Lagom, a Swedish term meaning just the right amount; not too much, not too little, sufficient, enough, just right. Lagom also translates into balance, happiness, and living in moderation. It’s about creating a happier and more balanced everyday life. Lagom is not a set of ideas or standards but rather a flexible concept that can hold different meanings for different people. Lagom can be used to describe anything (e.g., coffee lagom strong, weather lagom warm).
This philosophy is at the heart of the Scandinavian lifestyle, including its culinary traditions.
That being said, balance and inner peace are difficult to achieve in our fast-paced, modern society in which we never feel as though we have enough time. We often find ourselves eating at our desks because we have countless deadlines to meet or we resort to fast food or frozen dinners at the end of the day because we’re overworked and tired. And then we feel guilty about our choices.
But for Swedes, life is not about extremes—fluctuating one day to the next between excess and denial—but rather about harmony and enjoyment. It’s about taking/making time to eat well, to include the pleasure of rich, comfort foods when that’s what one desires.
Lagom is also harmony achieved through seasonal eating, that is, a deep appreciation and respect for ingredients. Lagom is knowing what’s in season, for instance, foraging for nettles and dandelions in the spring, fishing for herring mid-summer, and harvesting wild berries in late-summer.
Swedes take pride in eating healthy, but also recognize that “breaking the rules” or indulging from time to time is important, even vital, to their way of being. It’s not about demonizing food or feeling guilty, but rather embracing the notion that there is a time and place for everything—a happy medium.
If you flip through Steffi Knowles-Dellner’s book, Lagom: The Swedish Art of Eating Harmoniously, the recipes have a modest, approachable, familiar feel to them. There’s a good balance of recipes, from vegetable to seafood/fish (pickled and smoked, no doubt), with a scattering of meat dishes and an ample section devoted to desserts (sött). As a mushroom lover, the Chanterelle Toast with Poached Eggs and Kale sounded like a perfect way to enjoy a leisurely Sunday (and a way for me to embrace lagom). Since chanterelles are not in season at the moment, I substituted with a combination of local grey oyster mushrooms and shitakes (perfectly acceptable). It totally hit the spot and left me feeling satisfied and nourished.
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Chanterelle Toast with Poached Eggs and Kale
It would be remiss of me not to include at least one egg recipe in this book, as a boiled egg is such a staple on the Swedish breakfast table. I also wanted to celebrate our love of mushrooms, particularly in late summer/early autumn when they are there for the picking in forests and fields–with the right knowledge, of course. This breakfast is a wonderfully savory way to start the day. Omit the garlic if you find it too much first thing. Personally, I like to add more.
2 handfuls of kale, stalks removed and leaves torn into bits
1 Tbsp cold-pressed rapeseed oil or olive oil, plus a little extra for drizzling
3 1/2 oz chanterelle mushrooms, or mixed wild mushrooms, torn into chunks
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
1 small handful of parsley, roughly chopped
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 slices of sourdough bread
Bring a large pan of water to boil. Blanch the kale for a minute or two, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain, squeezing out any excess water. Keep the water simmering while you crack on with the mushrooms.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the mushrooms, taking care not to overcrowd them. Fry for 4–5 minutes until golden and softened.
Add the garlic to the pan and fry for a minute until no longer fragrant. Add the kale and stir through for a minute or two until all of the water has evaporated and the leaves start to crisp (about 5 minutes). Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle in most of the parsley.
Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a couple of ramekins or cups. Add the vinegar to the pan of simmering water and swirl with a spoon to create a whirlpool. Hold the ramekin close to the surface of the water and quickly tip one egg into the swirling water. Increase the heat slightly and poach the egg for 2 minutes until set. Remove and set aside while you repeat with the other egg.
Toast the sourdough and drizzle with a little more oil. Divide the mushrooms and kale between the toasts, then top with the poached eggs. Sprinkle with a little more parsley and a good grinding of black pepper.
Recipe excerpted with permission from Lagom: The Swedish Art of Eating Harmoniously by Steffi Knowles-Dellner, published by Quadrille.
Photo Credit: Linda Schneider