I find it amazing that I can talk about my history and memories not just in a couple of decades, but in several decades. Over a half century to be exact. That sounds old to me, but I don’t feel that old. It is a momentous feeling to think about a friendship that is over 50 years old or remember an experience that happened 30 years ago. Even my food memories hold a place in my archives situated between remembrances of day-to-day life and momentous occasions. One such food memory that stands out is the first time I ate beef empanadas over 30 years ago.
It couldn’t be any clearer than if it happened yesterday. The sweet and savory flavors of the beef filling warmed my heart and surprised me. At the time I was pregnant with my first child, so this might anchor my taste memory. The sweet raisins made the savory meat filling come alive with each bite. I’ve had braised beef filled with raisins before, like in braciole, but raisins in beef empanadas are an addictive combination. I love it and often crave this Mediterranean flavor. Unfortunately, finding beef empanadas with the sweet and savory meat filling is more difficult than you’d think.
Finally, to satisfy my craving for sweet and savory beef empanadas, I decided to undertake the task of making them at home. What I learned during this process is, just like pot sticker dough, corn tortillas, or pie dough, the process of making the dough is easy in theory and practice. Yet, getting the dough’s texture just right takes some additional practice and helpful suggestions from experienced hands. Fortunately, there are two options: you can make empanada dough or buy it ready-made and shaped.
I tested both options and feel confident recommending buying the empanada dough if you don’t want to make it. I also believe buying pastry might be the difference between making empanadas this weekend or placing it on your bucket list. Believe me I get it, after-all it has taken me 30 years to finally make empanadas for myself. According to my recipe from Bon Appetit, Goya is the recommended brand. Find frozen empanada dough in the frozen food section with other frozen Goya products. They come in packages of 10 pre-cut pastry discs. Another bonus is they are vegetarian/vegan friendly.
Don’t let me stop you from making empanada dough if that is your desire. Click, this link for a recipe at laylita.com. Included with the recipe is a helpful video showing how to assemble the empanadas. I made this recipe by hand, with butter and with a flour mixture of 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour. Empanada pastry is different from pie dough in that it is not flaky, and is supposed to absorb the juices from the filling keeping a crumbly texture.
As for empanada filling, anything goes. There are many traditional fillings from South American and Central American countries, and within these countries each region has another variation. I am not sure of the origin of my favorite beef, raisin and Spanish olive filling so I feel at liberty to play around with the seasoning. The warm spices like cumin and cinnamon give the beef a lot of depth of flavor. Feel free to substitute it with ground pork, ground lamb, ground turkey, or shredded chicken. If you want a vegetarian empanada, substitute the beef with the filling from Swiss Chard and Feta Stuffed Pastry, or make this stuffed pastry as an option. I wonder how my Ratatouille made with Fennel and Chickpeas recipe would taste encased in empanada pastry?
My empanada recipe is slightly adapted from Argentinian Beef Empanadas from Bon Appetit, February 2017. I added additional spices and slightly adjusted their technique.
Where did the time go, and why did I wait so long to make beef empanadas? Beef empanadas are delicious either using homemade or purchased pastry dough. I know Joe is excited about having a freezer full of beef empanadas at his disposal. They make great snacks, appetizers, picnic food, or to eat for any meal of the day. Serve them plain or with chimichurri sauce.
3 Tips for Making the Perfect Beef Empanadas
- To ensure your empanadas have a tight seal and don’t explode in the oven, assemble the empanadas when the filling is at a cool room temperature or chilled. When the filling is cool there is less liquid oozing over the pastry.
- Second, when assembling the empanadas, make sure the filling stays compact in the center and does not roll out to the edge. Making a tight seal along the edge is important to ensure the empanadas do not leak.
- Third, once the empanadas are all assembled, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, and up to an hour. This chilling time allows the dough to relax and secure the seal. Of all the tips to remember, chilling the empanadas before you bake them is the most important.
