“There are so many things I love about Swedish life,” says Rachel Khoo. “Things like 'Fredagsmys' – it translates to ‘Friday cosiness’ – which is the term: after a long week at work, you come home and put on some comfortable clothes, make your favourite dish or order a takeaway and have a cosy evening with friends or family.” Her list, we soon discover, also includes buns, baking, forest foraging and the Swedish tradition of heading to a cabin in the country for weekends.
Life has changed a lot since we first joined the happy cook in her Little Paris Kitchen, and then followed her other adventures in shows including her Kitchen Notebook Melbourne. For a start, she’s living in Sweden – and she’s now a mum!
“I'm currently living in Stockholm juggling being mum to three-year-old and 11-month-old kids while also working on some new TV projects,” says Khoo, when SBS chats to her on the other side of the globe. It was the move to Sweden for love that prompted her most recent book, The Little Swedish Kitchen, and then her new TV show, Rachel Khoo: My Swedish Kitchen (starting 24 January on SBS Food Channel 33).
So, what have been some of your favourite things about exploring Swedish food, we asked Khoo?
The country cabin
In My Swedish Kitchen, Khoo roams Sweden meeting cooks, farmers and fishermen, then heads back to a country cabin to cook recipes inspired by her travels. It’s part of a long-stranding Swedish tradition of heading to the country for weekends or holidays.
“We often escape to the countryside where we have a country home. It's in the middle of nowhere surrounded by lakes and forests. The first time I went there it was rainy, grey and drizzly and it looked like the perfect setting for a Scandi thriller. It is the most peaceful place and the perfect way to unwind. I love foraging for berries and mushrooms in the forests when they are the season or otherwise in the summer going swimming in the lake (the water has a rather refreshing temperature),” she tells us.
“There couldn't be a way of living in Sweden and not embracing fika. When I first moved to Stockholm, I didn't really have friends of my own so the way to break the ice was to ask people to go for fika,” she says.
Fika is a break, a catch-up; usually with coffee and something baked, although there’s an evening version too.
The fika tradition (see more in My Swedish Kitchen) is closely tied to Sweden’s affection for a bun; so, do you have a favourite, we ask? “I don't have a favourite bun but I have a favourite place in Stockholm who I think do the best cardamom buns.
“They are not dry but filled with a fragrant mix of cardamom (it's not for the faint hearted), butter and sugar. While they are baking the sugar and butter spiced mix melt together to form a sticky salty spiced caramel. The baker douses them with more butter when they come straight out the oven. It's really hard not to eat two in one go. They are so divine!”
Bun-lovers, it sounds like Lillebrors Bageri needs to be on the must-do list for any visit to Stockholm!
And of course, there are many more options for a fabulous fika, too.
"When it comes to fika, there are so many more sweet treats you can choose from .... and one of my favourites is kokostoppar, or coconut macaroon," Khoo says, when she bakes up a batch in My Swedish Kitchen. This one is gluten-free, too.
“Right now, it's semlor season. Semlor are a soft pillowy bun spiked with cardamom, filled with almond cream and topped with the fluffiest whipped cream.
“It was traditionally made to use up all your fat and flour before lent - like the Germans/Austrians do doughnuts and the Brits pancakes,” she says. Khoo has shared her own semlor recipe on her website.
Celebrating the simple
“It's hard not to admire the way Swedish cuisine celebrates simple ingredients - whether it be a sausage or an apple – and turning them into delicious dishes,” Khoo says in My Swedish Kitchen.
Take the humble snag. “I noticed when I first moved to Sweden that sausages pop up everywhere. Like at the corner shop … and all the hotdog stands,” she says in the show, as she visits an old-school grill in Stockholm, then heads back to her rustic country kitchen to make a smoked sausage stroganoff using local products.
“Smoked sausage stroganoff is a classic Swedish comfort food that can be made up in a jiffy. Traditionally stroganoff isn't served with pasta, it's usually served with rice. But I like it with pasta,” she says.
“I love the fact that in Sweden, the modest sausage is celebrated in all forms, whether in a hotdog with lots of additional toppings or in a home-cooked dish.”
Cast iron and glass ovens
It’s not surprising that in a show about Swedish food, Khoo would cook up some delicious seafood dishes; explore that fabulous fika tradition; and go foraging in a forest. But one of the many lovely things about the show is that it also showcases artisans and traditions that those of us outside Sweden might not expect.
There’s a visit to Skeppshult, a foundry that has been making cast iron cookware since 1906, to buy a traditional Swedish waffle pan (after which she makes some not-so-traditional butternut waffles); and to the Kosta Boda glass factory, to discover dishes that have their origins in the tradition of workers cooking their dinners in the still-hot glass blowing ovens after a long day’s work. In Malmo, a city with a rich multicultural diversity, she discovers that falafel are hugely popular, while a visit to a family that has been milling for five generations prompts her to make knäckebröd (flatbreads) and a divine lemon and yoghurt cake, with layers of lemon curd.
Food is a common language
“When I first moved to Sweden, I was trying to learn Swedish, which I still am today, and I used Swedish cookbooks as a way of learning the language,” Khoo says in the show.
Has it been inspiring, we ask, to bring together your English, French (plus Australian, of course!) and now Swedish cooking experiences in a new home, and share it in your new show?
“I absolutely love bringing all my experiences and cultural heritage together. Food is such a fantastic vehicle to do so.”
Watch double episodes of Rachel Khoo: My Swedish Kitchen 7.30pm Mondays from 24 February.
“Even the most fanatical meat lovers will love this veggie burger because it has all the classic trimmings of a regular burger, including the chips. The mushrooms replace the buns so it’s also gluten-free but it’s so delicious you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything. Plus, the aubergine (eggplant) sauce adds that smoky barbecue touch.” Rachel Khoo, Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook Melbourne
“This not-too-sweet tart is the perfect way to celebrate nectarines when they're in season. You could easily use peaches, apricots or plums instead, however, you’ll need more of the smaller fruit.” Rachel Khoo, Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook Melbourne
A beautiful dish that cooks in one pot. The chicken is roasted to perfection and the resulting skin should be crisp.