Vegetarian Swedish “Meatballs”

(Another day, another blog post with a vegetarian recipe! Again, I’m not turning this into a food blog, but this is just something I’ve been meaning to write up for a while, and I made it last night so the timing is right.)

I was going to just put “meat” in quotes in the title, but (a) I was thinking about SEO (yes, I’ve become that person) and (b) I realized that, for this recipe, “balls” really needs to be in quotes just as much as “meat”. You’ll see why when you cook them. Let’s just say neither “meatmuffins” nor “meatpucks” really works, for obvious reasons. I seem to keep mistyping the word as “metaballs” which I actually think is quite appropriate. But, you know… SEO.

Also just a word of caution… this is definitely not vegan, and it’s not particularly “healthy”. But it’s a bit of that “hygge” everyone’s after these days (even though that’s Danish).

I’ve been eating vegetarian/pescatarian for the last 5 1/2 years, but I’ve been a Minnesotan of mixed Scandinavian descent my entire life. So, yes… I’ve been quite familiar with Swedish meatballs for a long time. Well before Minnesota finally got an IKEA store in the mid-2000s.

In fact, I’ve made the meat variety of Swedish meatballs so many times that I still have the recipe memorized, even though I haven’t tasted them since 2013. Granted, my kids are not vegetarians, so I still have to occasionally make the traditional version for them. But last year I finally cracked the code on a vegetarian version. For a while I’d just use general-purpose frozen vegetarian “meatballs” and cook them in a vaguely Swedish cream sauce. I even used “GRÖNSAKSBULLAR” from IKEA. (Why does IKEA do everything in all-caps? It’s awfully shouty for mild-mannered Swedes.) They’re not bad… but they’re not right for this dish, either.

There’s a certain chunky texture that proper Swedish meatballs need, and the processed smoothness of frozen “meatballs” — plus the lack of the correct spices — just won’t cut it. So I turned to another processed frozen meat substitute… “crumbles”.

Yes, the secret to my vegetarian Swedish “meatballs”, if I’m being precise about it, is MorningStar Farms® Grillers® Crumbles™. (I copy-pasted that from their website to make sure I got all of the trademarks right.)

That, and a muffin tin.

This mixture isn’t as firm as one with ground beef, so you can’t shape balls by hand. That’s where the muffin tin comes in, as well as the slightly odd shape of the final product. We’ll be baking these instead of browning them in a skillet as with traditional Swedish meatballs.

This recipe also involves one of my favorite skills I have acquired as a cook: making a good sauce. Whether it’s gravy, béchamel, or whatever you want to call it, the principle is the same: 4 tbsp fat, 4 tbsp flour, 4 c flavorful liquid. Cook the fat and flour together for a minute, then gradually add the liquid, stirring constantly to absorb completely and keep the consistency smooth. Once you “get it”, it’s simple and awesome. But I rarely see it described correctly.

OK, enough Minnesota small talk. Let’s get cooking!

Vegetarian Swedish “Meatballs”

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Ingredients

For “Meatballs” (a.k.a. Metaballs)

1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small(-ish) onion, very finely chopped; reserve 1-2 tbsp for cream sauce
1 12-oz pkg MorningStar Farms® Grillers® Crumbles™ or similar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 slices stale(-ish) bread, processed to fine crumbs
1 tsp (or so) freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

For Cream Sauce:

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp flour
3 c vegetable broth
1/2 c milk and 1/2 c cream
(or just 1 c milk if you’re pretending this is healthy)
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of allspice
2 tbsp ketchup
(or 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce if ketchup sounds too weird to you)
salt and pepper to taste
minced fresh dill or dried dill weed for garnish

Preparation

Stuff you’ll need to have ready before you start:

  • a large (12-inch), high sided skillet
  • a 12-cup muffin tin, greased and floured
  • a large mixing bowl
  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
  2. In large skillet, melt 1/2 tbsp butter with 1/2 tbsp oil over medium heat. Add the onions (except reserve), and cook about 3 minutes until softened. Stir in entire package of crumbles, cover and set to medium-low for 3-5 minutes. You’re just trying to thaw the crumbles, not cook them! Check periodically and break up big pieces as they thaw. Remove from heat as soon as crumbles are soft.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, stir breadcrumbs into beaten eggs with nutmeg, allspice, salt and pepper. When the crumbles and onions are ready, add them and stir to combine thoroughly. Leave any remaining bits in the skillet as long as they’re not burned… they’ll flavor the sauce.
  4. Prepare your muffin tin by spraying with cooking spray and then dusting with flour. Shake out excess flour into the sink.
  5. Using a large spoon, scoop the mixture equally into the 12 cups of the muffin tin. Use the back of the spoon to smooth the mixture into rounded mounds inside the cups, but don’t press them too firmly. You just want them to stay together.
  6. Place the filled muffin tin on the center rack in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove muffin tin from oven and let cool.