Sweet and Savory Beef Empanadas
- 3 TB olive oil divided
- 1.5 lbs (750 g) ground beef
- 2 onions chopped
- 2 red bell peppers chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 3 TB ground cumin
- 2 TB sweet paprika
- 1 TB dried oregano
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground clove
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) chicken stock
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt plus more for seasoning
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) raisins
- 1/2 cup Spanish green olives pitted and rough chopped
- 3 packages Puff pastry dough for Turnovers/Empanadas* preferably Goya or homemade empanada dough
- You will need 2-3 large rimmed sheet pans. If you only have 2 sheet pans bake the empanadas over two batches.
If you are making homemade empanada dough , make it first then refrigerate it while you make the meat filling.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a12-inch (29 cm) skillet (or Dutch Oven), at medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the meat and cook until browned with no visible pink spots. While the meat cooks, break it up using the side of a wooden spoon. Season with a pinch, about ¼ tsp, of Kosher salt and stir to mix.
Remove the ground beef using a slotted spoon and place on a plate and loosely cover aluminum foil. Reserve for later.
Lower the heat to medium then add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the chopped onions and bell peppers. Stir to evenly coat and cook until the onions and peppers have softened, but not browned, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently so the vegetables do not stick to the bottom of the pan.
Add the minced garlic, stir and cook for about one minute.
Add the browned meat and any juices, bay leaf, cumin, paprika, oregano, ground cinnamon, ground clove and cayenne pepper to the meat mixture and stir to evenly mix. Cook for about one minute.
Add the chicken stock, sugar and a 1/2 tsp of Kosher salt, and several rounds of freshly ground black pepper. Stir the mix, scraping along the bottom of the pan with your spoon to loosen up any browned bits. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the liquid is evaporated.
Stir in the raisins and olives then transfer the mixture to a medium mixing bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper or sugar if needed. Remove the bay leaf. Allow the filling to cool down to a cool room temperature or cover and refrigerate for about an hour or more. The beef filling can be made up to 3 days in advance and kept in an air tight container in the refrigerator.
Assemble the Empanadas
Remove the defrosted purchased dough, or homemade dough, from the refrigerator and let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
For the homemade dough, follow the instructions given with your recipe.
Pre-heat the oven for 375°F / 190°C and place the racks in the upper and lower third position in the oven. Line two large sheet pans with parchment paper.
Fill a glass or small bowl with water and keep at your work area.
Place 6 pastry discs on a work surface. To prevent the pastry from sticking to your work surface keep the paper divider under the empanada pastry.
Add 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of each disc. Dab your finger in the water and paint the edge of one pastry with water. Bring the two sides together by picking up the center points of the top and bottom of the pastry circle making a half moon shape. Starting at the center, pinch the edges together and move your fingers down both sides, pinching along the way to seal the edges.
Lay the empanada flat on the work surface and run your fingers over the mounded part of the pastry to work out any air around the filling. Press down to secure the edges. Crimp the edges with the tines of a fork.
Place the empanada on a parchment paper lined rimmed baking sheet and continue until all the filling is used up. Loosely drape the assembled empanadas with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel, so they do not dry out.
Each sheet pan holds about 12 empanadas. When one sheet pan reaches capacity, loosely cover the empanadas with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour. Continue assembling the remaining empanadas and refrigerate for 30 minutes – 1 hour.
Remove the empanadas from the refrigerator and baste each empanada with an egg yolk and water wash. Bake for 25-35 minutes, rotating the sheet pans front to back and top to bottom, half way through. The empanadas are done when they have a nice golden brown color and slightly darker around the edges.
Do ahead note: Unbaked empanadas will keep for 3 months in the freezer. Freeze them on a sheet pan until they are frozen solid, then transfer them into freezer bags and keep in the freezer.
