Meatless Norwegian Meatballs

I often get asked by people how I manage to write about Norwegian food now that I’ve gone vegan. After all, 90% of the classic dishes contain some type of animal product, whether it be meat, fish, eggs or dairy.  The beautiful thing is that it is quite possible to recreate almost any dish using plant based foods.  Being relatively new to the vegan world, I am amazed every day at the creativity of my plant loving fellow chefs and recipe developers out there. There are plenty of fabulous Norwegian plant based cooks and food writers, one of them is Jane, author and creator of the site veganmisjonen.com.  She is known throughout the Norwegian vegetarian community for coming up with the fabulous “vegisterkaker”, a riff off the classic “medisterkaker”, pork meat patties that are served with the traditional Norwegian Christmas dish, “ribber, or pinnekjøtt (more meat in the form of mutton…).  Now I love little piglets too much to make these anymore, but I can tell you that Jane’s vegisterkaker are amazingly tasty and will be part of my yearly holiday meal going forward. She inspired me to come up with a recipe for Norwegian “kjøttkaker”, or meatballs.  Many people are forced to watch their red meat intake these days due to deteriorating health, so even though you may not be vegan, want to avoid having too much of this in your diet. Red meat is packed with saturated fat, and can cause clogging of arteries, increasing risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, not to mention the environmental impact of raising meat; to produce a four-ounce (quarter pound) hamburger, for example, requires 7 pounds of grain and forage, 53 gallons of drinking water and irrigating feed crops, 75 square feet for grazing and growing feed crops, and 1,036 BTUs for feed production and transport—enough to power a microwave for 18 minutes. Something to think about!

Yes, an oxymoron, you might say – why call them “meatballs” if they do not contain meat at all? To me, these look exactly like the meatballs I made when I used to eat meat, and dare I say- taste even better. Made with cooked lentils, brown jasmine rice, some ground up oats and chopped parsley with lots of warming spices; these made my big meat eating husband squeal in delight. (He even had the leftovers the following night!). He first started whining when I suggested I make them, expressing “I want REAL meatballs!”, then after he tasted these, he quickly quieted down, and scraped his bowl clean. Mission accomplished!!  I serve my “meatballs” with mashed potatoes, mashed peas and lingonberry sauce. I no longer miss my mom’s meatballs, that’s how good these are! Try them out and let me know what you think!

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NORWEGIAN MEATLESS MEATBALLS

Makes about 14-6 meatballs

1 Vidalia (sweet onion), chopped and sauteed (I like to caramelize them for additional flavor)

2 cups cooked brown basmati rice

1 1/2 cups cooked brown lentils

3/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats, coarsely ground in blender/food processor

1/4 cup all purpose flour (or use gluten free flour if you want to keep recipe gluten free)

1-2 tbsp olive oil (use about 1/3 cup vegetable stock if you want to avoid oil)3

3 tbsp tamari

1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

1/4 cup nutritional yeast (this adds a rich, cheesy flavor and contains B12 vitamins)

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp-1tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp smoked or sweet paprika

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil for sauteeing

Directions:

Cook the lentils and rice according to the package directions, let cool. Place them in the bowl with the ground oats.

In a medium or large saute pan, saute the onion until caramelized. Add the onions to the lentil mixture and add all other ingredients.  Combine with a spoon and stir until the mixture is thick and sticking together, about 2-3 minutes.  Using a spoon form the meatballs into sizes of a golf ball and place on a tray. I like to flatten them a bit to ensure they cook evenly and don’t burn on the outside and cook all the way through in the middle.

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Prepare a saute pan over medium heat with a touch of olive oil. I like to test a small piece of the mixture first to see if it needs additional seasoning.  Saute the meatballs in batches of 5 or so, and place on a tray while you prepare the gravy.

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Flavorful Gravy

2 tbsp flour

2 tbsp vegan butter

2-3 cups vegetable stock

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

touch of nutmeg

1-2 tbsp lingonberry relish

1-2 tbsp fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary and/or oregano, chopped

1/2 cup almond or other plant based milk

In a saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the butter and cook for a couple of minutes, until the roux browns a bit and the flour is all cooked out. Slowly start adding in the vegetable stock, constantly whisking. Add enough vegetable stock until you have the consistency you want.  Add in the nutritional yeast, spices, fresh herbs and lingonberry relish, finish with the almond (or other plant based) milk, whisk again, season with salt and pepper to taste.

