Over the last year I’ve been thinking about my great grandmother’s meatball recipe. I’ve asked my parents if anyone was given her recipe, which it seems like the dish died with her. So, I’ve spent a little bit of time (normally on a whim) reading various meatball recipes. We called her dish Swedish Meatballs. However, the sauce for Swedish meatball recipes tends to be a creamy gravy. Her sauce was more like a combination of tomato and beef broth with some sour and sweet elements. My guess is the sauce is from Russia.
Before delving into the recipe, I thought I provide some context. My great grandparents, Zelik and Edith Entin (aka Papa and Nana), emigrated from Russia in the early 1900s. They lived in Boston and later retired to Cape Cod. When I was little we moved from Boston to Miami, which was a perfect reason for them to escape the cold Massachusetts winters. So for much of my childhood my great grandparents lived with us every year for a few months during the winter. I thought everyone’s Nana and Papa lived with them during the year.
I have very fond memories of our time with Nana and Papa in Florida. One of which is the food Nana cooked. She was amazing and many of her meals were a production, meaning they took all day to prepare and she used many pots and pans. My brother’s favorite was Nana’s Meatballs. We still talk about the meatballs and the sauce like it was the holy grail.
After much disjointed research, I think I may have come close to this grail-like recipe. Enjoy!
Like Swedish Meatballs the below recipe does not include breadcrumbs. You can add breadcrumbs or matzah meal to add volume, but that changes the density of the meatball.
- 2 lbs of Ground Beef
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 Onion, minced (or equivalent Green Onion)
- 2 Cloves Garlic, minced
- 2 tsp Kosher Salt
- 1 tsp Black Pepper
- 1 oz Ketchup
- 3 tbsp Vegetable Oil (for frying meatballs)
For the sauce, the key ingredient that transforms this dish is prunes. Without them, the sauce lacks a sweet tanginess.
- 2 Quarts of Beef Stock
- 2 cups Water
- 8 oz. Pitted Prunes (about two dozen)
- 14.5 oz Can of Diced Tomatoes
- 3 tbsp Tomato Paste
- 3 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
- 4 tbsp Honey (or Maple Syrup)
- 2 tsp Kosher Salt
- 4 tsp Smoked Sweet Paprika
- 2 tsp Ground Cumin
- 6 Carrots, chopped
- 1 Onion, diced
- 6 Cloves Garlic, chopped
If you have a large dutch oven, then I would suggest using it for frying the meatballs and cooking the sauce. If you don’t, I suggest spreading the work between a large skillet and a soup pot. For the purposes of this recipe, I will assume the later.
The meatballs should be made before the sauce is assembled. The reason is the oil and brown bits help with the foundation of the sauce. To make the meatballs, simply assemble all the ingredients together in a large bowl and mash them together using your hands. Once the ingredients are well mixed, form meatballs that are an inch to an inch and a half in diameter. With 2 lbs of meat, you should be able to assemble around 20 meatballs. After which, use medium heat with vegetable oil in large skillet to brown meatballs. You may need additional oil, depending on your beef fat content. Once done, set meatballs aside for adding to sauce.
With the same skillet oil and brown bits, sauté diced onions for 3-5 minutes. Add chopped garlic and sauté for another 3-5 minutes. After which, add paprika and cumin to mixture, shortly followed by honey and vinegar. Add the carrots to the skillet. After the carrots are nicely coated, about 5 minutes, blend in tomato paste and diced tomatoes. Simmer for five more minutes, and then transfer sauce base to soup pot. In soup pot, add beef broth, prunes and water to sauce base. Mix well and simmer in covered soup pot on medium-low heat for 3 hours.
I recommend gentle stirring the sauce and tasting it at the beginning middle and end. Once the the sauce has taken on a sweet tanginess, it is ready for the meatballs. An hour before serving, add meatballs to the sauce and simmer uncovered. If you want your sauce thicker, add meatballs and simmer uncovered for an additional half an hour. These meatballs are best served over a bed of rice and can be garnished with fresh parsley and/or green onion.