Goya makes puff pastry dough for turnovers/empanadas. They are found in the freezer section of your grocery store with other Goya products. This product should not be confused with puff pastry dough found in the dessert freezer section of the store.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
This time of year, I focus my meals around tomatoes and fresh corn. I know soon enough local ripe tomatoes and corn will no longer be available. Every day I enjoy the freshness of a perfect juicy tomato and the sweet crunch of fresh corn. They taste so good and refreshing at peak season. I never get tired of them. This obsession challenges me to create different recipes that include corn and/or tomatoes. One variation I created is a steak salad loaded with summer vegetables. This is a light and refreshing salad with just the right amount of spicy citrus dressing to complement he vegetables and steak.
My focus for the recipe was to use local vegetables and fruit from NY Hudson Valley farms. It turns out, everything but the nectarines were grown in Yorktown by Meadows Farm. This local only focus (with the exception of the citrus salad dressing), is a big change for me because I add avocado to everything, especially salad. Avocado would taste great in this salad too. The salad’s produce ingredients include, yellow and green beans, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, fresh corn, arugula, nectarines and herbs. This whole group of fruit and vegetables pair perfectly with grilled steak. Unfortunately, it did not occur to me until I finished the salad, I could buy my steak locally at Hemlock Hill Farms in Cortland Manor.
This salad does not take long to prepare, but as is typical cooking with fresh produce does require more prep-work. I believe the results are worth it. Each step is done to bring out the bright flavors of fruit and vegetables. What is important to focus on is the timing of adding certain ingredients, and when to cook your steak. To achieve the freshest appearance and taste, slice then add the nectarines and steak just before you are ready to serve. Also tear or snip the herbs at that time as well. The rest of the ingredients are hardier and won’t turn brown when exposed to the air and acid.
I am using a new technique I just learned for dressing a vegetable salad. Instead of whisking all the salad dressing ingredients together in a separate bowl, I mix some, but add the rest directly to the vegetables. The citrus juice, zest, Sriracha, and honey get mixed together so the honey dissolves and is easy to mix. Normally, I would add the vinegar with the citrus, and then the olive oil to the citrus mix. However, I will add these ingredients separately to the prepared vegetables and adjust the amounts as needed.
First, add the vinegar to the vegetables with a pinch of Kosher salt. This step brings out the bright flavors and makes them shine. I was pleasantly surprised when I first tried this technique. I did not taste a strong vinegar flavor. Instead, the vinegar accentuated the natural flavors of the vegetables. How many times have you tasted homemade salad dressing and got hit in the face with an acid punch? It is not the case when you first add vinegar to vegetables. This is also a good lesson showing how adding additional seasonings and dressings change the flavors of the vegetables and fruit.
Joshua McFadden, chef/owner of Ava Gene’s in Portland Oregon, is considered a vegetable whisperer. He describes his salad making techniques in his cookbook, Six Seasons. I got the idea of adding the vinegar first to a salad after reading his book. Using this idea does make fixing a salad more hands on (literally), and the ingredient amounts somewhat vague. If you are just learning to cook, my advice is to start with less amounts of seasoning and dressings. You can always add more, but it is harder to fix over-seasoned and over-dressed food. Get your (clean) hands in there and add, toss and taste. Repeat until you believe it is perfect.
Do you have a local market where you buy your produce? Farmers markets are great, but around here they open one day a week on Saturday or Sunday. Having a local farm stand open six days a week in my hometown is a treat. I shop at big grocery stores as well, which are very convenient. However, I am grateful to live in an area where local farm produce is available to me.
What meal do you make using local and fresh ingredients?
Summer Vegetable Steak Salad with Spicy Citrus Dressing
- 1 TB fresh orange juice and zest from half an orange
- Juice from one lime and zest
- 1 TB honey
- 2 TB sherry vinegar
- 1 clove garlic smashed
- 1/2 tbs Sriracha
- Kosher Salt to taste
- Fresh ground pepper
Summer Vegetable Steak Salad
- 1 lb green beans ends trimmed
- 2-3 scallions
- 1 lb 450 g green beans, if a mix of colors are available use them.
