Swedish bean balls with lingonberry gravy - a vegetarian version of IKEA's Swedish meatballs!

Here’s a post I never thought I’d write: a post about food packaging (read on, I swear it’s not as boring as it sounds!). Last month I went on a trip to Sweden with Tetra Pak to learn all about a product called Tetra Recart (you might have seen some of my pictures on Instagram!). If you’re not sure what Tetra Recart is, it’s these cartons, which you may have seen in lots of shops in recent years (since 2007, in the UK) – they’re usually filled with foods that you’d expect to see in a tin can, like these black beans (but also tomatoes, soup, fruit, sauces, pet food…):

Tetra Recart black beans

If I’m honest, when I was first invited to Sweden to learn about Tetra Recart, I thought it might be a bit boring. I can’t say I’ve ever given food packaging much thought, and it’s definitely not a topic that I would ever have actively described as interesting. But, Tetra Recart is actually really cool technology – the food is put in the carton when it’s totally fresh (raw veg, etc), and once it’s all sealed up, it’s actually cooked inside the carton. Even the design on the front of the carton is cooked without being affected – it’s really clever!

Swedish bean balls with lingonberry gravy - a vegetarian version of IKEA's Swedish meatballs!

So now, I have developed a bit of a geeky interest. Some people collect stamps, some people watch trains… I’m into food packaging. Honestly, I bloomin’ love Tetra Recart. I found learning about the packaging so much more interesting than I thought I would! And seriously, these cartons are so much better than normal tin cans for so many reasons. Here are just a few:

– They only use about 60-70% of the space of tin cans, for the same amount of food, so they take up less space in your cupboard (as well as being easier to stack). Plus, they also take less space on supermarket shelves, which is great for the shops themselves.
– Because they use space more efficiently, you can fit 14% more packs on each truck – meaning fewer trucks on the roads, and less truck emissions (something which I think is awesome).
– They’re lighter than tin cans, so easier to carry home from the shops (about 17g for a carton, compared to 50g for a tin can).
– There’s no metallic taste, like you sometimes get with tins.
– They have no sharp edges, so they’re great for getting kids involved with cooking.
– They’re easy to open – you don’t need to dig around in your kitchen drawers to find a tin opener.
– There’s no danger of rust, so half-used cartons can be put straight in the fridge.

I could go on and on, but these cartons really are well-designed and easy to use, as well as being totally recyclable, containing really fresh food, and being much easier to store and transport.

Thumbs up all round.

(if there’s a Tetra Recart fan club, I feel I should be the leader. Food packaging groupie number 1!)

Swedish bean balls with lingonberry gravy - a vegetarian version of IKEA's Swedish meatballs!

As usual, I wanted to tie this blog post in with a recipe, and the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Swedish food is IKEA meatballs! (sorry, Swedish readers, I know your country’s cuisine has a lot more to offer, but that’s the first thing that sprang to mind)

Obviously I needed to make the meatballs vegetarian, so here’s my attempt: Swedish bean balls with lingonberry gravy! I’ve never actually tried the IKEA meatballs for obvious reasons, so I apologise if these bean balls aren’t a true likeness – but they were really tasty, and made for some pretty incredible comfort food with mashed potato and lashings of gravy, so I’m sticking with them.

Swedish bean balls with lingonberry gravy - a vegetarian version of IKEA's Swedish meatballs!

The bean balls themselves are pretty simple – just cannellini beans (from a Tetra Recart carton, obviously), with some breadcrumbs, onion, and fresh dill (which is a herb I need to use way more often! It’s lovely). They’re made way more interesting with a very generous drizzle of lingonberry gravy, made with vegetable stock and jam. I know what you’re thinking – jam in gravy is weird. It’s very, very weird. I’m totally not disputing that. But somehow, it just works.

The title of this post is a slight lie, I must admit – I didn’t actually use lingonberry jam in my gravy, since I couldn’t find any. I used bramble jelly instead, since it’s my favourite jam, and I knew I could use it up easily – let’s face it, nobody wants a jar of jam in their cupboard that’s only been used once, and will remain untouched for the next ten years. So although lingonberry jam is the most authentic, you can use whatever similar jam you fancy. I’ve not exactly gone for authenticity here (remember how we’ve put cannellini beans in your Swedish meatballs?).

Swedish bean balls with lingonberry gravy - a vegetarian version of IKEA's Swedish meatballs!

Serve your Swedish bean balls and lingonberry gravy with an enormous scoop of mashed potatoes and a veg of your choice (I went for asparagus, since it’s my baby), and you’ve got yourself a plate of heaven.

Make sure you keep an eye out for Tetra Recart cartons next time you’re looking for a tin of food!

Note: I was not paid to write this blog post, although I was flown to Sweden in March to learn all about the Tetra Recart product. All opinions are my own. I really am a bit of a Tetra Recart fangirl now.

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Swedish bean balls with lingonberry gravy - a vegetarian version of IKEA's Swedish meatballs!

Swedish bean balls with lingonberry gravy

Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins
Total Time: 40 mins

Ingredients

For the Swedish bean balls

  • 230 g cooked cannellini beans ~1 cup
  • 1 slice large wholemeal bread stale is fine, torn into chunks
  • 1 fairly small onion cut into chunks
  • Small handful fresh dill
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

For the lingonberry gravy

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 250 ml vegetable stock ~1 cup
  • 2 tbsp single cream
  • 1 tbsp lingonberry jam or similar fruit jam / jelly
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Instructions

  • Heat the oven to 190°C (Gas Mark 5 / 375°F).
  • Add the ingredients for the bean balls (cannellini beans to black pepper) to a food processor, and process until a paste is formed.
  • With clean hands, roll the mixture into balls (I made 12), and place on a lined baking tray. If the mixture is too sticky to roll easily, just add a few more breadcrumbs, mix well, and try again.
  • Bake the bean balls for around 30 minutes, or until firm and slightly crispy.
  • Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan, and add the flour. Cook over a medium-low heat for a minute or two, stirring constantly, then add the vegetable stock a little at a time, stirring until smooth each time before adding more. Add the cream and jam, and mix until combined. Season to taste, and serve with the bean balls and mashed potato.
Course: Main meal
Author: Becca Heyes

Swedish bean balls with lingonberry gravy - a vegetarian version of IKEA's Swedish meatballs!If you prefer a soy-based vegetarian meatball, try sticking them in my spaghetti and meatballs casserole!

Spaghetti and meatballs casserole