Monday, December 11, 2006

Shari's Swedish Meatballs

The point of making Swedish meatballs originally was to use up all the little bits and pieces that are left around the kitchen. Of course, these days, people tend to make them because they taste good rather than because they want to be frugal and use up whatever is lying around. I make them because they're cheap and tasty and pretty much the only way I will eat any sort of beef. I have a rather intense dislike of beef because, to me, it just smells like blood. Since we eat chicken 4-5 nights a week, it gets tedious eating the same thing, so this is a nice change of pace.

Using this recipe, the main portion of the meal (the meatballs) costs about 120 yen per serving if you can get ground beef as cheaply a I can (which is about 70 yen per 100 grams). This is also a dish which doesn't require any specialty (import) shopping. All of the ingredients can be purchased at an average Japanese supermarket and it is cooked on the stove top and requires no special equipment.

Shari's Swedish Meatballs:
  • 500 grams (approx. 1 lb.) ground beef
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1 medium green pepper or 2 small Japanese piman
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 3/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (dried or fresh)
  • 1 cup near-boiling water
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1/3 cup cold milk
  • 1-2 tbsp. corn starch
  • 1 tbsp. sour cream (optional)
  • ~1 tbsp. olive oil (for cooking)

Put the ground beef into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the garlic, pepper, salt, and nutmeg over the beef. Process the onion in a small food processor (or dice very finely by hand). Add the green pepper and pulse to process into relatively small pieces or dice it by hand. Add 3/4 cup of milk and stir until thoroughly mixed. (Note: I've pureed the onion to mush before and that is fine - chopping too finely is better than too coarsely since the vegetables have to cook completely inside the meatballs. You can click on the picture above to see a larger one that should give you an idea of how finely I process them.).

Add the bread crumbs and stir until well-mixed and the meat mixture starts to clump up (as pictured above) but is not hard to stir (which would mean it's too dry). The mixture shouldn't be soupy. If it seems too wet, throw in more bread crumbs 1/4 cup at a time.

Form small (about 1"-1.25" in diameter) meatballs inside the same mixing bowl. This next step isn't absolutely necessary but it's a good idea to cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for an hour or more (up to a day ahead of time). This will allow the spices to permeate and for the meatballs to firm up and be less likely to fall apart while cooking.

Heat a large skillet and spread just enough olive oil over the bottom to coat it (to keep the meatballs from sticking). Place the meatballs one at a time over the bottom of the pan. It's okay if they touch but they should not be crowded. Cover and cook over medium heat, turning over when they are half-cooked and brown on the bottom. If you don't keep it covered, you won't have enough liquid for making the sauce.

Remove the finished meatballs and keep warm in a covered plate (using the lid you covered the skillet with to cover the plate works well). Skim the fat from the edges of the juices (or leave it if you don't care). Dissolve the bouillon cubes in the near-boiling water and add to the juices in the pan. Stir to mix. Dissolve the corn starch (use 1 tbsp. for thinner sauce and 2 tbsp. for thicker sauce) in the 1/3 cup of cold milk and add to the juices and bouillon. Stir constantly over medium heat until thickened. Stir in sour cream if desired. Skim the fat from the edges again if necessary or use a soup skimmer to remove it.

Spoon the sauce over each serving of meatballs and serve as a main dish. Alternately, add the meatballs back into the sauce and serve over whole wheat pasta as a sauce. The sauce also makes a great gravy for potatoes.

In Japan, I use standard dried breadcrumbs used for tempura that you can pick up almost anywhere and Maggi-brand beef bouillon cubes (as pictured above). I recently picked up a bag with a ton of tiny piman for 99 yen which served me well (though I doubt I'll be able to use them all up before they go off). This recipe will make 4 generous servings or 5 smaller ones and can be frozen for future meals. You can also make sandwiches from the meatballs if you've kept the sauce separate (it gets too messy with the sauce).

In researching this recipe, I found a lot of variations and the common element is the nutmeg. It may seem strange to add a spice generally associated with cakes, pies and cookies to meat but it works extremely well and should not be omitted. My recipe mixes and matches components of various recipes but the main thing I do differently is add in green pepper and prepare the sauce with bouillon. Even if you don't like green pepper (my husband doesn't care for it), it adds in a distinctive and enjoyable flavor and I recommend giving it a try. This was the first time I added sour cream to the sauce and I found that it didn't add much to the flavor but it did give it a super smooth, silky texture.

One of the reasons I like this recipe is that it allows me to pre-prepare the more involved part (the meatballs) far ahead of time then cook later. My husband's work schedule has him coming home at 10:30 pm so we eat dinner at 11:00 and I'm generally pretty tired and not in the mood to do elaborate dinner preparation.


Luis said...

...and it's interesting how every culture on every planet in the galaxy has this exact same dish...

Shari said...

Ah, your inner geek is showing. ;-)

I guess every culture has to have a recipe that allows them to use up all the stuff that is lying around the kitchen.

Sharon said...

Adding nutmeg to beef may be uncommon now, but in the middle ages, cinnamon or nutmeg were frequently added to beef to enhance the flavor. When I was researching medieval cookery, I saw that almost every beef recipe used cinnamon. I tried it, and loved the results. I now use cinnamon every time I use beef. I'll have to try nutmeg soon. I suspect there will be some similarity in flavor enhancement.

Shari said...

After you mentioned this to me, I started adding cinnamon to certain meat recipes (esp. chicken) and Tito liked it quite a bit.

Though I'm not sure it works well in everything, it is excellent in a recipe for cashew chicken salad that I make occasionally. In fact, when Tito has this salad for lunch, he wants lots of cinnamon added into it. One of these days, I'll put up that recipe as well. It's really good and low carb.

Helen said...

Oooh, low carb recipe? Please post it!

Shari said...

So many little time. ;-)

I'll definitely post it next time I make it again (since I prefer to post with pictures). In the meantime, you might want to give the low carb bread recipe a shot. It makes excellent toast and sandwiches.

Anonymous said...

Lol that recepie must be a modern version of swedish meatballs bacuse we don´t use green pepper or corn starch in them. And olive oil? Doesn´t everybody know that butter brings out the flavours even better? =)

Shari said...

I'm pretty sure I made it clear that this is my version (hence the title being "Shari's") and that the inclusion of green pepper was unique to me.