- 1 ear of fresh corn
- 1/2 lb 225 g grape tomatoes
- 3 oz 40 g arugula
- 1 1/2 lbs 750 g steak, like shell steak, strip steak, or flank steak, your choice
- Pinch of Kosher Salt about 1/2 tbs
- 1/2 tbs crushed fennel seed
- 1/2 tbs ground coriander
- 1 - 2 nectarines or peaches sliced into wedges (If using peaches peel them first)
- About 5-6 basil leaves
- About 6 mint leaves
- About 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- More Kosher salt and ground pepper
Prepare the steak
One hour before you cook the steak, remove the steak from the refrigerator and its packaging. Put the steak on a plate and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle Kosher salt, ground coriander and crushed fennel seed over both sides of the steak. Loosely cover the steak with plastic wrap and let it rest on the counter for 30 minutes up to 1 hour.
Spicy Citrus Dressing
Add the orange juice, lime juice, zests, honey, sriracha, a small pinch of Kosher salt, a couple of grinds of ground pepper, and smashed garlic clove to a small bowl. Mix until the honey is dissolved. Cover the bowl with plastic and keep on the counter for later.
Prepare the vegetables
Trim off the ends of the scallions and thinly slice each scallion on a sharp diagonal. Add the scallion slices to a small bowl filled with cold water and ice. Let the scallions macerate in the ice water for 15 minutes.
Husk the corn and cut off the stem piece. Place the bottom of the corn in a mixing bowl and hold onto the tip. With a sharp knife slice off the kernels from the cob. Once the kernels are sliced off, run the back edge of your knife down the cob to press any corn milk out, catch the drippings in your bowl.
Make an ice water bath for the green beans. Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice. Set aside near the stove.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil on the stove. Trim the green beans. When the water boils add a large pinch of salt then the green beans and blanch them for one minute. Remove the green beans from the boiling water and quickly add them to the ice water bath to stop the cooking. When cooled, take the green beans out of the ice bath and dry on a clean kitchen towel. Add the beans to the bowl with the corn.
Cut the grape tomatoes in half and add to bowl.
Add half the arugula. If the leaves are large, tear them in half.
Drain the scallions and dry them, then add to the bowl with the vegetables.
Add the sherry vinegar, a small pinch of Kosher salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper to the vegetables and toss to mix with your clean hands. Taste. You will taste the vinegar, but it will not be harsh. Set aside.
Sear the seasoned steak on a hot grill, grill pan, or skillet. Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to your pan or grill. Add the steak and sear for about 2- 3 minutes per side depending on the cut of your steak. My steak was very thin, about an inch, so very little time was needed to cook it. Flank steak will take longer. Aim for rare to medium-rare steak, or how you prefer your steak. The internal temperature for rare steak is 125°F (52°C). Medium-rare is 130 - 135°F (54 - 57°C). Remove the steak from the heat and rest on a carving board, and grind a couple of rounds of fresh pepper over each steak. Let the steak rest for 10 - 15 minutes.
When you are almost ready to eat, cut the bone off the steak (if there is one), and slice on a diagonal and across the grain into thin, 1/4 inch (.5 cm) slices. Drizzle about half of the citrus dressing over your steak slices on the cutting board then drizzle 1 TB of extra virgin olive oil over the steak.
Slice the nectarines and add to the vegetables. Add the remaining arugula. Drizzle the remaining citrus dressing over the vegetables. Toss to coat and taste the vegetables for seasoning. Add more lime juice, sriracha, or other seasonings if needed. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over the vegetables and toss to coat. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Tear or snip the herbs over the bowl of the vegetables and toss. Taste and correct seasoning.
