ANATOLIA CAUCASUS EUROPE
As old as the meat mincer, meatballs are ubiquitous throughout the continent. They were known to the Romans and probably originated with the Etruscans. Apicius recorded a recipe for meatballs in pork caul that included minced meat, crustless bread, wine, ground pepper, garum, myrtle berries, pine nuts and whole peppercorns.
Replace the wine with milk, add butter or oil for the garum, egg instead of the caul for binding and you have a meatball similar to one made 2500 years ago.
Their popularity comes from the easy availability of ingredients and the simple method of production.
The meatball is generally made with minced meat, breadcrumbs, egg, herbs, onion and seasoning, then fried, baked or boiled, and often finished in a sauce or soup.
Regional differences, cultural influences and variable techniques characterise the meatball.
In Poland, Ukraine and Russia the influence is the bulette, a recipe brought to Berlin in 1700 with the Huguenots. Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and western Germany share the same basic recipe.
In the Balkans bulgur or rice alters the texture, which is the result of double mincing, a technique also favoured by the Turks.
The countries of the Mediterranean have a schizophrenic attitude to meatballs. They are either light and simple with nothing more than an egg and a tablespoon of cheese to bind the meat or heavy and complicated with numerous combinations of grains, herbs, legumes, spices and vegetables to enrich the meat.
The Turks boast nearly 300 varieties of köfte, including çiğ köfte (raw meatball), which combines bulgur, onions, water, paprika, mint, parsley and lemon with beef.
Meatballs are among the national dishes in Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia.
Just don’t make the assumption that they should be ball-shaped. The Danish meatball, a combination of minced pork, flour, egg, onion and milk, resembles a burger.
500 g pork, minced 1 onion, chopped 1 egg 1 heaped tbsp of flour Milk Salt Black pepper, ground Vegetable oil Butter, small piece
Combine mince, onions, egg, flour and seasoning. Mix thoroughly and add milk, little at a time. When the mixture makes a thack thack sound when you beat it, then it is the right consistency. It should be moist. Put in fridge for at least an hour.
Heat the oil in a pan and add butter. When the oil is warm, dip a big spoon (a tablespoon would suffice) in the mixture and form the frikadelles into an oval shape using the spoon and your hand. They should be more oval than round shaped.
After each frikadelle, dip the spoon in the hot oil so that the next frikadelle slips off the spoon into the pan.
Flatten the frikadeller slightly.
Fry gently until cooked though, about five minutes on each side. They should be still moist and spongy when served.
Danes serve frikadeller with potato salad and eat them cold on rye bread the next day.
Variations are more or less flour, and oatmeal or breadcrumbs.
The European Meatball
If there was such a dish as the European meatball, influenced by the diverse food cultures, it might be something like this.
1.75 kg beef and pork, minced 180 g Dijon mustard 175 g bread soaked in water 120 g Manchego, Parmigiano and Pecorino cheeses, grated 40 g breadcrumbs 15 g 4-pepper 10 cloves garlic, crushed, chopped 10 g Hungarian hot paprika lemon zest (2 lemons) 5 sprigs marjoram, leaves chopped small 5 scallions, chopped small 5 sprigs thyme, leaves chopped small 7 g juniper berries, crushed 5 g salt Sunflower oil, for frying
Combine the meat in a large bowl with the mustard and soaked bread, add seasonings and spices, berries and herbs, and zest.
Shape into small balls, half a finger in diameter.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Spread breadcrumbs on a large plate, roll meatballs in crumbs, covering lightly.
Heat a thin film of oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat, gently brown meatballs a few at a time. Transfer to a baking tray.
Bake in oven for 20 minutes.
The Turks took these delightful Assyrian meatballs to their hearts (and stomachs) a very long time ago, and now produce numerous variations on the very old original recipe. In Istanbul the proliferation of Syrian restaurants has increased the competition to produce the best icli köfte.
500 ml water, boiled 350 g bulgur, fine ground 150 g semolina, fine ground 30 g /walnuts, fine ground 1 tsp cumin seeds 1 tsp sweet paprika 1 tsp salt Semolina, coarse, for coating
Soak bulgar and semolina in the hot water, leave to rest for 30 minutes, then add the walnuts and seasonings. Wet hands and knead into a soft dough.
