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I have this really good friend. And this really good friend is a great cook. As are/were most of the women in her family! In fact, one of the first meals I shared with this really good friend was a superb lasagna that her mom made for us. Neither Cindy's mom nor her Swedish great-grandma Alma are still with us, sadly, but they both left a legacy of fabulous food and nurturing. This recipe is called Alma's Swedish Meatballs because Cindy's great grandma shared it through the generations and I've now gotten permission to share it with you. This is what good food is all about ... sharing.
Recipe update disclosures
Alma's recipe as it was was wonderful! But over the years, I've made some updates. It's the same great dish, but here are the things that I updated:
- I use homemade bread crumbs from our stale sourdough bread.
- I soak the breadcrumbs in the milk rather than just adding them separately to the meat mixture.
- Alma calls for beef base in the gravy, but I skip it. I use the fats (hence, flavor!) left in the pan after browning the meatballs.
- I've written up the recipe to reflect my changes, but I sure wanted to give credit to Alma for her original creation.
What kind of meat do I use for Alma's Swedish Meatballs?
In my tooling about the internet, I've seen recipes for Swedish meatballs calling for ground chicken and turkey. I think it's safe to say that the Swedes would be appalled! Traditionally, Swedish meatballs are a mixture of beef and pork. Alma takes it a bit further and suggests using sausage for the pork. I buy the house-made breakfast sausage at my local grocery store, but feel free to use plain ground pork or even to use all beef if you don't like pork. Of course, then it's not ALMA'S Swedish Meatballs, but they will still be good.
The other ingredients in Alma's Swedish Meatballs are onion, Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg, breadcrumbs (use gluten free if needed ... and the best option is to grind stale bread yourself rather than buying ready-made), and milk. And of course, salt and pepper to season.
Alma doesn't say to mix the breadcrumbs with the milk, but I do. And I let it sit together while I measure out the other ingredients. Mixing the milk and breadcrumbs lends a tenderness to the meatball that is really nice.
Alma calls for minced onion so I use a hand grater to grate the onion into the meat mixture. The grating distributes smaller pieces as well as the juice which makes the whole mixture more flavorful, in my opinion.
The best way to get everything mixed together is just to get in there with your hands and smush it all together! But be gentle ... the more you smush the meatballs together, the tougher they become. And we don't want that, do we?
What size should I make Alma's Swedish Meatballs?
Swedish meatballs are small. Not quite half the size as golfballs, but nearly.
Working in batches, brown the meatballs in a skillet and put them into a baking dish.
Make the gravy
The last bit is to make the gravy. I use a 1:1 gluten-free flour blend with great success. If there is enough fat left in the pan from the meat, just use that. However, if you don't have enough, add some butter or bacon fat. I always have bacon fat reserved, but duck fat would be really good, too.
Sprinkle the flour in, whisk it a bit, then add the milk. Alma wouldn't have used a 1:1 gluten-free flour blend, but I don't think she would fault me for doing so if it's more nourishing for my family. Alma also suggests using a beef base (like a bouillon), but I just let the meat juices speak for themselves. On an allergen note, many bouillons have gluten in the form of modified food starch, added "flavor", colorants, and generally not something I use in cooking.
DAIRY FREE OPTION: If you eat dairy-free (which Alma didn't!), use a cashew milk. Keep whisking until the gravy thickens a bit. Keep in mind that it will thicken more in the oven so leave a little space for that.
Pour the gravy over the meatballs and put the baking dish in the oven for about 20 minutes.
How to serve Alma's Swedish Meatballs
I asked my friend, Cindy, if she serves mashed potatoes, egg noodles (mine are gluten-free), or rice with her grandma's Swedish Meatballs. They all seem to be acceptable options. She said she prefers mashed potatoes or egg noodles, but that her Swedish great-grandma liked rice. So I think you are safely authentic with any of the three!
I also usually serve steamed green peas on the side as well as some Lingonberry Jam. That is something you should definitely have ... Lingonberry Jam.
I couldn't be what I am if my grandmother didn't pass on this kind of emotional experience.Massimo Bottura
Other recipes you might like:
Alma's Swedish Meatballs
- 1 pound hamburger meat
- ½ pound bulk sausage See notes
- ½ cup minced onion I use my hand grater.
- ¾ cup stale bread crumbs (or store-bought dry bread crumbs)
- ½ cup milk
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 egg
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
FOR THE GRAVY
- pan drippings if you don't have at least ¼ cup, add some butter. Bacon or duck fat works well, too!
- ¼ cup flour I use a 1:1 gluten-free flour blend
- 1½ cups milk and more if needed to keep the gravy a good consistency
- rice, mashed potatoes, or egg noodles
- steamed green peas
- Lingonberry Jam
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Put the bread crumbs in a small bowl and pour the milk over. Stir to combine and let it rest while you mix the rest of the ingredients.
- Put the meats, minced onion, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, egg, and nutmeg in a large bowl, then add the soaked breadcrumbs. Mix together with a large spoon if you can manage it, but I find it easiest to do with my hands.
- Form small meatballs and working in batches, brown them in a large skillet. Transfer them to a baking dish and make a gravy using the pan drippings.
TO MAKE THE GRAVY
- With the skillet at a medium to medium-high heat, use the pan drippings and/or added fat. Sprinkle the flour over the fat, then whisk it together. Continuing to whisk, add the milk gradually. Allow it to thicken, but not by too much. It will thicken more in the oven.
- Pour the gravy over the meatballs and place in the oven for 20 minutes.
- Serve over rice, mashed potatoes, or egg noodles. I like to serve green peas as a side as well as some Lingonberry Jam.