I like to serve the steak and vegetables side by side, not all mixed up like a traditional salad. This way if you have any leftover steak, you can store it separately and make steak sandwiches the next day. On a large platter spread out your vegetables and drizzle with olive oil and fresh herbs. Arrange the sliced steak to the side of the vegetables and pour any accumulated juices from the cutting board over the steak. Lightly drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the steak and a light sprinkle of sea salt flakes if you have them, and fresh ground pepper. Garnish the steak with chopped herbs. If you prefer, mix the vegetables and steak together in a bowl. Taste for seasoning. Serve immediately.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
We went exploring at a new Farmer’s Market last weekend and picked up chimichurri sauce from one of the venders. Usually, I like to make my own pesto and sauces, but I made an exception with this one. The flavor was fresh and the garlic did not overwhelm the other ingredients. Also, this sauce was my concession to what I really wanted to buy.
The vender was from an Argentinean restaurant, Gaucho Burger, and they were selling chimichurri sauce and Gaucho Burgers made with sliced roasted pork, lettuce, tomato and slathered in chimichurri sauce. I really wanted one of those burgers. The pork roast had a slight pink color, looked juicy and seasoned throughout with chimichurri. It looked perfectly cooked and delicious. Unfortunately, it was only an hour past my breakfast so I could not justify eating a big burger. I settled on buying their chimichurri sauce instead.
Settled on is not a fair statement because chimichurri sauce can stand on its own merit. It is an Argentinean sauce made with parsley, oregano, garlic, red pepper, olive oil, and vinegar. It is traditionally used as a condiment or marinade for beef. However, I am sure it will taste great on chicken, lamb, pork, fish and grilled vegetables. The sauce’s bright taste comes from fresh parsley and vinegar. Yet, the flavor is nicely balanced with minced garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes. That bit of acid brings all the flavors together and tones down the sharp bite of fresh garlic. I love it. You can make it hot, mild, thick or thin. It is easily adaptable for any type of food.
Once home, I knew exactly how I wanted to use the chimichurri. With not enough time for a pork roast, I decided on butterflied flank steak with a layer of chimichurri sauce. After spreading the chimichurri over the meat, I rolled-up the flank steak and secured with kitchen string. The result is a steak that looks like a roast with a spiral of chimichurri sauce throughout the middle. It is tender and full of flavor.
Rolled flank steak tastes great grilled, or you can sear the meat in a skillet on the stove then finish cooking in the oven. Serve the rolled flank steak with chimichurri sauce hot or at room temperature. This makes it a perfect choice for entertaining. It is also easy enough to make during the week. Just butterfly, layer, roll-up, and refrigerate during the day. When you come home, it is ready for cooking.
Tips or Success for Rolled Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
Butterflying the flank steak is an easy thing to do, but if you do not want to butterfly the flank steak yourself, ask the butcher to do it. Make sure the butcher cuts through the meat beginning on the long side of the flank steak.
Compared to other steak cuts, flank steak is a tougher piece of meat. However, with extra preparation and proper carving, a tender slice of flank steak is possible. The muscle fibers, also known as the grain, are distinct. When carving flank steak, carving the meat thinly on a diagonal and across the grain, creates tender slices of steak.
The same technique applies to rolled flank steak. When rolling-up the flank steak, make sure to roll it across the grain. You will see the muscle fibers running the length of the meat. This way, when you carve the rolled flank steak you will cut the meat across the grain at the ends.
For best results, serve flank steak medium-rare. Well done flank steak is tough to chew. An instant read thermometer is great in determining the level of doneness for a thick piece of meat. The internal temperature for rare beef is 125˚F (52˚C) and medium-rare is around 130˚F (54˚C). I stopped cooking my rolled flank steak close to 125˚F (52˚C), then I let the steak rest and continue to cook with the residual heat for 10 minutes. This is an easy step to do and prevents over cooking the steak.
It is a little more difficult to gauge the temperature in a stuffed piece of meat, you need the thermometer to be in the center. Also, how red the juices are will tell you how far along the cooking process is. The redder the juice the rarer it is. If you pierce the meat and no juices appear it means one of two things: the meat is barely cooked, or it is well done and dry.
More flank steak recipe ideas:
Included with my rolled flank steak recipe is a recipe for chimichurri sauce that I slightly adapted from Simply Recipes website.
