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Forget Ikea, it’s Stockholm restaurant Meatballs For The People that knows a thing or two about Swedish meatballs. Now, you can recreate the eatery’s signature dishes at home…
Over the past decade, Scandi-mania has struck big-time. Think hygge-style cosy vibes, minimalist interiors and the sheer joy of discovering that Cinnamon Bun Day is an actual thing (4 October, to save you googling).
Aside from the aforementioned cinnamon buns, it’s meatballs that are Scandinavia’s, or more specifically, Sweden’s lasting food legacy. If your only experience of this traditional dish has been in one of Ikea’s food halls, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a school dinner-style meal every time. Rather, in Sweden, meatballs are served everywhere from home dinner tables to cult eateries.
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One such place is Meatballs For The People. Opened in 2013, the Stockholm restaurant’s name says it all. From the classic Swedish version – complete with mashed potato and a gravy-like sauce – to flavours sourced from across the globe, it’s an institution that serves meatballs to tourists and locals alike.
Happily, you can now recreate the restaurant’s most-loved dishes without having to book a Scandi city break. Chef Mathias Pilblad has shared his best recipes in new cookbook Meatballs For The People – filled with everything from classic weeknight meals to all-out crowd-pleasing favourites and vegetarian feasts. Sounds like the ultimate comfort food, right? Below, you’ll find three standout recipes, all with a different delicious take on meatballs…
For Pilblad’s authentic Swedish recipe, beef and pork are combined, rolled, then fried in butter to give a rich flavour. They’re served with the classics – fluffy mashed potato laden with butter and cream and a flavoursome red wine sauce. Don’t blame us if this ends up usurping your roast dinner.
If you’re vegetarian, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on meatballs altogether. Pilblad makes a plant-based mixture of chickpeas, smoked almonds and fresh herbs, which is deep-fried to crispy perfection. Served with homemade hummus and roasted aubergine, you’ll never want to settle for a supermarket falafel again.
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Finally, if punchy flavours are your bag, you’ll want to make the north African-style lamb balls. Lamb’s distinctive flavour is matched with lots of ras el hanout – a vibrant, earthy spice mix often used in tagines – and pairs it with a piquant tomato salad, amped up with Tabasco. Welcome to your new weeknight repertoire…
Classic meatballs for the people
Mathias says: “This is the classic Swedish meatball recipe – served at parties and small suppers, for children and adults alike. This is how we in Sweden love our meatballs. I can, and do, eat 10 of these meatballs in one sitting! It’s also our signature dish at Meatballs For The People. Here I’ve chosen to pair these ever-popular meatballs with a sophisticated red wine sauce, but for a more casual supper, cream sauce is a traditional choice.
“Making the perfect mashed potatoes – an essential accompaniment – is an art, and recipes can only be a guide. So much depends on what type of potatoes you use, what time of year it is and how you boil the potatoes, but when you get all the variables right, the result is magical. And, I urge you not to be tempted to use a food processor. The blades break down the starch cells in the potatoes, and the result is a gloopy mess. Even in the restaurant we use a potato ricer or old-fashioned hand masher to guarantee light, fluffy butter-rich mash.”
Serves 4–6; makes about 38 balls, depending on the size
- 500g beef mince
- 500g pork mince
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1½ tbsp sea salt
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- freshly ground white pepper
- 100ml whipping cream
- 50g onion, finely chopped, fried in butter until soft then chilled
- butter, for frying
- classic lingonberries or finger cucumber, to serve, optional
For the barolo wine sauce:
- 50g butter
- 1 red onion, sliced
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 1 bottle (750ml) great barolo wine
- 1 litre oxtail or beef stock
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp cornflour, mixed to a paste with 1½ tbsp water
For the Swedish mashed potatoes:
- sea salt
- 1kg floury potatoes, peeled
- 250g butter, melted and kept hot
- about 250ml whipping cream, warm
Beat the beef and pork minces with the egg, salt and allspice and white pepper in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon until firmer. Add the cream and onion and continue beating until the mixture is smooth, firm, well combined and forms a big meatball. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the wine sauce and mashed potatoes. To make the sauce, melt the butter in a large heavy-based saucepan over a low heat. Add the onion and fry, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes until softened and beginning to brown. Add the sugar, increase the heat to medium and stir until the onions have caramelised and browned.
