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Don’t go to IKEA. You can make your meatballs at home or do even better: make kalpudding, Swedish meatloaf made from pork and brown caramelised cabbage. Utsökt!
My mother’s cooking skills left quite a bit to be desired but I loved her meatloaf. It wasn’t an unusually juicy, uniquely tasty and full of umami number – no, it just had very little meat in it.
Meatloaf recipes, from cheap and cheerful to posh and wrapped in pancetta, always call for some bread to be added to the meat so it all holds together and doesn’t become a badly baked burger. Sometimes it’s dried, sometimes fresh breadcrumbs and other times it’s bread, with crust torn off. Mum would usually add a bread roll and as she couldn’t be bothered with tearing off the crust, she’d rinse it under the running water to soften the crust and bung it into the meat. The fact that she usually minced the pork herself helped with the even distribution of the bread. There would be onion added to the mix, but salt and pepper was the limit of her seasoning derring-do.
So far so basic, but let me remind you those were the days of limited resources (Poland in 1980s, under communist rations) and you didn’t just lavishly dish out pure meat for dinners. To bulk out her meatloaf Mum would add about twice as much bread as the recipes normally call for, and I suspect sometimes it was almost a breadloaf with bits of meat added to give it flavour.
How I loved it. I wasn’t a very fussy child but I wasn’t a fan of meat, vegetable and fruit; so yes, ideally I’d have had a diet of cake and pasta. I’d push bits of meat around bits of veg on my plate at dinnertime except when it was meatloaf. That was my all-time favourite and only my mother’s common sense and parental integrity stopped her from caving in to my requests to cook me meatloaf (breadloaf) every day.
The Swedish brown caramelised cabbage meatloaf sure takes me back – but it’s better, especially to my grown-up, discerning self. The cabbage itself is awesome. It sounds like a chore of hours slaving over the stovetop but it’s not – surprising how high the heat it can handle before you need to stir the cabbage in the pot. And the combo of plain mince mixed with the brown cabbage, with more cabbage on top just to make sure you weren’t left under-cabbaged, is just epic. I found the recipe in NY Times Cooking c/o Sam Sifton but surely it’s something a Viking once saw in the Ottoman Empire and brought the idea back home: mega dolmas, Svenska style. No vine – let’s use cabbage; no lamb – pork will do. That’s how the greatest dishes are born!
kalpuddingServings: 4Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- 30g (2 tbsp.) unsalted butter plus more for greasing the dish
- 2 heads of spring cabbage, about 1 kilo in total, cored and shredded
- 3 tbsp. golden syrup
- salt and black pepper
- 200g (½ pound) minced beef
- 200g (½ pound) pork
- 1 onion, peeled and diced
- 150ml (2/3 cup) double cream
- 4 tbsp. dry breadcrumbs
- 100ml (½ cup)stock or water
1. Melt the 30g butter over medium heat in a large pan. Add the cabbage when it’s foaming and sprinkle with salt. Stir it, pressing down if it barely fits in the pan, and it will soon start shrinking. Add the golden syrup and cook the cabbage over medium-high heat, stirring often, for 30 minutes until all liquid has cooked off and the cabbage has turned dry, brown and threatens to catch the bottom of the pan.
2. While the cabbage is cooking, mix the meats in a large bowl with the onion, cream and breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper. When the cabbage is ready, stir about a third part of it into the meat.
3. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Butter an oven dish about 20 x 20cm.
4. Spoon the meat mix into the dish and press it down. Spoon the rest of the cabbage over the meat. Pour over the stock or water and slip into the oven, middle rack.
5. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the cabbage is caramelised and browned on top, looking crisp and almost burnt around the edges. Remove from the oven and let the kalpudding rest for 5 minutes before cutting into it. Serve with boiled or mashed potatoes and some sweet and spicy preserve like redcurrant or greengage jelly, or chutney.