by Kate Heyhoe
Mention meatballs and large, globular Italian-style meat balls simmered in a thick, rich tomato sauce likely come to mind. Yet, almost every other cuisine makes their own version of homey, comforting meatballs.
China, for instance, cooks ginger-spiced ground pork as small, round balls, then serves them in crisp cabbage leaves, calling them Lion's Head Meatballs because the cabbage resembles the lion's shaggy mane. Middle Eastern families make flat meatballs from ground lamb, then skewer and grill them over a charcoal fire. Swedish Meatballs, paired with egg noodles, take on their own tangy flavor with a dash of nutmeg and a sour cream sauce. Mexican Albondigas Soup floats tiny meatballs in a rich broth with fresh vegetables.
As with most seemingly simple foods, there is a knack to mixing and fixing meatballs, and more than one technique. You don't want the meat to be overly fatty, but very lean meat results in dry, cardboard-like meatballs. Some cooks add bread or cracker crumbs for texture, and eggs as a binder. In Greece, raw rice is rolled into the meat and when cooked, sticks out from the meatballs in all directions, thus earning the name of "porcupines."
Some Italian cooks prefer to brown their meatballs in a skillet, then simmer them in a sauce, while others boil the meatballs in broth first. Both methods have merit. The first instance caramelizes the outside, adding browned bits of flavor. In the second method, simmering in broth produces an extraordinarily moist meatball, bursting with natural juices, and the resulting broth is immensely rich and flavorful. To see what I mean, visit my column on Italian Meatballs, My Way, and my recipes for Italian Meatballs Simmered in Broth and the oh-so-satisfying Chicken-Vegetable Soup with Meatballs.
For the global palate, the assortment of meatball recipes below captures flavors and techniques from 'round the world—with seasonings ranging from cinnamon and nutmeg to mint and garlic. And, meatballs can be both the perfect meal and the perfect entertainment on a cold winter evening. with your family and friends in the kitchen to share the task of rolling and shaping the meatballs, you'll both speed up the process and at the same time make the meal into a cozy, communal affair. Add a simple salad, perhaps some bread or noodles, and dinner is done.
PS—Hosting a football party? Get the armchair quarterbacks into your game by having them roll the balls, the meatballs that is. It may be the only exercise they get, aside from the occasional cheer or two.
Kate's Global Kitchen for January, 2001:
Copyright © 2001, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created January 2001
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