Something about holidays unleashes a wild craving for sweet and sour meatballs in Jews. That is, I think so. Because come Rosh HaShana or Passover, every caterer advertises them in their newspaper ads and mailbox flyers. Sweet and sour meatballs, just like Bubeh made them! I never see them advertised at other times of the year, just at holidays.
Myself, I don’t recall ever having eaten a sweet and sour meatball. When I think of meatballs, I think of tomato sauce and bay leaf. Basil. Pasta. Italian. But the liking for a subtle blend of sour and sweet is an Ashkenazic taste that displays itself in other traditional recipes: beet borsht, brisket cooked with dried fruit, honey and vinegar, and of course that perennial Jewish favorite, Chinese food.
My oldest Jewish cookbook, Jewish Cookery, has a recipe calling for grated onion, a can of tomato soup, brown sugar and cider vinegar. The Net yielded others that include bottled chili and grape jelly. Then there are the pseudo-Asian recipes adding pineapple, soy sauce, and bell peppers to the meatball sauce.
Nah. I’m in the mood for something more traditional, more…Eastern European. I’d like to try the meatballs as an appetizer. Very small meatballs, just little savory bites to awaken the appetite, not enough to satiate.
So I made them. Of course there is a small amount of soy sauce in there, as well as wine, which isn’t traditional either. And the meatballs turned out very good indeed, firm but tender, savory/sweet. A nice little mouth full. Here they are.
Sweet and Sour Meatballs
6 servings or appetizers for 12
Ingredients for the sauce:
* Optional: Oil for shallow frying
1 medium onion
1 stalk of celery
2 Tblsp. olive oil
250 grams – 1 cup tomato purée
1 cup dry red or white wine (semi-sweet is also OK)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
1 Tblsp. soy sauce – omit on Passover
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, or more to taste
Ingredients for the meatballs:
1 kg. ground beef or a combination of ground beef and turkey meat
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup fine matzah meal or fine, dry breadcrumbs
First, choose between frying the meatballs prior to cooking them in the sauce, or dropping them into it raw. Pre-frying makes the meatballs firm and somewhat richer; the raw method is quicker and less work.
Then, make the sauce.
1. Chop the onion and celery finely.
2. Sauté them in olive oil until tender.
3. Add the tomato purée. Stir.
4. Add the wine and the water; stir.
5. Add the brown sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce. Stir again.
6. Season with salt and pepper.
Allow the sauce to simmer. Lower the flame now, cover the sauce, and keep it simmering.
Now for the meatballs.
1. Either blend all the ingredients in a food processor
or blend the onion, garlic, egg, salt and pepper separately (like in a blender) and mix them in with the ground meat. The old way was to grate the onion and chop the garlic finely. Stir the matzah meal into the meat and seasonings, blending well. Set aside.
If you choose to fry them, get about a cup of oil hot in your frying pan. I pre-fried and they were very good, less liable to fall apart in the sauce.
Use a teaspoon to measure out tiny meatballs; a tablespoon if you want larger ones. Either way, roll the ground meat mixture between your wet palms to make balls the size you prefer.
This is how I arranged things:
Frying only takes 1-2 minutes on each side. The meatballs don’t need to be cooked through, just browned. They finish cooking in the sauce. Handle them as little as possible: shake them loose from the pan bottom and scoop them out with tongs.
Then drop them gently into the hot sauce and cook for 20 minutes.
If serving as a main dish, accompany the meatballs with rice. If they are to be appetizers, serve 4 per person.
For a party buffet, keep the dish hot in a crockpot and provide small bowls.