and can work as a snack, dessert, or breakfast (they taste especially good with coffee!).
The key to cooking the perfect sveler is horn salt, a traditional Norwegian leavening ingredient, but you can swap this for baking powder. Once they’re cooked, serve your sveler hot and top with sour cream and lingonberry jam.
To make your own sveler, try this recipe from Sons of Norway, or check out the video below.
6. Herring salad
The most commonly eaten fish in Scandinavia is herring, which is usually pickled, but also smoked and fried. Scandinavian pickled herring is less sharp than other varieties of pickled herring, as the brine is sweeter.
In Denmark, no smörgåsbord is complete without a dish of sillsallad, which is a pickled herring and beetroot salad. From the herring to the boiled potatoes, gherkins, and dill, this dish couldn’t be more Scandinavian if it tried!
Making a Danish herring salad is simple: simply chop beetroot, herring, potatoes, and apples into small pieces, then add chopped gherkins, onion, and dill. If you like, add a dollop of yoghurt or salad cream and a dash of vinegar to make a beautiful, pink-red-coloured sauce. For maximum authenticity, serve with Danish rye bread and hard-boiled eggs.
Why not try this Danish herring salad recipe from Food? Or, to find out more about how to use pickled herring in the Scandinavian style, check out the video below.
If you’re a fan of sandwiches and aren’t satisfied with just making smörgås, why not take things to the next level and make a smörgåstårta?
Smörgåstårta is a Swedish sandwich cake traditionally eaten during celebrations like Midsommar, birthday parties, and weddings – and if you have guests coming over and want to wow them with a showstopper dish, then this is it.
While a smörgåstårta is simple to prepare, they’re known for their elaborate design, and decorating them is a lot of fun.
Typically, a smörgåstårta consists of layers of white bread topped with a savoury ‘icing’ that’s made from cream cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream, and fresh dill. The interior layers usually contain cold salad ingredients like pâté, smoked salmon, prawns, egg salad, radishes, tomatoes, olives, gherkins, and horseradish…though you can use pretty much anything!
Smörgåstårta is served cold and cut into slices like a dessert cake, making it a perfect afternoon snack.
Why not try making this beautiful smörgåstårta by Sugar Love Spices? Or, for more inspiration, you can see how to make a show-stopping vegan smörgåstårta in the video below.
If you have a sweet tooth, why not treat yourself and make one of the most delicious and indulgent Scandinavian treats around?
Wienerbrød – more commonly known as Danish pastries – are eaten worldwide, but they’re especially popular in their country of origin. In fact, it’s said the average Dane eats about 10kg of pastries every year!
Danish pastries were actually created by Austrian bakers in Denmark in the 1850s, and the name Wienerbrød literally translates to ‘Viennese bread’.
The hallmark of a Danish pastry is the sweet icing and golden pastry, which is folded into layers. Making your own Danish pastry might seem a bit daunting. However, while it’s certainly not the easiest sweet treat to make, it’s much easier than making a croissant, and once you bite into that sweet, flaky pastry, you’ll agree it’s absolutely worth the effort.
Popular toppings and fillings include jam, custard, apricots, cherries, and flaked almonds or pecans – though there are countless varieties.
You might want to try making North Wild Kitchen’s wienerbrød with orange and vanilla custard recipe. Or, to find out more about making the perfect Danish pastry, check out the video below.
Though it may not be as celebrated as Italian or French food, Scandinavian cuisine is healthy and delicious, and many of its most popular dishes are refreshingly simple to make. From open sandwiches topped with all manner of fresh ingredients to sweet pastries and hearty meatballs, it truly has something for everyone.
If you’re having friends or family over, why not try making a selection of these dishes and creating your own smörgåsbord buffet? Not only will it impress your guests, but tucking into these traditional dishes with your loved ones is also how Scandinavian food is meant to be enjoyed.
For more food and recipe inspiration, head over to the food and drink section of our website. Here, you’ll find everything from money-saving recipes to cuisines from around the world. Or head over to Rest Less Events to see which culinary events we have coming up.
Are you familiar with Scandinavian food? Or do you have any favourite Scandi recipes you’d like to share with our readers? We’d love to hear about your culinary adventures in the comments below!