ERTESTUING  (Mashed Peas)

This popular, ultra Norwegian side dish is versatile and can be used as a companion to many meals.  Most commonly known as the side kick to the famous (dreaded?) “lutefisk”, I certainly prefer it with my kjøttkaker. Simple, but satisfying – just remember to season well – nobody wants bland peas!!

Recipe:

2 cups green peas (frozen is ok, just thaw them first)

1 tbsp vegan butter

1 tbsp flour

1 tsp sugar

salt, pepper

about 1/2 cup of plant based milk (almond, cashew, soy)

If using fresh peas, soak them overnight. Cook them according to the package in lots of salted water, about 1 – 1 ½ hour.  Drain. (otherwise if using frozen peas, all you need to do is thaw them ).  Melt the butter in a sauce pan, whisk in the flour. Add in a splash of plant baed milk and whisk until smooth. Fold in the peas and let them simmer for about 10 minutes. Season with sugar, salt and pepper.

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Kjøttkaker – a rival to Swedish meatballs

Nothing is as Norwegian as kjøttkaker. Loosely translated as ‘meat cakes’, they are very similar in taste, texture and composition to Swedish meatballs, the latter probably better recognized among Americans (Ikea, anyone?). Shaped more like patties versus balls, kjøttkaker also, in my humble opinion, provide additional flavor when compared to their Swedish cousins, because more spices are added into the meat mixture. Norwegian meat cakes may look like this:

norskekjottkaker

Below is a photo of typical Swedish meatballs, shaped as the name implies, into “balls” and are slightly smaller in size:

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Some argue that kjøttkaker aren’t Norwegian at all. Popping up during the 18th century, a grinder was required to make the meatballs, and since this was a very expensive equipment, only rich people owned one. And rich people were few and far in between in Norway at that time (how things have changed!).  The exotic spices in the meat were also ingredients not commonly seen in this part of the world. It didn’t take long however, until kjøttkaker were part of everybody’s diet, and they have since been named Norway’s National Dish. On everybody’s dinner table at one point or another during the week or month, it is natural that several versions have been created, and choices of sides may vary as well.  Some people choose to add oats in the ground meat, paying tribute to the old days when oats were used to make the meat last, creating more food for less money. In the Hjorthol household (Hjorthol is my maiden name), only added potato starch and sometimes flour is added, and we will serve mashed peas (instead of mashed potatoes, like the Swedes do) with the dish, as well as the traditional boiled potatoes and lingonberry jam.  Pickled cucumbers might also be on the plate.  Others select ‘kålstuing’ – a creamed cabbage dish – which I also enjoy. I have included this recipe for you all to try out as well.

The key to the complex, rich flavor of the sauce, is adding a couple of slices of the Norwegian “gjetost”. With its caramelized, tangy flavor it does miracles for any gravy, but is especially mouthwatering with this dish.  I’ve experimented with kjøttkaker for a while, and as a result, have chosen to add in a select mix of spices I think work wonderfully well.  Note the traditional kjøttkaker should always include nutmeg and ginger. Otherwise it’s not Norwegian! 🙂

Below is a lovely recipe for kjøttkaker, easy to put together but complex in flavor. Enjoy!

MORS KJØTTKAKER

1 lb mix of ground pork, beef and veal

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup panko or ¼ baguette without crust, cubed

1 egg

3/4 cup cold milk

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp clove

1/8 tsp allspice

½ of a small Vidalia onion, finely chopped

Sauce:

2/3 cup cold milk

1/2 onion, diced finely

3 tbsp butter

3 tbsp all purpose flour

2 1/2 cups meat stock, either from frying the meatballs or beef stock, heated

salt, pepper

2 tbsp red currant jelly

3 slices of “brunost” (Norwegian goat cheese)

1 tbsp fresh herbs (I like a mix of thyme and rosemary)

½ cup heavy cream

To make sauce: Saute the onion in butter in sauté pan. Add in the flour and the warm stock gradually while constantly whisking. Season with salt and pepper. Add ‘brunost , herbs and red currant jelly and whisk in, then heavy cream at the very end. Let the sauce simmer for another 10 minutes, and season again w/salt and pepper if needed.

