Friday, June 18, 2010

Mark Bittman's Swedish / Danish Meatballs Lightened-Up and Dairy-Free

"Dining with Dad" is the theme this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs and looking for a Mark Bittman dish inspired by my dad, I chose the Swedish Kottbullar or Danish Frikadeller (Meatballs) from "The Best Recipes In the World: More Than 1,000 International Recipes To Cook At Home."

My dad was half Swedish and half Danish. "Swedish Meatballs" were a favorite dish of his, and my mom used to make his mother's meatball recipe for him. I decided to keep the traditional cream sauce (optional in Bittman's recipe), but lighten up the dish a bit to reduce some of the fat and calories, and make it dairy-free to make it fit better into my eating preferences. I did that by using almond milk in place of the cream and milk, and using a slurry of brown rice flour and milk (in this case almond milk), a little trick I learned a while back for making lower fat white and cheese sauces. The brown rice milk dissolves easily into cold milk and when heated, thickens the sauce nicely. My changes are in red on the recipe below.

Bittman says, "In general, these are milder than Italian-style meatballs, with cooked onion and no garlic or cheese. Often served with a cream sauce (and lingonberries), they can be made without one, skewered on toothpicks, and passed at parties. A combination of pork, veal, and beef is best here, but if I had to choose only one meat it would unquestionably be pork."

Swedish Kottbullar or Danish Frikadeller (Meatballs)
"The Best Recipes In the World" by Mark Bittman
(Makes 12 or more servings)
Time: 45 minutes

1/2 cup bread or cracker crumbs
1 cup cream or half-and-half, 2/3 cup optional (replaced with unsweetened almond milk and used 1 1/2 cups total)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, 1 tablespoon optional (omitted butter & used olive oil)
1 medium onion, minced
salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 pound each ground pork, veal, & beef, or 1-1/2 pounds ground pork (I used pork & veal)
pinch of ground cloves or allspice or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (I used a pinch each of ground cloves, allspice and 1 tsp ground ginger)
2 tablespoons flour, optional (used brown rice flour)
3/4 cup beef or chicken stock, preferably homemade or water, optional

Soak the bread or cracker crumbs in 1/3 cup of the cream. (I used almond milk.) Put 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and a bit of salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Combine the bread crumbs, onion, meat, and spice, along with some more salt and pepper; do not overmix or overhandle. With wet hands or wet spoons, shape the meat into small meatballs (I would say as small as you have the patience for, but no more than an inch in diameter).

Put 2 tablespoons of the remaining butter in the skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. When the butter melts, begin adding the meatballs, a few at a time; you may have to cook in batches. Brown nicely on all sides and turn off the heat. Serve immediately or proceed to the next step.

Bittman's sauce: To make a sauce, remove all but a trace of fat from the pan. Return the pan to the stove over medium heat and add the remaining butter and, after it melts, the flour. Stirring constantly, add the stock and cook until slightly thickened. Add the remaining cream and continue to cook for a few more minutes or until thickened. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then pour the meatballs into the sauce to reheat before serving.

For my dairy-free sauce: Remove most of the fat from the meatballs from the pan. Add stock and stir, scraping the "brown bits" off the bottom of the pan. Heat stock over medium heat until it is hot. Meanwhile put brown rice flour in a small bowl and slowly whisk in enough almond milk to form a paste. Then add the remaining almond milk, whisking as you do, making sure that no lumps remain. Add flour-milk mixture to the stock and simmer, stirring frequently until the mixture begins to thicken and is warmed through. Add salt, pepper and allspice to taste, pour meatballs into sauce to reheat before serving.

Notes/Results: Really good--the meatballs were tender and juicy with good flavor and the sauce still rich and creamy without all the butter and cream. I ended up with a mix of ground pork and veal for the meatballs, and I did add more spice than was called for to the meatballs--which I would recommend as they are mild. I also used some allspice in the sauce for an extra touch of flavor--and extra black pepper--I think I got my love for it from my dad! I usually bake my meatballs, but in this case I cooked them in the pan so that I would have some pan drippings for the sauce. I replaced the butter with olive oil, and as mentioned above used almond milk for the cream, making this a dairy-free dish. Served with a simple green salad and with the meatballs and sauce on top of fresh pasta tossed with a bit of olive and parsley, it was a rich and hearty dinner--just a bit more figure and heart friendly than the original. ;-) I am sure my dad would have preferred my grandmother's recipe, but this is a still a good one that I would make again.

You can check out what the other IHCC participants chose to make for Dining with Dad by going to the post here and following the links.

My dad is no longer with us, having passed away almost 16 years ago. I miss him very much, but I have lots of great memories to treasure. This is my dad in his 20's--about 20 years before I was born. I think this picture, in his Navy uniform is fun. ;-)

Happy Aloha Friday and Happy Father's Day Weekend to all the dads out there.


  1. These meatballs look delicious! Pure comfort food no matter what ethnicity you are. I love using almond milk in creamy sauces...I think it kind of has a creamy flavor to begin with so it really mimics the cream way more than skim milk does.

    I'm sorry to hear about your dad, Deb. I'm sure he is looking down and reading this and smiling.

  2. I'm going to have to get some almond milk to try.

  3. great recipe/dish to pay tribute to your dad!

  4. This looks wonderful, Deb. A great tribute to your dad. Love the Navy picture! I need to get one of my dad's old Navy pics and scan it for a post sometime!

  5. Nice picture of your dad. We'll miss them forever, huh?

    The meatballs look really good. I have a pamphlet from my Jr high Home Economics class...from Carnation Evaporated Milk, on how to make "meatballs around the world". It's soooo 1970's!

    Your meatballs sound so much better. LOL

  6. Fabulous Post Deb. Love that photo of your Father! Lost my father about 20 years ago. Hate that he's gone. About two months ago I made meatballs in cream sauce for the first time ever. Loved the recipe, had guests, took no photos for a blog. Thanks for the reminder to make them again and with a different version. My recipe was from an Oregon Winery cookbook.

  7. Your Dad was very handsome! And this is a sweet tribute to him. These are one of my favorites = you did an excellent job of making them healthier, as always!

  8. That is such a cool photo of your Dad. That really is wonderful.

    The meatballs are a winner :-)

  9. You Dad is very handsome in his Navy uniform :-) This was a great recipe to cook up in his honor. I'm sure he would have loved your lightened up version!

    Love thing the trick you shared about using the brown rice flour and milk to make a slurry.

  10. What a handsome man!! Your tribute to him is absolutely delicious...I'd love to give these meatballs a try =)

  11. Love the picture of your Dad! He looks very dashing in his uniform.

    The recipe looks great! I have been in the mood for some good meatballs! We'll have to give these a go.

  12. I love meatballs, but have also been cutting down on the dairy and gluten, usually using soy milk. Will have to try that almond milk, it sounds really good.


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