The arrival of Swedish furniture giant Ikea not only brought us colorful & cozy Scandinavian home décor… but, more importantly, ‘kottbullar’! These tender morsels of beef & veal, in their creamy sauce and fruity lingonberry compote, sing their sweet siren song every time I happen to drive by the store alongside the 405 freeway. As soon as I see Ikea’s blue & gold logo in my line of sight, I feel a bubble of giddy excitement well up inside me and I nearly always feel compelled to pull off the freeway and stock up on a little bit of Europe in my otherwise American world. There’s something happy & cheery about Ikea, if it weren’t for the hoards of shoppers crowding the place on a daily basis.
Meatballs have long made their mark on Belgian cuisine as well. I think this is mainly because they pair so well with the warm fruity compotes you often find stewing in old-fashioned Belgian kitchens. I remember as a little girl, ‘omoe’ or grandma would brown up a batch of little meatballs and serve them with a sweet warm cherry sauce and chunky mashed potatoes. I have fond memories of those times, partly because grandpa would stuff his cheeks like a chipmunk and tell us stories in critter voice, much to the chagrin of grandma who felt it was not proper to indulge in such foolishness whilst having dinner. Occasionally, he’d lose a meatball and then all bets were off. Grandma would put an abrupt end to the silliness and grandpa would quickly follow suit for the sake of marital bliss and prompt us to be quiet and finish our plate. These moments of unbridled silliness never lasted long, but they shaped my memory of my beloved grandpa, who earned a PhD in biochemistry and was a professor emeritus at the renowned University of Ghent and super-cool kitchen table magician on weekends we visited. I think his world was filled with so much intellectual conversation and academic seriousness, that he enjoyed regaling his grandchildren with plain old silliness. Bless his soul in heaven.
As I got older and started paying my own bills, I developed a special affinity for the Swedish meatballs Ikea sold at bottom dollar. The recipe remains a bit of a mystery as so many Swedes have their own family recipe that was handed down from generation to generation, but below is my take on this beloved dish.
(adapted from a recipe by Jeroen Meus)
For the meatballs:
– ½ lbs of lean ground beef
– ½ lbs of ground veal (or lean ground pork)
– 1 egg, yolk only
– ½ cup of breadcrumbs, soaked in 2-3 Tbsp of milk until just moistened through
– 1 Tbsp of allspice (or a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg & ground cloves)
– 2 shallots, very finely chopped
– salt & pepper
– beef broth, for boiling the meatballs before browning them
Take a large bowl and place the ground meats inside. Chop the shallots very finely and sauté in a little bit of butter until they turn translucent. Add the sautéed shallots to the bowl with the ground meats.
Add allspice and egg yolk to the meat mixture, and combine well. Add soaked breadcrumbs, and combine until everything is well incorporated. Add salt & pepper to taste.
Bring beef broth to a boil and drop 1.5-inch rolled meatballs into hot broth. Cook for approx. 4-5 minutes until done, and set aside on a plate. Once the meatballs are done, they’ll automatically float to the top.
In a heavy skillet, melt a few tablespoons of butter and quickly brown meatballs to a crispy golden brown, approx. 3 minutes.
For the creamy sauce:
– 4oz of heavy cream
– a splash of cognac (or cooking sherry)
– salt & pepper to taste
In the pan with the browned bits of the meatballs, add a hefty splash of cognac and ignite. You can do this with a match or – if you have a gas stove – by tilting your pan into flame, being careful not to spill the liquid. Stand back, as your pan will become enflamed for a few seconds.
Stir and scrape all the flavorful browned bits from the meatballs from the bottom of the pan, then add the cream and reduce the brown sauce a bit until it thickens. Add browned meatballs and toss to coat in the sauce.
Serve with mashed potatoes and a spoonful of cranberry sauce.