Every so often I get a cookbook that really surprises me or one that I learn a great deal from. When Lagom: The Swedish Art of Eating Harmoniously by Steffi Knowles-Dellner (author behind the notable blog Always So Hungry) arrived in my mailbox I couldn’t tell you much about what I knew about Swedish cuisine (and if I am being honest here what I do know mainly comes from what I’ve picked up at the IKEA Swedish Food Market). If I were to say the words “Swedish” or “Scandinavian” to you what would come to mind? In my mind I think “natural”, “minimalist”, “out-doorsy”, and “healthy” (with a good dose of IKEA). Reading through Lagom, I don’t think I’m incorrect in thinking these things but their culinary breadth is so much deeper than that. One that is influenced by a particular idea — lagom.
Maybe as some of you read this you’re thinking about the Danish notion of hygge, however trendy this has become, lagom is a different word for another country. Knowles-Dellner feels that, for her, lagom is “the word that encapsulates the way [they] eat in Sweden” and it’s a word that can mean or refer to many things — adequate, in moderation, balanced, just right, sufficient, enough — are just a few ways given at the beginning of the cookbook of how lagom can be defined. In her introduction she goes on to explain that “Swedes take great pride in eating healthily, drawing on their own cooking traditions and the seasons’ offerings” and their “eating has never been about extremes — swinging from one day to the next between excess and denial — but about harmony and enjoyment.” This is where the fine lagom line is drawn, not as a boarder between ideals but as a point upon which different ideas balance.
As many of you know my method of reviewing a cookbook begins with trying recipes from that cookbook (usually around ten or so) and as I carefully flipped through Lagom, I realized that Swedish people eat a lot of fish-based dishes (almost equal to the amount of meat dishes) and there would be enough vegetarian recipes to make me happy (if you’re curious about what I’ve made check out my custom Instagram hashtag #shipshapeandlagom or my dedicated Facebook post). That being said, the vegetarian dishes do have good amounts of dairy and/or eggs so that vegans reading this review please know that you’d be substituting or modifying dishes to suit your needs. While my writing approaches cookbooks from a plant-based angle I enjoy picking up cookbooks, like this one, that focus not on diet (dietary concerns per se) but rather on the culinary practices of other places. This is where I can sometimes learn the most and become inspired in my own daily cooking practices.
The book contains six chapters — Breakfast, Lunches, Sides, & Light Bites, Main Meals, Desserts, Baking, and lastly, Bits & Bobs. Even through the small handful of recipes I’ve tried I feel like I’m beginning to understand what Swedish cooking is about. Take the Buttermilk Breakfast Bowl w/ Crispbread (pictured above) with only a few ingredients: the dish is lagom. A balance of flavours and textures using the right amount of ingredients. While one might say that it represents economy (especially in an Instagram world where anything perceived as “plain” — like a humble cereal — needs to be dolled-up with brightly-coloured fruits, syrups, or some such) when I tasted it I knew that it just enough — no more, no less. The more time I’ve spent with this book the more I’ve begun to view food differently (or at the very least, how food can look and be photographed).
If this cookbook is about balance where you’ll find healthy recipes you’ll also find indulgent recipes that embrace the enjoyment one gets from having a treat. Throughout the Dessert and Baking chapters she offers uncomplicated recipes that showcase desserts or treats that should be consumed guilt-free because, after all, if the rest of the meal was healthy then why not enjoy yourself? She discusses the Swedish practice of Fika — sitting down to enjoy a coffee with something sweet — and she offers seven different kinds of cookie recipes for just that occasion. I baked her Jam Thumb Cookies (using Lingonberry jam from IKEA of course!) and her Chocolate and Rye Cookies w/ cardamom (which didn’t turn out exactly as her photo but this is because I didn’t follow the directions and chill the dough long enough but they turned out to be very delicious and fudge-y anyways). Even breakfast found a little indulgence with her recipe for Indulgent Oat Porridge with brown butter and cream.
What really spoke to me was her thoughtful use of whole-food ingredients. From what I tried there weren’t any ingredients that I found difficult to source (but keep in mind that I didn’t buy any of the fish or meats) or expensive to buy. I also really enjoyed learning about making fresh cheese (ricotta) for the spelt pizzas — something I had never done before but found quite simple to do. One of the recipes that my family really enjoyed was the Beetroot Tarte Tatin with salsa verde. While I loved the tarte tatin, the salsa verde recipe is one that I’ll be making to have on hand to use as a spread or dip (the mixture of fresh herbs, green olives with a splash of EVOO and lemon was quite lovely).
Full of simple and elegant recipes accompanied by some really gorgeous photography, Lagom is one cookbook that offers uniquely Swedish recipes that follow their idea of balance. Drawing upon their culinary traditions as well as the seasons these healthy recipes can be enjoyed as much as the sweet ones — lagom är bäst / lagom is best.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Raincoast Books and Quadrille for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own