Rolled Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
- For the Chimichurri Sauce
- 1 cup 250 ml firmly packed Italian parsley leaves
- 5 medium garlic cloves
- 2 TB fresh oregano leaves
- 1/3 cup 75 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 2 TB red wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
For the Flank Steak
- 1- 1.5 - 2 lb 750 g - 1 k flank steak
- 3 oz - 4 oz 75 g- 125 g chimichurri sauce
- Kosher Salt about 1/4 teaspoon
- Fresh ground black pepper
Add the parsley, oregano, garlic in a food processor and process until finely pureed. When necessary, scrape down the sides of the bowl to get everything processed evenly. (See Note)
Add the herbs to a small bowl, then whisk together the herbs with the olive oil, vinegar, salt and red pepper flakes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Use right away or store, tightly sealed, in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
Prepare the flank steak
Place the flank steak on a cutting board in front of you with the short end facing you, and the meat fibers running perpendicular to you.
Butterfly the flank steak. Using a long, thin, and sharp knife, like a boning knife, cut the flank steak in half through the thickness of the meat. Beginning at the outer long side, either your right or left. Cut through the middle thickness of the steak, pulling back the top layer as you go. Keep the knife blade level to the countertop so you do not cut up or down, just straight across. Cut the flank steak open until you reach a half an inch from cutting all the way through at the opposite side. Open the steak like a book.
Press on the seam with the heal of your hand to smooth out any uneven dumps.
Sprinkle about a 1/4 teaspoon of Kosher salt over both sides of the flank steak.
Spread the chimichurri sauce over the side of the flank steak you just cut open.
Staring at the long side, either right or left depending on your dominant hand, roll up the steak with the meat grain running long and perpendicular to you.
Once rolled up, tie up your flank steak roll with kitchen twine. I use 5 ties up the length of the rolled steak. Trim off the long ends of the string.
Rub any escaped chimichurri sauce over the exterior of the steak. Cook right away or let marinate wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator. Marinate for no more than 8 hours.
Cook the steak.
Rolled flank steak is great cooked on the grill, or seared in a grill pan or skillet, then baked in the oven. If you marinated it in the refrigerator, bring the flank steak up to room temperature before you start cooking it. I usually take the meat out an 30 minutes to an hour before I start cooking it.
Prepare the grill for direct and indirect heat areas. Oil the grill before placing the meat down. When the grill is nice and hot place the rolled flank steak directly over the flames on the grill (direct heat). Sear the meat. Turn the meat every couple of minutes and sear all sides of the surface, about 8 to 10 minutes total. Once the meat is seared, move it over to the side of the grill prepared for indirect heat. Cook for about 10 minutes, covered. Check the internal temperature. If the temperature in the middle of the meat is around 120˚F - 125˚F (49˚C- 52˚C), the steak is done cooking.
Remove the flank steak from the grill and let it rest covered with foil for 10 minutes. This resting period should produce medium-rare rolled flank steak, about 130˚F - 135˚F (54˚C- 57˚C).
Stove top cooking
Preheat the oven to 375˚F (190˚C / Gas Mark 5). Heat and lightly oil a skillet or grill pan large enough to hold your rolled flank steak. When your pan is almost smoking, sear your flank steak, turning it over every 2 minutes searing the steak all over. When the flank steak is seared, place the pan with the flank steak in the oven and cook. After 10 minutes, check the internal temperature. Stop cooking when the internal temperature in the middle of the rolled steak reaches between 120˚F - 125˚F (49˚C- 52˚C). Place the rolled flank steak on a cutting board and let it rest covered in foil for 10 minutes. Medium-rare meat has an internal temperature of, 130˚F - 135˚F (54˚C- 57˚C).
Slice and Serve
Cut off the ties and slice the rolled flank in /2 inch slices across the grain. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Leftovers make great sandwiches with a chimichurri mayo, lettuce, tomato and your favorite bread or roll.
