When you think of meatballs, you likely conjure up an image of a heaping plate of spaghetti with red sauce with those glorious little orbs of meat nestled atop it. While Italian meatballs are indeed a glorious thing, were you aware meatballs are actually an international dish with representation across a wide range of foodie cultures and countries? From China’s delicate fish balls that are destined for a spicy hot pot all the way to the koftes of the Middle East, meatballs have been a global comfort dish for centuries. If you thought you loved meatballs before, get yourself prepared for an affair to remember with these top 10 meatball recipes from around the world.
It wouldn’t be possible to have a meatball top 10 list without including every kid’s favorite: the Italian meatball. Whether lovingly added to a hunk of Italian bread and slathered with red sauce and cheese for America’s favorite meatball sub or rightfully taking its place on top of a large pile of spaghetti, Italian meatballs are where most people pick up their admiration for these simple circles of joy. Unsurprisingly, a love this big means Italian meatball recipes are hotly debated, and everyone has their own way of making these “correctly.” We’ve turned to chef Mario Batali for the meatball recipe he uses at his world-class Italian eatery in NYC, Babbo. While we don’t imagine this will in any way solve the debate, it’s still exceptionally tasty.
Chinese Fish Balls
Ever wondered what it would be like to take the “meat” out of the “ball?” The Chinese have been doing it for centuries with their ludicrously luscious fish balls. Fish balls can take on many different guises in China, with one of the favorites being an addition to either soup or a spicy hot pot. As fish balls are generally made with what is known as “fish paste,” they have a much lighter, smoother consistency than their meatier cousins. This recipe will show you how to make the fish balls from scratch, as well as a basic how-to for Chinese “fire pot.” Think of an Asian-inspired fondue and you’re halfway there, making it perfect for parties and bigger gatherings.
Köttbullar (Swedish Meatballs)
If you’ve ever been to a particular Swedish home furnishings shopping experience, especially on a crowded Saturday, chances are this was the one thing you were actually looking forward to. Swedish meatballs have been around for generations, but America’s love affair with them has been fairly recent, mainly as a reward for not killing your significant other while buying a new couch. Swimming in a rich, cream sauce, try serving these bad boys with simple mashed potatoes, buttered noodles or even lightly pickled cucumber salad.
Kofte (Middle Eastern Meatballs)
It’s nearly impossible to go anywhere from Turkey to Casablanca without seeing these delectably grilled morsels for sale from a loud street-food vendor. Typically grilled on a skewer, these meatballs generally come out a little longer and flatter than your typical circle of love. Though it’s common for this meatball recipe to be made from lamb, a combination of beef and lamb is also perfectly acceptable. The key is in the spicing. While mint, parsley and onion take the driver’s seat in this dish, black pepper, cinnamon and allspice give the directions. Try serving this stuffed into warm pita bread with lettuce, tomatoes and a few spoonfuls of garlicky yogurt sauce for maximum authenticity.
Bun Cha (Vietnamese Meatballs)
With its bright colors and palate-pleasing flavors, it’s easy to see why Vietnamese food has a worldwide fan base. If you’re looking to brighten up your meatball repertoire, look no further than Hanoi’s bun cha dish, or pork meatballs with pickled vegetables and noodles. While using grilled pork shoulder is acceptable, this is a dish where beautifully grilled pork meatballs truly shine. To eat, take a bowl and fill it with some of the dipping sauce, adding a few pork meatballs and pickled vegetables. Serve with chilled rice noodles and a large pile of cilantro, mint, lettuce, holy basil and bean sprouts. Take a bit of each, and you’ve got a memorable mouthful.
Frikadeller (Danish Meatballs)
Done any traveling around northern Europe? Then chances are high you’ve run into these light and fluffy meatballs during your dining. Though Danish in origin, these meatballs are also popular in Belgium, Austria and Germany where they’re considered a favorite snack. Frikadeller were originally created as a way to stretch meat to feed larger groups of people, and while some recipes include milk-soaked breadcrumbs, oats and rice are common as well. A word to the wise: this meatball mix will come out extremely soft, so you won’t be rolling them. Be sure to use two well-oiled spoons to drop the mixture into your hot fat for the perfect morsel.
Albondigas (Mexican Meatballs)
When it comes to comfort food, the Mexicans have got the recipe right. While albondigas are popular in both Spain and Portugal, their addition to soup in Mexico makes this the foodie equivalent of a hug from your grandma. In this dish, beef and rice meatballs find their way into a lightly-spiced, tomato-based broth that’s heavily jacked with fresh herbs and vegetables. As the meatballs are going into a soup, try making them slightly smaller than you normally would so you can get both a ball and some broth on the same spoon. Serve with fresh tortillas, chopped avocado, extra hot sauce and a few sprigs of cilantro and you’ve got yourself a big bowl of meatball love.
Bakso (Indonesian Meatballs)
Is there really a better place for meatballs than a steaming hot bowl of soup? It would seem much of the world think so, and this is certainly true in Indonesia. Much like their Chinese and Vietnamese cousins, Indonesian meatballs have a smooth and bouncy texture as the meat is pulverized into a paste before being formed. An extremely popular street food, these little gems have a place of honor in President Obama’s favorite Indonesian dish, Bakso soup. Try serving this meatball soup with plenty of chili sauce and a handful of fresh herbs for extra bite.
Klopsiki (Polish Meatballs)
It would seem some of the world’s best dishes originally spring from poverty, and the humble klopsiki is no exception. Like in many other cultures, meatballs became a great way to stretch meat so there was enough to feed a large family or gathering. However, over the years, this dish has become a beloved national treasure, served for weeknight meals and special occasions alike. While quick versions exist, the most traditional and luxurious can take up to two days to prepare. If you’ve got the time, we give this meatball recipe two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Kofta Masala (Indian “Meat”balls)
OK, OK… calm down. Yes, these are vegetarian. While there are those who would argue that failure to include meat essentially means they shouldn’t be included in a meatball showdown, we think these little suckers have what it takes to stand up against any of the balls above. Made from lotus root, these balls have a surprisingly meaty texture, particularly when they’re served in a rich and spicy masala sauce. This dish can essentially be vegan if the paneer cheese and optional cream are omitted. It’s surprisingly delicious, and we dare you not to like it.
Featured photo credit: Mr Usaji via flickr.com