    While the muffins are baking, you can start on the cream sauce or work on anything else you need to prepare, like potatoes or vegetables. The meatballs can rest on the counter for a while if needed.


  7. In the same skillet you used for the onion/crumble mixture, you’ll start on the cream sauce. Add your reserved onions, 2 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp oil and heat over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and onions are translucent (or slightly browned on the edges, depending on your taste preference), add the flour and pinches of nutmeg and allspice, and whisk gently until completely absorbed and smooth, about 1 minute.
  8. Turn the heat to high and gradually add the broth to the saucepan, about 2-3 tbsp at a time. Constantly whisk the mixture gently (to avoid splashing), making sure the liquid has completely absorbed before adding more. As you do this the mixture will transform in appearance from grainy clumps, to pastry dough, to mashed potatoes, and finally a creamy smoothness.
  9. When all of the broth has been added, whisk in the milk and cream. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer. Stir frequently to avoid sticking or burning on the bottom of the pan. Adjust heat if needed to keep a gentle simmer.
  10. After sauce has thickened slightly, add ketchup (or Worcestershire sauce) and whisk to mix thoroughly.
  11. Gently remove baked “meatballs” from muffin tin — you should be able to twist them slightly with your hand to loosen them from the cups — making sure not to break them apart. Add them into the simmering cream sauce and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes or until sauce has reached desired thickness. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve 2 to 3 “meatballs” per person with mashed potatoes and a generous amount of cream sauce sprinkled with dill, along with vegetables and lingonberry or cranberry sauce.

Vegetarian (Vegan) Chili

I don’t envision this turning into a food blog, but I’ve been eating vegetarian/pescatarian for about 5 1/2 years now, and I’ve gotten to the point where I rarely cook with recipes, instead relying on my experience and familiarity with the ingredients I’m using to make things “from memory.”

The thing is… I’ve gotten better as a cook, but I’m not that good. Some of the things I make can be hit-or-miss, since the quantities of ingredients and details of the cooking process are slightly different each time.

So, when I really nail something — which does happen from time to time — I think maybe it would be a good idea for me to write up a recipe, before I forget everything.

Last night I made a vegetarian chili, and was quite pleased with the results. Thus, here is the “recipe” (written up after the fact), mostly so I can remember this later.

Vegetarian Chili

Makes about 6 servings. (Unless you’re me, in which case it’s more like 4.)

Ingredients

For chili:

1/4 cup canola oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 red or yellow bell pepper (or 1/2 of each), finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
1 28-oz can (or 2 14-oz cans) diced tomatoes (with liquid)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tbsp maple or agave syrup
1 can chili beans, drained and rinsed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper to taste

For garnish:

minced cilantro
minced scallions
diced fresh cherry tomatoes
guacamole

Preparation

  1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add spices (chili powder, cumin, cayenne and oregano) and stir for about 20 seconds, then add onion, peppers and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add diced tomatoes and their liquid and stir. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Pour in vegetable broth and syrup and return to boil.
  3. Stir in all of the beans and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low.
  4. Cook uncovered for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in additional broth if chili is getting too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Pour into bowls and garnish as desired.

Additional Notes and Suggestions

  • Quantities for spices are approximate. (And, honestly, I didn’t measure any of them besides the chili powder.) Adjust to suit your taste.
  • “Chili beans” is kind of a nebulous term. I used a can of Westbrae Natural Organic Chili Beans, which is a mixture of pinto, kidney and black beans. You can use any kind of beans, really, although I think white beans are too delicate in flavor for this. But when I think of chili I think of kidney beans or black beans. And honestly, kidney beans in large quantities don’t “agree with me”, so I went with straight black beans for the second can. I know a lot of people make chili with just black beans, but for some reason I find that a little boring.
  • Sometimes canned tomatoes have herbs like basil added. Be sure you’re getting plain tomatoes.
  • Corn is a nice addition, but we didn’t have any in the freezer last night. Add 1 cup of frozen corn at the same time as the beans.
  • This recipe is vegan, but if you eat dairy, you can garnish with sour cream or shredded sharp cheddar cheese instead of (or in addition to!) the guacamole.
  • For breakfast the next day, heat up a bowl of the leftover chili and top with a poached egg.