If you do not own a food processor, you can make the sauce by finely mincing the herbs with a knife.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
I have a distinct food memory for Swedish Meatballs. Not the ones Mom made when I was a kid in the 60’s and 70’s. Her meatballs were made using the 1960’s secret ingredient in everything, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. Now I enjoyed Mom’s Swedish meatballs, enough to order them in a restaurant as an adult, but hers had a familiar taste. They always reminded me of something we ate before, like the chicken enchilada casserole or baked chicken and mushroom dinner. Individual flavors did not stand out. Everything tasted “good” but that was it. No wow factor. My Swedish meatball memory is significantly different.
Joe and I were eating at a restaurant one night after a long work day. This was in the time before we became parents and could eat out during the week. I do not remember the name of the restaurant, but it was a wine tasting bar and very different from all the restaurants in the Mt Kisco, NY vicinity. It was a great place to go. I loved their idea creating a bar focused on wine and served small plates. This restaurant was open before tapas and small plate establishments were popular. Sadly, the bar did not last very long. Maybe it was a restaurant before its time.
I ordered a Cabernet Sauvignon and a small plate of Swedish meatballs. They were a revelation. I have no idea if they were authentic or not, but the meatballs were bathed in a light cream and fresh dill sauce. The fresh dill in the Swedish meatballs changed everything for me. It transformed a rich and traditional meal, to a fresh and light dinner that was truly unexpected. Not a can of Campbell’s soup in sight.
Fresh dill and I have an on again off again relationship. When I was in my early 20’s I cooked with dill all the time. It got to be too much, so I stopped eating dill. Fortunately, I adapted and appreciate fresh dill not only with fish, but in stews and chicken. Every time I eat dill it surprises me, as if I had forgotten what it tastes like. The flavor of dried dill must still be seared in my brain. Thankfully, now when I eat fresh dill, it is always a welcome surprise and not a recurring nightmare.
Honestly, what excites me about cooking is using fresh herbs. Adding, fresh herbs differentiate food from the walking the same routine to dancing with happy feet. The fresh herb flavor elevates the meal to new levels and defines the foundation, like hearing Mavis Staples singing, “I’ll Take You There”. Food, like music, ground you and lift you up at the same time, and there is always a welcome invitation.
Recipe Development for Swedish Meatballs
Is my recipe for Swedish meatballs authentic? Maybe, I am not positive. Based on my research, traditional Swedish Meatballs are spiced with allspice or nutmeg, a blend of different ground meats, cooked in a gravy with or without cream, and served with Lingonberry Jam. I researched many recipes and used the similarities for my base recipe. My sauce is a total improvisation, but I believe it works. The sour cream in the sauce has such a wonderful and welcome tang. I would miss it if I made this recipe using heavy cream. Adding fresh dill to any meat dishes always adds dimension and pairs well with the lightly blended meat and sour cream.
Based on my experience making meatballs, I decided to try a different technique recommended by Daniel Gritzer from Serious Eats. Instead of baking the meatballs in the oven, or frying them in a pan with a couple of tablespoons of butter, I deep-fried them. Well, if you can call ½ inch of oil deep-fry, but this recommendation worked perfectly. The meatballs were evenly browned with a smooth round shape. The thin crispy exterior was the perfect thickness protecting the tender meat inside. Also, frying the meatballs got rid of my typical problem of having too much flour coating the meatballs. Joe is our in-house meatball expert and loved them a lot. He especially liked the contrast of the crispy exterior and the tender and juicy interior.
Whether or not my version can authentically be labeled Swedish Meatballs, I believe they are respectful to its history. What matters to me, is they are a welcome change and fun challenge for me to make. It is not a fancy dinner, but a pleasing one with enough distinct and delightful flavors to have its own identity. Careful, they are quite addictive. It was hard for me to stop nibbling them while I was photographing the Swedish meatballs. If Mom were here enjoying a dinner of Swedish meatballs with us, I am certain she would like them so much she would lick her plate clean.
