Take Your Palate on a Global Meatball Tour
An international trip may not be in the cards this winter, but don’t get too down. Here’s an idea that’s nearly as exciting —a global meatball tour. We know, we know, you eat meatballs all the time, but it’s probably just one or two kinds, right? While it seems impossible to argue against the Italian-American meatballs served with spaghetti, there is a giant world of meatballs out there, just waiting to be discovered. Ever tried Greek keftedes or Vietnamese bò viên? How about Japanese tsukune or Danish frikadeller? All you need to do to start enjoying them is grab some ground beef and seasonings, throw on a Spotify playlist from the country of origin (we swear this helps set the mood), and get rolling.
Meatballs are budget-friendly since you just need a pound or two of ground beef. And these guys will last—if you make a couple big batches on a lazy Sunday, you’ll enjoy delicious meatballs for months. If you freeze the meatballs raw, they’ll last two months. But, if you cook them before sliding them into the freezer, they’ll be good three to four months from now (future you thanks current you). You could also have a few pals over for a meatball party (this is definitely a thing), make a few batches of various meatballs, and then send everyone home with meatball-filled containers of different types.
To make your meatballs, start with a basic recipe of ground beef, breadcrumbs (like Panko), salt, pepper, and an egg to bind it together. Feel free to add any flavors and seasonings to change up your meatballs and be preapared to have your mind blown. For inspiration, here are six internationally inspired ones to try, no passport required.
Greece: Keftedes with Fresh Mint and Oregano
These meatballs have a delightful punch of herby flavor, thanks to fresh chopped mint, oregano, and parsley. Garlic and red onion join the party, and once you mix everything together and form into balls, cook in a frying pan with olive oil or bake on a cookie sheet in the oven. In Greece, you’ll typically see keftedes as part of a mezze platter with pita and tzatziki sauce, or alongside some rice. Either way, these meatballs are the star.
Denmark: Frikadeller with Garlic and Onion
Danish for “meatball” (surprised you there, didn’t we?), frikadeller are made with ground meat mixed with garlic and onion for a milder meatball that foregrounds the beef flavor. After pan-frying them in butter so they develop a nice crisp exterior, you can dress them up in a variety of ways. The Danes make them into open-faced sandwiches atop rye bread. They also serve them as a main dish coated with a brown sauce and served with potatoes.
Japan: Tsukune with Ginger and Soy Sauce
These tasty Japanese grilled meatballs are often made with chicken, but you can easily use beef instead. Mix ground beef with onion, garlic, ginger, and a little soy sauce, then form them into balls and slide them onto skewers. Either bake them or fire up the grill. Finish by brushing on sweet soy, giving the meatballs a nice salty and sweet flavor. Serve these as a starter, with rice, or alongside a round of Japanese beers as a fun drinking snack.
Swedish Meatballs with Allspice and Nutmeg
Sure, Ikea does a fine job with this delicacy (and truly nothing hits like a plate of these after a long morning buying DIY bookshelves), but we think you can totally do it better at home. Add onions and warming spices like allspice and nutmeg to your ground beef, then brown the meatballs in butter. These are usually served with a sauce made with cream, beef stock, and butter, alongside mashed potatoes.
Spain: Albondigas: Spanish Meatballs with Paprika and Tomato Sauce
If you’ve been to a tapas restaurant, you may have had albondigas before. But if not, whew, these are a delicious treat. Spanish albondigas are spiced with paprika (you can add sweet, hot, or smoky paprika, or a combination of the three) and parsley. Serve them in your favorite tomato sauce. They’re typically smaller in size than your standard meatball, so they’re perfect as part of a snack spread when you’re having friends over (but zero judgment if you want to put away a whole plate of these yourself).
Vietnam: Bò Viên with Fish Sauce and Pepper
Vietnamese meatballs have an appealing springy texture and achieving that is all in the method (which is not hard, we promise). They deviate a bit from our basic recipe above: you’ll mix ground beef with ginger, garlic, fish sauce, pepper, and sugar to balance the flavors, plus a little baking soda to bind it all together. Then, you’ll put it into the food processor to blitz it into a paste. To cook, form the mixture into balls and boil them in water. These meatballs are commonly found in pho, but they’re also delicious served in a bowl of beef broth or alongside noodles or rice.
You’ll never need a passport once you’ve perfected these global meatball recipes. Not only will you save your checked baggage fee, but you’ll also be known as the Meatball Master among your friend group. For more tips on how to use ground beef, check out The Ultimate Ragú and learn a multitude of ways to use the original awesomesauce.