Add the wine and stock to the pan and bring to the boil, stirring to loosen any sediment on the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes until the sauce is reduced by half.
When the sauce has reduced, season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cornflour mixture, slowly bring to the boil, stirring, until it has thickened slightly. Strain the sauce and keep hot, or reheat just before serving.
While the sauce is simmering, prepare the mashed potatoes. Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and add the potatoes. Boil until the potatoes are cooked through but not breaking apart. Drain well, then let them steam dry in the saucepan until they are really dry. Pass the potatoes through a potato ricer into a large bowl, or use a hand masher. Add the butter and stir until the potatoes and butter are thoroughly mixed. Add half of the cream and continue stirring until combined. If you want a softer texture, add more cream. Finish by tasting and seasoning with salt. Set aside and keep hot until ready to serve.
Once the meat mixture has chilled, roll it into smooth balls, of whatever size you choose. This quantity makes about 38 smooth balls, each 30g and the size of a table tennis ball.
Melt enough butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat to come about one-third of the way up the meatballs. Add as many meatballs as will fit, without overcrowding, and fry, turning frequently, for about 15 minutes until brown on the outside and cooked through when you cut one open. Pan-fry in batches, if necessary. As each batch is fried, use a slotted spoon to transfer it to a baking tray and keep hot.
Just before serving, reheat the sauce, if necessary. Serve the meatballs, mash and sauce on plates, with any extra sauce on the side for guests to help themselves.
Chickpea balls with hummus
Mathias says: “One day I will open my own falafel bar. We don’t have many veggie recipes at MFTP, but this is one of my favourites, inspired by my many visits to Falafelbaren, an excellent falafel bar on Hornsgatan, near where I live in Stockholm. They are well worth a visit if you’re in the city.”
Serves 4–6; makes about 40 balls, depending on the size
- 1kg dried chickpeas
- 2 large onions, roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 green chillies, roughly chopped with seeds left in
- 4 tbsp shredded flat-leaf parsley
- 3 tbsp shredded fresh coriander
- 2 tbsp shredded fresh mint
- 2 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 100g shelled smoked almonds, coarsely crushed
- vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- watercress sprigs, rinsed and dried, to garnish
For the hummus:
- 300g cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed, especially if tinned
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 4 tbsp lemon juice
- 5 tbsp tahini
- 100ml olive oil
- freshly ground white pepper
For the vegetables:
- 4 aubergines, halved lengthwise
- 300ml olive oil
- 2 blood oranges, halved and cut into wedges
- 300g shelled sweet green peas
- 1 tsp red chilli flakes
- sea salt
- 100g pickled red onions
The day before making the chickpea balls, put the dried chickpeas in a large bowl of water to cover and leave to soak for 24 hours. The next day, drain well and set aside until ready to make the balls.
On the day you are cooking, first make the hummus. Put the cooked and drained (or tinned) chickpeas, garlic, salt and lemon juice in a food processor, and blitz until smooth. Add the tahini and olive oil and mix again until well blended. Add a little cold water, if necessary, until the hummus has your preferred consistency. Season with white pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside until ready to serve.
To make the chickpea balls, put the onions, garlic, chillies, herbs, spices, salt and bicarbonate of soda together into a food processor, and blend until the mixture is almost smooth. Add the soaked and drained chickpeas and continue to blend until the mixture has a rough consistency; it is important that the mixture isn’t too smooth, or the balls won’t stick together. Shape the mixture into about 40 smooth balls, each 25–30g and the size of a walnut or table tennis ball. Chill the balls in the fridge for at least 1 hour before frying.
Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. Preheat the oven to 220°C/Fan 200°C/Gas 7. Put the aubergine halves in a large roasting tin and spoon over most of the olive oil. Roast for 20–25 minutes until the aubergines are tender, but not too soft. Remove the tin from the oven and leave the aubergines to cool a little; do not wash the tin.
Once the aubergines are cool enough to handle, cut a long wedge, with the skin attached, for each serving. Peel the remaining aubergine halves and cut the flesh into cubes.
Put the aubergine cubes back in the roasting tin with the remaining olive oil. Squeeze over the juice from half the blood orange wedges and add the remaining blood orange wedges and the peas to the tin. Sprinkle with chilli flakes and sea salt, then finish by giving everything a good stir. Add the pickled red onions and set aside until ready to serve.
Just before you are ready to fry the chickpea balls, roll them gently in the crushed smoked almonds until they are lightly covered.
Heat enough vegetable oil for deep-frying in a deep-fat fryer or large, heavy-based saucepan to 190°C when tested on a digital thermometer (if you don’t have a digital thermometer, the oil is hot enough when a small piece of the chickpea ball mixture sizzles, turns brown and quickly rises to the surface when placed in the oil).
Deep-fry in batches to avoid overcrowding, and make sure the temperature returns to 190°C after each batch, until the balls are dark golden brown and cooked through when you cut one open. It’s important to keep the oil at this temperature, otherwise the balls will fall apart. As each batch is fried, use a slotted spoon to transfer it to a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and keep hot. These are the absolute best when you serve them straight away.
Arrange the vegetables with hearty spoonfuls of hummus in deep plates, and then add the freshly fried chickpea balls as soon as they’re all cooked. Serve any extra vegetables and hummus at the table.
North African-style lamb balls with spiced tomato salad
Mathias says: “Lamb balls are always on our menu. Because of lamb’s strong taste, I pair it with other full-flavoured ingredients, such as ras el hanout. I mix the lamb balls with the salad when serving, with couscous on the side.”
Serves 4–6; makes about 36 balls
- 1kg lamb mince
- 1 egg
- 100ml chicken stock, chilled
- 1 tbsp ras el hanout
- 3 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- butter, for frying
- cooked couscous, to serve
- sea salt
For the spiced tomato salad:
- 500g tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 2 avocados, cut into thin wedges
- 2 celery sticks, finely sliced
- 2 green peppers pieces, roughly chopped
- 1 red onion, cut into wedges
- ½ cucumber, roughly chopped
- 100ml virgin olive oil
- 300ml bloody mary mix or tomato or vegetable juice
- green Tabasco sauce
- 1 tbsp each roughly shredded fresh coriander and mint
First prepare the salad. Put all the vegetables in a bowl. Whisk the olive oil and bloody mary mix together, then stir it through the vegetables. Season with a couple splashes of green Tabasco sauce and salt to taste, then scatter over the coriander and mint. Transfer to a large platter and set aside to let all the flavours blend – you want to serve this at room temperature.
To make the lamb balls, beat the lamb mince, egg and 2 teaspoons of salt together in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes firmer. Add the chicken stock, ras el hanout and parsley, and continue beating until the mixture is smooth, firm and well combined. Shape the mixture into about 36 smooth meatballs, each 30g and the size of a table tennis ball.
Melt enough butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat to come about one-third of the way up the meatballs. Add as many meatballs as will fit, without overcrowding, and fry, turning frequently, for 7–10 minutes until brown on the outside and cooked through when you cut one open. Pan-fry in batches, if necessary. As each batch is fried, transfer it to a baking tray and keep hot.
To serve, transfer the meatballs and salad to a serving platter. Serve with couscous on the side, if you wish.
Meatballs For The People by Mathias Pilblad (£20, Bloomsbury Absolute) is out on 19 August
Photography: Andreas Sjostrand and Fredrik Bohman