Not My Mother’s Swedish Meatballs
- ½ cup whole milk
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs
- 4 Tbs butter divided
- 1 small onion minced
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp Kosher Salt
- Fresh ground pepper to taste
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- Handful of chopped parsley
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 2-3 Tbs flour
- 1 Tbs oil used for frying
- 2 cups beef broth plus extra
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- Kosher or Flakey Sea Salt to taste
- Fresh Ground pepper to taste
- 1 cup sour cream
- 5 sprigs of fresh dill minced
Put the milk and the bread crumbs in a small bowl and let them soak for a few minutes.
Add 2 Tbs butter to a small skillet and add the minced onions. Cook on medium heat until the onions are translucent and softened. Turn off heat and slightly cool the onions.
Add the ground beef, ground pork, milk soaked bread crumbs including the milk, the egg, nutmeg, minced parsley, Kosher salt, and ground pepper to the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor.
Mix on low speed until all the ingredients are just combined. Turn the speed to medium high and mix for about one minute.
Roll the ground meat mixture into small meatballs the size of a walnut, about 1 inch in diameter. Place the rolled meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper. Wet your hands with water to keep the ground meat from sticking to your hands while you are working.
Turn the oven on to 200˚F and place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven on the middle rack.
Use a 12-inch skillet and pour in vegetable oil until the oil reaches a depth of ½ inch. Heat the oil to 350˚F.
Fry the meatballs until they are evenly golden brown and have the internal temperature of 160˚F. This will take about 3-4 minutes depending on the size of your meatballs. While frying the meatballs, turn the meatballs over so they get evenly browned. A fish spatula is perfect tool to guide the meatballs over. You will need to fry the meatballs in batches, and being careful not to crowd the pan. I cooked 9-10 meatballs at a time in my 12-inch skillet.
When done, remove the meatballs with a slotted spoon, or spider, and place on the baking sheet in the pre-heated oven. I found it easier to transfer the meatballs to the oven in two steps. First, I removed the meatballs from the skillet and placed onto a dinner plate. Then I used the plate to transfer the meatballs into the oven and roll them off the plate and onto the rimmed baking sheet. (The plate was also useful as a staging area to check the internal temperature of the meatballs. Additionally, if red juices dripped out of the meatballs I knew more cooking time was needed.)
Repeat frying the meatballs in batches until all the meatballs are cooked. Make sure the oil in the skillet reaches close to 350˚F each time you start a new batch.
Keep the meatballs warm in the oven while you are making the sauce.
In another skillet or Dutch oven, add 1 -2 Tbs of the oil used to fry the meatballs with. Add 2 Tbs of butter and turn the heat up to medium. When the butter is melted add 3 Tbs flour and stir into the butter with a wire whisk. Cook the flour and butter until the mixture is a nice light brown color and you do not smell the flour, about 2-3 minutes. Pour 2 cups of the beef broth into the butter and flour and whisk the ingredients until it is smooth and incorporated, do not let it boil.
Add the vinegar and Worcestershire sauce and mix together. Taste for salt and add Kosher salt, a small pinch at a time, to correct the seasoning.
Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the sour cream. Taste and correct the seasoning if needed. Add more beef broth if it is too thick for your taste. Place the pan back on the burner and turn the heat on low. Add the minced dill and stir.
Add the meatballs and mix together with the sauce. Correct your seasoning to taste and serve.
The meatballs can be made a head in two ways.
1- Cook the meatballs and refrigerate them until you are ready to serve them. When ready, make the sauce 30 minutes before you want to serve them, and heat up the meatballs in the sauce.
2: Prepare the meatballs and the sauce in a Dutch oven. Cool the Swedish meatballs, cover with the lid, then refrigerate until needed. Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Put the covered meatballs in the oven and warm up. About 30 minutes. Check the warming meatballs to make sure they are not drying up. Add more beef stock if needed.
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