To make the meat cakes:

Mix the meats together in a big bowl, using your hands, and season with salt and pepper. Add the panko or bread cubes, egg, remaining spices, and finely chopped onion.

Knead well. Add the milk gradually and knead well each time. The milk should have the same temperature as the ground meat, preferably cold. The mixture should be smooth and even.  Shape into patties using a large spoon and a moist hand.  Add a tbsp of butter to a large sauté pan and fry the patties on medium heat, flatten them a bit with your hand, turn after 5 minutes and cook until golden brown on both sides.  Transfer them over to the already made sauce and let them steep for a few more minutes before serving.

ERTESTUING  (Mashed Peas)

This popular, ultra Norwegian side dish is versatile and can be used as a companion to many meals.  Most commonly known as the side kick to the famous (dreaded?) “lutefisk”, I certainly prefer it with my kjøttkaker. Simple, but satisfying – just remember to season well – nobody wants bland peas!!

Recipe:

2 cups green peas (frozen is ok)

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp flour

1 tsp sugar

salt, pepper

about 2 tbsp of milk

If using fresh peas, soak them overnight. Cook them according to the package in lots of salted water, about 1 – 1 ½ hour.  Drain. (otherwise if using frozen peas, all you need to do is thaw them ).  Melt the butter in a sauce pan, whisk in the flour. Add in a splash of milk and whisk until smooth. Fold in the peas and let them simmer for about 10 minutes. Season with sugar, salt and pepper.

KÅLSTUING  (Creamed Cabbage)

Kålstuing is a very simple dish, but this rich, creamy side is another classic staple in Norwegian cuisine, much like creamed spinach is here in the United States.  Wonderful with all types of sausage dinners, charcuterie and our popular fish cakes (to be covered later), I felt it necessary to incorporate kålstuing here!

kålstuing

1 1/2 lb head of cabbage, shredded

4 tbsp butter

4 tbsp flour

2 cups cabbage stock (leftover from cooking the cabbage)

1 cup milk

salt, pepper

nutmeg

Bring the shredded cabbage to a boil in a large pot of salted water. Drain, saving the water and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large sauce pot with a heavy bottom, and whisk in the flour until smooth and no lumps are left. Add the cabbage stock and milk until desired thickness.  Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add the cabbage and let it cook for about 5 minutes or so.  Season again if needed.

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The wonderful thing about the meat patties we make in Norway, is that we constantly experiment with these little suckers, and one version that has become extremely popular over the last couple of decades are kjøttkaker made from venison (or reindeer in Norway, but I know that is somewhat difficult to get a hold of here!!). Not only does the venison give the meat patties a wonderful gamy flavor, but it is also a healthier version providing lower fat.  Although relatively easy to get, reindeer is still considered a special treat in Norway, so people will offer these on special occasions mostly.  Because I am generous (sometimes),  I have added a bonus recipe using venison as well.  Here I use fewer spices to make the venison shine.  This sauce has mushrooms added into it, which is a terrific partner to any game dish.

REINSDYRKJØTTKAKER   (Reindeer Meat Cakes)

 1 ½ lbs reindeer meat (or venison), ground

2 tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

½ tsp fresh ginger, grated

2 tbsp cornstarch

2 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

2 tbsp butter or oil for frying

Make the sauce (recipe to follow).  Place the ground venison meat in a large bowl, and add in spices, salt, pepper and potato starch, and mix into meat. Add the eggs and heavy cream and combine well. Shape into round patties, and fry them in a sauté pan about 5 minutes on each side. Add them into the sauce and let them steep under low heat for about 15 minutes.

Serve with boiled or oven fried potatoes and lingonberries, and if you like, brussels sprouts or other greens.

VILTSAUS  (Game Sauce)

200 grams mushrooms (whatever kind you like), sliced

1 onion, halved and thinly sliced

2 cups beef or venison stock

5 juniper berries, crushed

2 cups heavy cream or sour cream

4 oz “brunost” (Norwegian brown cheese)

3 tbsp currant jelly

salt and pepper to taste

In a medium sauce pan, add the onion and sauté  on medium heat until clear, about 5-10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté further, another 10 minutes. Add the stock and let it simmer and reduce by half. Add the juniper berries, heavy cream and brown cheese and simmer another 10-15 minutes. Finally, add the currant jelly and season with salt and pepper.

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