There's no shortage of contenders for the title of holy grail of kosher cooking. Happily, many of them have dropped out of contention and into ravailability--kosher bacon-wrapped things, curries made with kosher fish sauce, and gochujang, to name a few favorites. That leaves Swedish meatballs, that darling of the Ikea cafeteria, at the top of the list. (Yes, the Ikea in Netanya, Israel serves kosher Swedish meatballs, which we'll be taking a research trip to deconstruct, of course, just as soon as we win one of those El Al sweepstakes.) There are three critical sticking points in standard-edition köttbullar: One, pork is usually used; two, there is cream in the gravy plus milk in the meatballs, and three, have you ever met a kosher lingonberry? Well, lingonberries are inherently kosher of course, but they have the habit of growing in Scandinavia. This recipe dispenses with all three of these kushiyot (a Talmudic term meaning a significant difficulty) and gives you real-deal, dairy-free, kosher Swedish meatballs with creamy gravy and the requisite pop of sweetness.
Making Swedish meatballs kosher
Let's tackle this point by point. The pork is the easiest obstacle to overcome: just use a different ground (minced) meat. Veal is the most precise substitution, especially since many Swedish recipes use part or all veal in the ground meat mix. I usually use turkey. If you can get a mix of light and dark meat ground turkey, that's the best, but I often make this with ordinary ground turkey breast because it's more readily available, and it works well.
Next up we have the matter of the cream-laden gravy. This is undoubtedly a major hurdle to clear. Although it's tempting to go the way of tofu sour cream, which works surprisingly well for me in dishes like beef stroganoff, I don't think it's needed here. Instead, I make a pan gravy using beef broth that's thickened with a flour. It coats the meatballs nicely and has a luxurious texture going, plus it's flavorful. The milk in the meatballs, which is used to soak the bread crumbs, is easily substituted with almond milk.
On to lingonberries. It is possible to get kosher-certified lingonberry jam. It's made by Roland and certified by Star-K. My kosher market carries it sometimes, though I don't think I've ever seen it in a regular supermarket. But that's okay, because you know what lingonberries are? Close relatives cranberries. Yep, all-American cranberry sauce is the Stateside equivalent of the lingonberry sauce you get with your meatballs at the Ikea cafeteria and, presumably, in actual, non-simulated Sweden. And if it's no longer cranberry season and you haven't stashed away several bags in your freezer like some people I could name, canned cranberry sauce works too.
How to make Swedish meatballs
There are a few things to know about making these meatballs. First, you start by soaking two slices of bread in a bit of almond milk. I use the heels of sandwich loaves that usually get left behind in the bread box.
Second, the the onion is grated--you can use a food processor or do it by hand--and then needs to be well wrung out. I use a kitchen towel for this. It keeps the finished meatballs soft and silky but packs in a lot of flavor.
The meatballs are pan fried. Once they develop a nice crust and are mostly cooked through, you take them out of the skillet so you can make the gravy. To do that, you need to deglaze the pan with a splash of sherry and make a roux base. Don't worry, that just means melting some margarine in the pan and whisking a little flour into it, which will thicken the gravy.
You gradually add the beef broth, then a little potato starch slurry, and you're done. Toss the meatballs in the gravy and serve with mashed potatoes or egg noodles, and of course, your air-quotes-lingonberry sauce.
Kosher Swedish Meatballs (meat)
- 1 lb ground turkey
- 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion
- 2 slices bread
- ¼ cup almond milk
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp allspice
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ¼ tsp cardamom
- ¼ tsp white pepper
- ¼ cup sherry
- 1 tsp Worcestershire or soy sauce
- 4 Tbsp margarine
- ¼ cup flour
- 2 cups beef or chicken stock
Lingonberry jam, or quick cranberry sauce:
- 1 cup cranberries - fresh or frozen
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- In a mixing bowl, place the slices of bread and pour the almond milk over them. Set aside.
- Using a food processor (using the regular blade), grate the onion. Empty out the onion onto a clean kitchen towel. Over the sink, wring out the onion inside the towel until no more liquid runs out.
- The bread should have soaked up the almond milk by now. Add the soaked bread to the food processor and pulse until wet crumbs form.
- To the mixing bowl, add the egg and spices. Whisk to combine, then add the bread and the onion. Whisk again.
- Add the ground meat to the mixing bowl and mix together until well combine.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Form the meat mixture into large meatballs and place in the skillet one by one. Brown the meatballs on both sides, about 5 minutes per side.
- Carefully remove the meatballs from the pan and place on a plate.
- Lower the heat, then pour the sherry into the skillet and, as it sizzles, immediately scrape the bits off the bottom of the skillet.
- Add the Worcestershire sauce--it'll bubble up--then the margarine. When the margarine is mostly melted, swirl it around the skillet and sprinkle the flour over it. Whisk until it thickens into a roux.
- Add the stock to the pan. Raise the heat slightly and bring to a simmer, until the sauce begins to thicken, about 2 minutes.
- Return the meatballs to the pan and cook in the sauce for a few more minutes.
Quick berry sauce:
- Simmer the cranberries, sugar, and water over a medium-low flame until the berries burst and the mixture becomes jammy, about 10 minutes.