Sweet and sour meatballs Sweet and sour meatballs Israeli Kitchen Photo: Mshev/Shutterstock

Sweet and sour meatballs

These small and savory bites work great as an appetizer or a main dish.

  • Yield: Serves 6 or appetizers for 12
  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes

Growing up, I don’t recall ever having eaten a sweet and sour meatball. When I think of meatballs, I think of tomato sauce and bay leaf. Basil. Pasta. Italian. But the liking for a subtle blend of sour and sweet is a taste that displays itself in other recipes: beet borscht, brisket cooked with dried fruit, honey and vinegar, and, of course, Chinese food.

One of my cookbooks on the shelf has a recipe calling for grated onion, a can of tomato soup, brown sugar and cider vinegar. The Internet yielded others that include bottled chili and grape jelly. Then there are the pseudo-Asian recipes adding pineapple, soy sauce and bell peppers to the meatball sauce.

Nah. I was in the mood for something more easygoing. How about the meatballs as an appetizer? Very small meatballs, just little savory bites to awaken the appetite, not enough to satiate.

So I made them. And the meatballs turned out very good indeed, firm but tender, savory and sweet.


    For the sauce

  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup tomato purée
  • 1 cup dry red or white wine (semi-sweet is also OK)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste
  • Oil for shallow frying (optional)
  • For the meatballs

  • 2 pounds ground beef or a combination of ground beef and turkey meat
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs


First, choose between frying the meatballs prior to cooking them in the sauce, or dropping them into it raw. Pre-frying makes the meatballs firm and somewhat richer; the raw method is quicker and less work.

Method for the sauce:

Chop the onion and celery finely.

Sauté them in olive oil until tender.

Add the tomato purée. Stir.

Add the wine and the water; stir.

Add the brown sugar, vinegar and soy sauce. Stir again.

Season with salt and pepper.

Allow the sauce to simmer. Lower the flame now, cover the sauce, and keep it simmering.

Method for the meatballs:

Either blend all the ingredients in a food processor or blend the onion, garlic, egg, salt and pepper separately (like in a blender) and mix them in with the ground meat. The old way was to grate the onion and chop the garlic finely. Stir the breadcrumbs into the meat and seasonings, blending well. Set aside.

If you choose to fry them, get about a cup of oil hot in your frying pan. I pre-fried and they were very good, less liable to fall apart in the sauce.

Use a teaspoon to measure out tiny meatballs; a tablespoon if you want larger ones. Either way, roll the ground meat mixture between your wet palms to make balls the size you prefer.

Frying only takes 1-2 minutes on each side. The meatballs don’t need to be cooked through, just browned. They finish cooking in the sauce. Handle them as little as possible: shake them loose from the pan bottom and scoop them out with tongs.

Then drop them gently into the hot sauce and cook for 20 minutes.

If serving as a main dish, accompany the meatballs with rice. If they are to be appetizers, serve 4 per person.

For a party buffet, keep the dish hot in a slow-cooker and provide small bowls.

Related Topics: Appetizers, Meat and Poultry

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