Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cold Weather: Swedish Meatballs

Christina went to Ikea Sunday. And as a bonus she picked up some of their wonderful Swedish meatballs, which we enjoyed Monday evening. They're perfect in cold weather. That reminded me that I haven't put my version of the meatballs out on the blog.

Köttbullar, pronounced unexpectedly (to non-Scandanavians at least) shawt' bue ler, are those wonderful, tender little meatballs that show up in a sour cream and dill sauce in a chafing dish at smorgasbords, buffets, and Christmas Eve. You don't need access to Ikea to get them. In fact, we have prepared them often for wedding receptions, parties, and even occasionally on "European day" at our deli in Athens. I'm not in the habit of giving out our deli's secret recipes, but Swedish meatballs are a sometime thing for us, not a big money maker. And besides, I've taught them at my Evening at Emory cooking class.

The traditional meat for these is a combination of ground pork and veal or ground pork and beef (Ikea uses beef and pork, meaning more beef than pork). But they are also superior made with ground turkey. The traditional seasonings are lemon zest, onion, pepper, nutmeg and/or allspice. I have taken several (small) liberties in my ingredients, but they work.

The recipe makes plenty for 6 people. (Well maybe 4 to 5 if Hammad is one of them.) Typical accompaniments are buttered noodles, buttered steamed or boiled potatoes, or lightly salted white rice. For dinner, serve them in a warm shallow dish. Use a chafing dish when they're part of an entertainment buffet. A medium-bodied, spicy red or dry rosé wine, such as a Pinot Noir, Côtes du Rhône, or Spanish red, or a French or Spanish rosé, go well with this. But a rich chardonnay also works.

Swedish Meatballs Tim

1/4 cup quick oatmeal (not traditional, but works well)
1/2 cup unseasoned dry bread crumbs (or 3/4 cup freshly made crumbs, packed)
1 small-medium onion
1 small clove garlic
2 Tablespoons oil or butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
3/8 teaspoon black pepper
3/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (or 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract -- not traditional but works well)
2 lbs ground turkey (the original is veal, pork, beef, or a mixture*)
1 cup sour cream
4 Tablespoons minced fresh dill or 1 Tablespoon dry dill weed (fresh is highly preferable)
Extra dill for garnish

In a food processor, or on a cutting board with a chef's knife, pulverize the oatmeal. Remove to a mixing bowl. If making fresh bread crumbs, pulse the bread in the processor. Measure out crumbs and add to the oatmeal. Cut onion into pieces and place in the food processor along with the garlic. Pulse and scrape down to mince finely. (Alternatively, mince onion and garlic finely with a knife on a cutting board.) Fry onion mixture in the oil or butter, stirring frequently, until limp but not browned. Add to the oatmeal and crumbs. Push these all to the side of the bowl and lightly beat the eggs in the open area. Add salt and spices and mix everything well. Add the turkey (or other meats*) and combine thoroughly. If desired, chill the mixture for easier shaping.

Roll out the mixture into 1 to 1-1/2 inch balls, depending on preference. Wet your hands occasionally so the meat sticks less to them. Set meatballs on an oiled tray until ready to cook. Heat a pot with water 3-inches deep. Add 3/4 teaspoon salt. When boiling, add the meatballs (half at a time, if necessary, so as not to crowd them too much). Reduce heat and simmer 12 minutes, shaking the pot and gently stirring from time to time (the meatballs will float after a minute or two). With a slotted spoon, remove the meatballs to a bowl to cool, covering the top loosely with waxed paper. Boil the poaching water down, uncovered, to reduce to about 2 cups. The meatballs and broth can be refrigerated (separately) or even frozen at this point.

To prepare for serving, skim any fat off the meatball broth and heat broth and the meatballs together carefully stirring from time to time until gently boiling. Add the sour cream and stir it in gently. Let heat just up to the beginning of simmering. Taste the sauce and add salt if desired. Add a little black pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in the dill.

Serve in a covered casserole or in a chafing dish. A few sprigs of dill can be used to garnish, if desired. Accompany with buttered noodles, boiled or steamed potatoes, or lightly salted rice.

* note: If using ground veal, pork, or beef, add 2 Tablespoons milk or water to the meatball mixture, along with the eggs.


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