November 08, 2012

Berliner Meatballs

I ate meatballs in Berlin for lunch last Saturday. They were big, gravy coated mounds, accompanied by boiled potatoes and beet purée. It was as if Ikea had super-sized their Swedish meatballs and substituted out the lingonberry sauce for beet sauce and the egg noodles for potato. They were good, warm and satisfying. We sat down to lunch at almost 3pm after having run around the city from the Reichstag to the Brandenburg Gate to the exhibit on the terror of Himmler to the old Jewish neighborhood in what became post war East Berlin. The sky was steely grey all day, but by the time we sat down to lunch the grey was tinged with orange and you could feel darkness coming. I contemplated ordering a salad knowing that dinner wasn't too far away, but as I sat there on the bench, my toes still cold and my scarf still on, I knew there was no way a salad was going to sit well, I needed something that would fill and warm me from the inside out. The meatballs were perfect. 

I should clarify that they were perfect for that moment; perfectly warm and bland and satisfying. They won't be the meatballs I'll think about when I think about Berlin though. When I think of Berlin meatballs I will think of Luisa Weiss's spicy meatball recipe. I made her meatballs before I even stepped foot in Berlin, but I carried them - okay the idea of them - around with me the entire weekend. 

I found myself craving the onion and zucchini studded meatballs swimming in a spicy adobe chili and tomato sauce almost the entire weekend. Talk about satisfying and warm. After a morning tracing the Berliner Mauer and reading the outdoor exhibit on the rise of Hitler all I wanted was a spicy meatball. Berlin is a loaded city, full of excitement but also emotion and every once and awhile you need to refill your physical and mental tank and my tanks apparently run on meatballs. 
I know I'm only adding to the massive stockpile of well deserved praise for My Berlin Kitchen, but perhaps it is like the cookie recipe, and there are people out there who haven't come across Luisa's book, or if they have they haven't read it yet. Read it. You will be in the kitchen before you even finish the first chapter. I have a ton of recipes marked, but the meatballs jumped to the front of the line when I started menu planning for Zach's party

The meatball recipe is featured in a chapter called Turning Up the Heat where Luisa writes about throwing a party for her soon-to-be-husband Max. She laments about the lack of spicy food in Germany and thus decides to add a little spice to the mix at home - not so dissimilar from our Mexican potlucks. Anyway she makes the meatballs, but then has one of those all-too-typical pre-party freak outs and worries that the meatballs are too spicy and that their German friends with their mild palates will be offended by the kick. Luisa decides to make a purposely bland roast to ensure that no one will go home hungry or dependent on antacids, only to realize at the end of the night that no one had touched the roast, but that the meatballs were gone. 

Since reading about Luisa's spicy meatballs I've made them twice, however I'm not sure the second could be considered a faithful duplication since I chose to use a mild sauce. Both renditions were delicious and I think that speaks to the simplicity of the meatball itself. Meat, onion, zucchini and spices are mixed and formed into balls slightly smaller than a clementine and then cooked in the tomato sauce. There's no browning, you simply place them in the sauce pot - rearranging and making room as you go - and then cook them for just under an hour. The spicy version graced our Mexican themed spread and so were eaten alongside tomato and onion rice, guacamole, carnitas and black bean salad. The second time I made them I served them with a pile of creamy mashed potatoes and green beans. 

// Spicy Mexican Meatballs //
Luisa Weiss : My Berlin Kitchen (adapted from Diana Kennedy : The Cuisines of Mexico)
: : If you chose to skip the spicy and serve them in a mild sauce than I highly recommend using Marcella Hazan's butter and onion sauce. The onion and zucchini in the meatball and the traditional tomato sauce make a wonderful pair. 
: : This recipe doubles wonderfully. It probably even triples (if you have a big enough pot)
: : The first time I made them I used ground turkey instead of pork/beef and they were just as delicious

12 oz / 340 g ground pork
12 ox / 340 g ground beef
1 medium zucchini
1 medium onion
8 black peppercorns
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp dried Mexican oregano
2 eggs lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp salt

2 pounds tomatos 
2 to 4 chipolte chiles in adobo, to taste
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3/4 cup chicken broth

Start by making the meatballs. Place the pork and beef in a bowl. Finely chop or grate the zucchini and onion into the meat mixture. Grind the cumin seeds and peppercorns together in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle and add to the meat. Add the oregano, eggs, and salt and then gently use your hands to mix it all together. 