250 g beef, double minced 200 g onions, chopped 100 g walnuts, coarse chopped / fine ground 4 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped (optional) 4 tbsp parsley, finely chopped (optional) 45 g red pepper paste / tomato paste (quantity optional) 30 ml /olive oil 30 ml pomegranate molasses 15 g red pepper (paprika) flakes 45 g red pepper paste / tomato paste (quantity optional) 1 tsp sumac, ground
Sauté onions in oil, about 15 minutes. Add the meat, break and fry for three minutes. Add paprika, sumac and walnuts. Increase heat, stir for three minutes until the walnuts release their oil. Stir in the molasses and paste, leave to cool. If desired, work the herbs into the mixture. Divide dough into walnut-sized pieces, about 30 g each. Using thumb and forefinger make a cavity with thin sides in the bulgar dough. Place 10 g of filling inside the cavity, push down and fold dough over the filling, seal and shape into a ball. Deep fry in sunflower oil at 190°C until golden or shallow fry in a large frying pan or bake in a 200°C oven or boil in salted water. Note: The pastes can be bought in jars but they are easy to make if good fresh red peppers and tomatoes, preferably Turkish, are available.
For a colourful description on how to make red pepper paste go here.
Note: The crust for icli köfte is not always made with bulgar. Semolina became a crust ingredient along with nuts aeons ago. Wheat grits have also played a part while in more recent centuries potatoes have been combined with eggs and flour. Some recipes call for double-ground meat to be added to the various flours that define the crust. The bulgar can be coarse ground and also fine ground, the latter producing a crispy crust. The cooking method is also variable. According to Sahrap Soysal, author of A Cookery Tale, fried icli köfte are called irok, while the boiled version is known as igdebet.
ALBANIA Qofte minced beef / lamb, breadcrumbs / bread, egg, feta cheese, flour, garlic, mint, milk, olive oil, onion, oregano, parsley, sunflower oil, seasonings ALBANIA Qofte Elbasan minced lamb, rice, onions, eggs, oregano, paprika, seasonings
BELGIUM Ballekes minced beef / pork, braised onion, white bread soaked in milk, egg, parsley, seasonings CYPRUS Keftédes minced lamb / pork, potatoes, egg, onion, mint, parsley, vinegar, seasonings / cumin / oregano / garlic DENMARK Köttbullar minced beef / pork / veal, onion, egg, flour, milk
FINLAND Lihapullat minced beef, sour cream, onion, flour, egg, mustard, paprika, seasonings
FRANCE Attignole minced pork, pork fat, white bread soaked in milk, eggs and flour, onion, pepper, shallot FRANCE Attriaux minced pork, liver, garlic, onion
GEORGIA Abkhazura minced beef, pork, caul fat, vinegar, black pepper, garlic, onion, cayenne, coriander, fenugreek, salt, sumac
GERMANY Berliner Bulette minced beef and pork / veal, milk, egg, onion, bread soaked in milk / water, nutmeg, seasonings/bacon, caraway, garlic/marjoram GERMANY Gehacktesbällchen minced beef, onions, hard bread roll soaked in water, egg, seasonings
GREECE Keftédes minced beef / chicken / lamb / pork / veal, eggs, onions, bread soaked in water, flour, seasonings, parsley, mint / oregano, thyme / garlic GREECE Soutzoukákia beef, spiced tomato sauce
ITALY Etruscan pork caul with minced pork, crustless bread, wine, ground pepper, garum, myrtle berries, pine nuts, whole peppercorns ITALY Polpette minced beef / veal, egg, cheese, breadcrumbs, seasonings / sausage/salami/herbs
KALININGRAD RUSSIA Klopse minced beef / pork, bread roll soaked in water, onion, eggs, breadcrumbs, anchovies / mustard, seasonings / spices NORWAY Kjøttkaker minced beef / chicken, egg, potato flour or starch, oats, onion, milk or water, ginger, nutmeg, seasonings
POLAND Breslauer Klopse beef, white bread, onions, Polish mustard, egg, capers, anchovies, seasonings meatballs in sauce from beef / vegetable stock, potatoes, apples, pears, Polish mustard, anchovies, lemon juice, sugar and seasonings POLAND Klopsiki w Sosie Pieczarkowym minced beef / pork, etc with mushroom sauce POLAND Klopsiki w Sosie Sery Pleśniowe minced beef / pork, etc with blue cheese sauce POLAND Pulpety minced beef / pork / veal / turkey, rice, semolina, onion, hard boiled egg, seasonings
ROMANI Perişoare double ground beef / lamb, rice, egg, onion, parsley, paprika, flour, seasonings/mashed beans SPAIN Albóndigas minced pork, veal / beef, lamb, garlic, manchego cheese, scallions, thyme, seasonings SWEDEN Köttbullar minced beef / pork / veal, onions, breadcrumbs soaked in milk, egg, parsley, pureed potato, seasonings
TURKEY Köfte double ground beef / lamb, egg, onion, flour, red pepper paste, seasonings / bulgur, walnuts, paprika flakes, parsley
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