Swedish Meatballs and Pickled Cucumbers

As you know, Dom and I recently moved in together, which, in my world, means lots of trips to Ikea.  (Why, you ask?  Because of my awesome $9 wine rack, which is named Vurm.)  We actually found ourselves there on the day we moved in, all disgusting and exhausted from packing and moving and unpacking and cleaning.  I wanted hotdogs, but Dom wanted meatballs. (?)  So we trekked up to eat Swedish meatballs from Ikea, which I’d never had, so actually I was excited- the way Andrew Zimmern is excited when people make him eat animal testicles.  They’re exactly what you’d expect from a worldwide mega-corporation that produces mostly tasteful, extremely inexpensive furniture.  In fact, they tasted a little like how I imagine Vurm would taste.  But saltier.

Not that I fault Ikea, I don’t.  If I were churning out hundreds of millions of meatballs to appease the slavering masses, they’d probably taste like salty belly button lint too.  The fact that they are likely manufactured in someplace like Newark also makes the point that these aren’t real Swedish meatballs.  There wasn’t anything pickled with them!  So, the other night I made Swedish meatballs.  With mashed potatoes.  And red wine cream sauce.  And pickled cucumbers.  (Which are called pickled cucumbers rather than just pickles because they’re a quick pickle, meaning you put the cucumbers in the brine for maybe an hour before you serve them.)  They were fantastic.  I pan-fried them, as the Alton Brown recipe I adapted from suggested, which I probably wouldn’t do again, because it burned a gnarly layer of crap to the bottom of my dutch oven, which I had to clean out before I could make the gravy, instead of de-glaze it like I wanted to.  Though it did caramelize the outside of the meatballs into lightly crunchy outside, tender, juicy inside perfection.  I’d recommend baking them on an oiled cookie sheet, which would also take a lot less time.

Swedish Meatballs with Red Wine Cream Sauce

1 lb ground pork (not pork sausage)

1 lb ground beef (I used 94/6 because of the fat from the pork)

2 slices bread, torn into pieces

1/2 cup milk or cream

1 egg

1/8 tsp ground allspice

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

salt and pepper

Soak the torn up bread in the milk for 10 minutes.  Then mix the pork, beef, spices and egg into the mixture with your hands, churning and mixing it up until smooth and incorporated.  Don’t overwork the meat though, a gentle claw/scooping motion to mix is good.

meat claw

If you over churn the meat, it’ll make it tough.  When the meat is adequately mixed, make 1 inch balls and set them on a plate to rest for a few minutes.

At this point, you have two choices:

1. Pan fry – heat 2 tbsp of vegetable oil in a dutch oven on medium-high heat.  Sear the meatballs in batches – not letting them touch, you don’t want them to steam, you want to brown the outsides.  Turn them every 2-3 minutes, with a total cooking time of about 10 minutes per batch.  Set each batch on a paper towel covered plate, and cover them with foil until you’re done cooking them all.

2. Bake – Spray Pam all over a cookie sheet and bake the meatballs in a 375 degree oven for 5 minutes, then take them out and turn them, and cook them for another 5 minutes or so.  They should be very brown on the outsides.  Remove them and let them rest for a few minutes while you assemble the sauce.

this is what i did, and you can see it made black-burny stuff i had to clean off.

Red Wine Cream Sauce

2 cups low-sodium beef broth

1 tbsp butter

1/2 sweet onion, grated

1 clove of garlic, grated

1/3 cup red wine

3 tbsp flour

1/4 cup heavy cream

salt and pepper

In a saucepan on medium heat, cook the grated onion/garlic in the butter for 2 minutes.  Pour in the wine and let it reduce.  When the wine is absorbed, sprinkle in the flour and whisk for 2 minutes, until it’s brown.  Mix in the beef broth and cook at a low boil for 15 minutes or so until it’s thickened and reduced.  Remove it from the heat and whisk in the cream.  Serve with the meatballs and mashed potatoes.

cream? good. meat? good. pickles? GOOD.

Pickled Cucumbers

2 English cucumbers, sliced thinly

1/2 sweet onion, sliced thinly

2 cups white vinegar

2/3 cup white sugar

4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp red chile flakes (more or less to your taste)

1 tbsp dijon mustard


Combine all but cucumbers and onion in a saucepan and bring to a boil on medium-high heat, whisking occasionally.  When it’s boiling, remove from the heat and let it cool for 5-10 minutes.  Stuff the cucumbers and onions into a jar (or two jars, leaving some room for the brine), and cover with the brine.  Shake the jars every so often, letting them sit for an hour or so.  Serve with the meatballs.

pickled things are my favorite.


– I LOVE pickled things.  These were fantastic.  Dom doesn’t like pickled things, and even he ate a few of these (under a medium amount of pressure).  I also ate them again later that night, and again the next day.  I’m going to quick-pickle a lot more things soon.

– These meatballs were good.  Gently flavored, so the main draw is the texture, which was beautifully caramelized on the outside and sooo tender and juicy inside.  I think I want to re-purpose this recipe for banh mi sandwiches.

– You can do lots of kinds of cream sauce.  You could do traditional beef gravy, or white cream sauce, whatever.  The wine is a nice foil though.

– Cat



February 9, 2011 · 11:36 am

4 responses to “Swedish Meatballs and Pickled Cucumbers

  1. Oh my. I need this in my belly RIGHT NOW.

  2. Hans

    Hello. My family is in Sweden and I was looking for some pickled cuc recipes to try and copy my grandma when I came across your recipe. Your recipe looks really tasty! I’m excited to try it. Also, if you want to try, I know my grandma’s meatball recipe uses a boiled potatoe instead of bread (Swedish vs. Italian) and grated yellow onion. Also they use a lot of white pepper over there instead of regular pepper.

    • Hi Hans! So glad to have you. Hopefully the cucumbers turned out well for you. That is genius using boiled potato instead of bread in the meatballs. I will absolutely try that. Thanks! – Cat

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