Mini Sweet & Sour Meatball Appetizers
This recipe is by far, one of the most special of all the recipes in The Jewish Kitchen. There are so many reasons for this. For one, it has been a family staple for as far back as I can remember. No matter the holiday or special occasion, my mother (and before her, my grandmother) was always the one to “make the meatballs” to mark the event.
Second, whenever any of my girlfriends was ready to pull out the stops and show her new boyfriend exactly what they could possibly be getting if they stepped up and (and pre-Beyonce, but you know we’re I’m going…coughed up a ring), they’d whip up a batch of these babies. One bite of these gorgeous, savory mini sweet and sour meatballs, and, well, you do the math. My husband was among those lucky victims.
But probably what makes this recipe the most special for me is that it was one of the first things I ever cooked on my own when I was in my twenties and learning to cook for friends and family. I called my grandmother and asked her for the recipe and to teach me (by phone) how to make a batch. This seemed like a very simple request until she started to rattle off directions like “throw in an onion” and “don’t be shy with the salt” and then it hit me: she didn’t measure or write anything down. Getting her to tell me exactly how to make meatballs was like having someone tell me by speakerphone how to take out someone’s appendix while they were on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach and I was in the operating room, having never gone to medical school.
Like a lot of amazing cooks of her generation, she cooked by feel and smell and memory, and the two of us laughed like crazy on the phone, me in my tiny Boston apartment, and my grandmother in her Seinfeldesque Del Boca Vista (Phase III) condo. Between fits of laughter and tears, I begged and pleaded for her to try to guess how much of this and how much of that I needed so my meatballs would taste just like hers. After this exercise failed miserably, (but we both agreed that the conversation would make for a great Mel Brooks movie), I made a few calls to my mother and my Aunt Sandy, and I was able to recreate the recipe.
My beautiful grandmother Gert has been gone for over ten years now, but I think of her and that hilarious phone call each and every time I make this dish. That 1987 phone call could have easily been a modern day version of Who’s on First?
Note to Mr. Brooks: Should Jewish geography ever land you on this page somehow, I imagine you could see this scene play out in your own brilliant mind as if you had been there yourself. Picture an elderly Bette Midler (if you could even imagine such a thing) talking to a Jewish Sanrdra Bullock type (another stretch) and you’ve got your movie.
The instructions below are for appetizer-size mini meatballs, but this recipe can be easily converted to make full-size meatballs for a main course. The recipe below will make six servings (of three meatballs per serving) but feel free to scale up or down if you wish to serve it as a main course for a larger group. When serving as an appetizer, I like to make a huge platter and serve them with deli-style toothpicks (with the curly colored paper thingamambobs) and go the whole retro route. There’s never a single meatball left on the platter.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 30 mini meatballs
For the Sauce
- 1 medium onion (diced)
- 1 can condensed tomato soup (10 3/4 ounces)
- 1 can jellied cranberry sauce (14 ounces)
For the Meatballs
- 1 lb. Kosher ground beef (90% or leaner)
- 1 lb. Kosher ground beef (80% or leaner)
- 1 large egg (beaten)
- 4 slices white bread (crusts removed, processed into crumbs)
- 1/4 cup dried bread crumbs (plain)
- 2 tbsp. fresh parsley (chopped)
- 2 tsp. Kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 1 lemon, cut in half
For the Sauce
- Saute onion in large stock pot without any oil over low to medium heat until onion is translucent but not brown, about five minutes.
- Add soup and cranberry sauce and stir together. Cook over low heat until soup and cranberry sauce melt and combine, about another five to 10 minutes stirring occasionally.
- While sauce is cooking, prepare the meatballs.
For the Meatballs
- Put meat, eggs, dried breadcrumbs, fresh breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and parsley in large bowl. With hands, gently combine. Add warm water and combine once more. Do not over mix or meat will be tough. Before you roll the meatball, stir the sauce on the stove to make sure it is well combined.
- Roll out 30 mini meatballs (2 per person) and place gently into sauce. You can layer them if you need to. Spoon a little sauce over the bottom layer of meatballs before you place additional meatballs on a top layer. Add more sauce to the top layer.
- Cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes on low to medium heat, stirring every few minutes. After 30 minutes Add the juice of a 1/2 lemon. Hold the 1/2 lemon that you squeezed in reserve. Stir. Check in 5 minutes to see if you have added enough lemon to give it that extra kick. If more is needed, you can also toss in the squeezed 1/2 of the lemon. Stir and cook for another 10 minutes.
- Serve on a pretty platter. Put some of the sauce in a bowl for dipping. Insert toothpicks into the meat balls. Enjoy.
- Jodi Luber