Sweet and Sour Meatballs

One of the many flavor profiles that come across in old-world Ashkenazi recipes is the sweet and sour combination found in fish, meats, and vegetables. It may have to do with the sugar beet production that started in the early 19th century in the area of southern Poland and northern Ukraine. All of the sudden Jews from these areas were adding sugar to everything, including meatballs.

I love Friday nights in the winter when we serve these meatballs over a bed of white rice in small appetizer bowls.

For the sauce:

  • 3 onions, peeled and finely sliced
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 470ml (2 cups) passata (plain tomato sauce)
  • 180ml (¾ cup) water
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 100g ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

For the meatballs:

  • 1 medium onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 kilo (2.2 lb) minced (ground) beef
  • 1 egg
  • 70g (½ cup) matzah meal
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper

For the sauce:
In a large saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat until shimmering, add the sliced onions and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized dark brown but not burnt, 10-15 minutes.

Add the passata to the fried onions, use the ¾ cup water to ‘rinse out’ the measuring cup as well as the can that held the passata and add the water to the pot. Add the tomato paste, brown sugar, and vinegar to the sauce, stir well, and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pot, Bring the sauce to the boil and simmer at low heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, while you make the meatballs.
For the meatballs:
Cut the onion into large chunks. Place the onion chunks in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and process until very finely minced.

In a large bowl, combine the minced onion with the beef, egg, matzah meal, ketchup, mustard, salt, and pepper. Shape the beef into small (1-inch diameter) balls.

Once all the meatballs are shaped, bring the sauce back up to a slow boil, add the meatballs to the sauce one at a time. Once all the meatballs have been added (the sauce will not cover all the meatballs) lower the heat so the sauce is at a gentle simmer, cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through.