Recipe: Scott’s not-so-famous guacamole

Here’s a recipe to celebrate the Fourth of July, or… anything. I love guacamole, and several years ago I figured out how to make it. OK, I used a recipe, but my own approach has evolved over time and I’m pretty sure it’s quite different from where it started. The important thing to know, though: there are no peas in this guacamole.

IMG_5221

Ingredients

4 ripe avocados
4 tomatillos
3-4 green onions
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
2 fresh green jalapeños (or other hot peppers of your choice)
2 tbsp lime juice (fresh squeezed if possible)
salt and pepper

How do you know if an avocado is ripe? If it’s hard, it’s underripe. If it’s really squishy, it’s overripe. A perfectly ripe avocado will be slightly soft when squeezed, but still a bit firm.

Method

1. Wash everything thoroughly. I’m a freak about this. Well, OK, don’t wash the salt and pepper.

2. Peel the papery leaves off the tomatillos, and rinse well to remove any sticky film. Place the tomatillos into a small saucepan and fill with water to cover. Place on high heat. Once the water boils, reduce heat a bit and simmer 8-10 minutes. (You really just want to blanch these, not cook them.)

3. While the tomatillos are blanching, finely chop the green onions, cilantro, and jalapeños. Optionally, remove the seeds from the jalapeños if you prefer less heat. Combine the chopped onions, cilantro and jalapeños in a medium-sized bowl. Add 1 tbsp of lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

4. When tomatillos finish blanching, remove from heat, drain well, and cover with ice cubes. Fill with cold water and allow to cool. After a few minutes, drain the tomatillos again. Cut out the tough stem portion, pour out any water they’ve absorbed (but don’t squeeze them), and place in a blender. Puree until smooth.

5. Cut around the skin of the avocado lengthwise to separate into two sections. Remove the pit by jabbing your knife blade into it and giving a twist. Scoop the flesh of the avocados out into a large bowl (not the bowl the other ingredients are in). Add 1 tbsp of lime juice and some salt and pepper, if desired, and mash with a fork or potato masher until all lumps are removed.

6. Pour the pureed tomatillos into the avocado, and stir gently until well blended. Add in the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

7. Chill for an hour or so if desired, or eat immediately. Eat within 24 hours, as surface may turn brown from oxidation. (If this happens, just scrape off the top layer and it will be bright green underneath!)

Scott’s Accidental Artisanal Ketchup

I cannot imagine many things more hipster than artisanal ketchup. Then again, I do love ketchup. Then again again, can I really endorse a product whose website uses a handlebar mustache as its favicon?

I’ve never actually tried artisanal ketchup, but I think I may have just accidentally made some myself. You see, SLP and I stopped by Everett’s today, and ended up walking out with a take-and-bake “mom’s meatloaf.” I figured a meatloaf like that needed a proper tomato sauce to go with it, not just a few squirts of Heinz, but I couldn’t find a recipe to my liking. So, I just decided to wing it with ingredients I had on hand. I realized as I was cooking my sauce that it was drifting dangerously close to artisanal ketchup territory, but nonetheless I went for it. The end result was good. A great complement to the meatloaf, if perhaps not quite sweet enough or thick enough to stand in for real ketchup on something like a (grass-fed) hamburger.

Yes, this recipe is principally comprised of beef broth, so it’s anything but vegetarian. Then again, I made it to put on meatloaf.

Here’s the recipe, as I made it (to the best of my recollection). If you experiment and find a better variant, please let me know in the comments!

Accidental Artisanal Ketchup

1 tsp olive oil
¼ c red onion, chopped
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 – 6 oz can tomato paste
2 c beef broth (for thicker sauce use 1 ½ c)
1 tsp brown sugar (or more, to taste)
½ tsp salt (or more, to taste)
dash cinnamon

Whisk together the tomato paste and beef broth until well blended. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Avoid browning the onions.

Add the vinegar and stir to combine. Stir in the tomato paste-broth mixture. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer.

Stir in brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Don’t put the same spoon back in the pot or you’ll be Chopped.

Continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes or until desired consistency is achieved.

For a vegetarian option, substitute vegetable broth or water in place of beef broth. If using water, add extra salt.

For a smooth sauce, i.e. to get rid of the chunks of onion, puree after cooking. (And if you don’t know what happens when you put a hot liquid in a blender, you’re on your own.)

Serve hot or cold on whatever you like: meatloaf, burgers, poutine, scrambled eggs, ice cream. It’s all good.

Update: When I made the ketchup a second time, I considerably increased the amount of both red wine vinegar and brown sugar, from 1 tsp each to 1 tbsp each. It was awesome. I’d also suggest adding a dash of either Spanish paprika or cayenne pepper for some extra kick.