Form the mixture into 1 1/2 inch meatballs. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while making the sauce. You can make them the night before. 

To make the spicy sauce bring a large pot of water to a boil. Core the tomatoes and place them in the boiling water. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain the tomatoes and let them cool for a few minutes. Process them in a blender or food processor with the chipotle chilies. 

Heat the oil in a large dutch oven (or skillet or pot) and add the tomato sauce. When it starts to boil reduce the heat and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and when the sauce comes back to a boil add the meatballs. 

Cover the dutch oven/pan/pot and simmer the meatballs over low heat until cooked through, about 50 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste at the end of the cooking time. 

: :  if you want to use a mild sauce use this Marcella Hazan recipe
If you are curious about Luisa's book and want to know more, visit her site, but also check out recent posts by Amy (captures my sentiments exactly) and Jess (x2) with amazing pictures of Berlin to share!


  1. I love meatballs! There's this new restaurant in New Haven (which is one of our new fave spots) called the New Haven Meatball House...we'll have to hit it up on your next visit. And I love that we can still see Zach juicing limes in the meatball picture. xo

    1. a meatball restaurant in New Haven?!?! STOP IT! we are going to come back and eat at Mezcal (margaritas and enchiladas) then go to the Meatball House and then to Caseus.

    2. And yes....Zach probably has carpel tunnel...SO many limes, so worth it though!

  2. Talley, I just made these recently for a friend who had a baby! Question for you - I got really nervous about the meatballs being cooked through, so I actually fished them out of the sauce, cooked them in a frying pan and dropped them back in. Do you think I was just being paranoid?

    Anyway, Luisa's book was just a lovely read. I am looking forward to re-reading it some cold winter weekend soon when I am curled up on the couch.

    1. Mine cooked through perfectly, both times! Have a little faith ;) No, but I can see why you might be nervous as it's unusual not to brown them first before dunking them in the sauce. Try it again. It makes it so easy (and clean).

      I ordered Luisa's book in hard copy so I can do exactly that - curl up with it.

  3. Ahh every time I see a blog post that has a My Berlin Kitchen recipe or review I just sigh because they are always so nice to read. I'm not that big into meatballs, though I think it's just because I almost never eat them. I love how these sound, both in the original spicy adobo sauce and with the tomato butter sauce. The idea of simply plopping the meatballs in the sauce to cook sounds super easy/intriguing, but like Darcy I think I'd be a little too anxious about them being completely cooked through...I'm interested to see your response to that!

    And thank you for mentioning my post on Luisa's book! So nice of you. xx

    1. I think your post on Luisa's book is one of the best out there - and one of your best. Your writing is spot on. I've reread it more than a few times. You captured everything so well. Every time I read it I'm like 'damn Amy can write!'

      if you're gonna try meatballs these might be ones to try. And as I said to Darcy, they cooked perfectly so don't worry about that. I love that you'll make chicken liver but worry about meatballs ;)

    2. Hey, we all have our own hills to climb! :P And thanks for the nice words, they mean so much.

  4. love your posts so much talley! i just caught up on the past few and the pictures and food are just so beautiful, as are your words. i just thought i would let you know that im following and i love it all. and p.s. the dear sugar book made me cry throughout as well - it is the best thing to read whenever you find yourself questioning anything and everything.

  5. Oh no, do I really need to buy another cookbook? I think I do. Everything you are mentioning sounds so fantastic, and I have yet to make a single recipe of hers...gasp! I think I need to give these meatballs a go soon. They look heavenly!

  6. I never really quite got into the habit of reading The Wednesday Chef, but you and Amy are so head over heels about this book that I'm going to have to at least take a peek at it the next time I'm at the bookstore. Those meatballs do look totally amazing.