Pressgurka are a quick-pickled cucumber side that are a classic accompaniment to many dishes, from seafood to roasted meats and particularly Swedish meatballs. Whenever you have them, they are easy to make and have a delicious sweet-sour flavor.
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Sweden was one of the first countries that I visited independently of my parents and I spent part of the time staying with a family in the South. They were such a lovely family and were determined to let me experience as much as possible of Swedish culture. We visited different local towns, an open air museum and tried various foods.
The budding foodie in me took it all in. I can still picture us all with the bibs for the crayfish party. As well as seafood, I enjoyed trying the various pickled fish and vegetables.
I admit, my tastes didn't extend to everything at the time, like a heavily horseradish-flavored sandwich. But these cucumbers were served with lots of dishes both then and on other visits, and are so easy to enjoy. And I'm glad to say my kids are now fans too.
What are pressgurka?
"Pressgurka" translates as pressed or squeezed cucumbers, as that is part of the process in making this dish. You slice the cucumber really thin then salt them. You then press them down to help extract liquid from them. After that, you pour a mix of water, vinegar and sugar over the drained cucumbers.
Cucumbers hold a high amount of water, which is why they taste pretty juicy. For some dishes, you want to reduce that water content, either to save watering down what you are making (eg tzatziki) or to help them be crisper and/or take on other flavors more easily.
With this dish, I've seen some say it makes them crisper, but personally I think it's more about helping the cucumbers take on the pickle flavors you add after quicker. These are, after all, basically quick pickled cucumbers.
What kind of vinegar is best?
Sweden, as with many of its neighboring countries, is pretty bog on pickling and preserving, both vegetables like this and fish like herring and salmon (as gravlax). The most common Swedish vinegar for pickling is ättikspirit also called ättika which has a high acidity.
This pickling vinegar is not very easy to find outside Scandinavia so white vinegar is generally the closest alternative. You just add a little less vinegar so it is not as diluted.
For these, though, I for one prefer a slightly less sharp vinegar so prefer to use wine vinegar, either white or red as you have. I think cider vinegar has a little too distinct a flavor, but really, choose as you prefer.
The basic pickling liquid is just vinegar, water and sugar. To that, you typically add some simple seasonings, though there are variations. Dill is probably the most popular, as I have used here, but others use parsley or caraway, or a combination.
These cucumber slices will be ready to eat within about an hour, though closer to two to three hours will help the flavor develop a little better. Then just drain them as you serve so they keep the flavor without being too wet.
They are easy to make in small or large quantities, so really just multiply up or down everything as suits. Once made, you can store them in the fridge in a sealed container (eg a jar) for a good few days, ready to use when you need them.
While these are probably most famously known as a classic accompaniment to Swedish meatballs (along with mashed potato and lingonberries), they can really pair with almost anything.
In Sweden, you might find them on top of open sandwiches (similar to Danish smørrebrød) or alongside cold cuts and smoked salmon or gravlax, often with either rye bread or crispbread. You may also have them with salads and warm dishes like roasts. They are a classic part of a smorgasbord (Swedish buffet table), too.
More generally, though, they'd fit in perfectly at a picnic or potluck alongside pasta salads, grilled or smoked meats or really whatever you like.
These pressgurka, Swedish pressed cucumber salad, are so easy to make and have such a delicious sweet-savory flavor. With the tartness of the vinegar, a little sweet and the fresh dill, these crunchy bites are a perfect addition to so many dishes.
Try these other simple, versatile sides:
- Zaalouk (Moroccan eggplant and tomato salad)
- Tropical fruit salad
- Kisir (Turkish bulgar salad)
- Plus get more Nordic recipes and side dishes in the archives.
Pressgurka - Swedish pressed cucumber
- ½ English cucumber
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ cup water 60ml, 4 tbsp
- 2 tbsp wine vinegar (white, red or champagne)
- 4 tsp sugar
- 4 tsp chopped dill (fresh)
- Thinly slice the cucumber - traditionally this is done with a Swedish-style cheese slicer but you can also use a mandolin or just a sharp knife. Use either two bowls of around the same size or two similar plates with a relatively deep rim for the next step.
- Make a layer of cucumber with some of the slices of cucumber in a bowl or on a plate. Sprinkle over salt then add more cucumber, then more salt until you have layered up all. Place the second bowl or plate on top of the cucumber slices and press down - you can weigh it with eg cans of food. Leave to allow the cucumber slices to drain for around 10 minutes or so.
- Meanwhile, combine the water, vinegar and sugar. You can either mix in a small pan and warm, stirring, to help the sugar dissolve or place all in a microwavable bowl and warm for 10 second intervals, then stir, until sugar dissolves. Leave to cool then add the dill.
- Drain off the liquid that has come out of the cucumber slices. You can also squeeze them gently to release more liquid but take care not to break up the slices. Place the drained cucumber in a bowl and add the vinegar-dill mixture and stir gently. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, or ideally 2-3 before draining as you serve them.
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