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Meatballs of the World

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March 9 is Meatball Day, a time to celebrate one of the world’s oldest staples. The simple dish of balled-up minced meat has found its way into almost every national cuisine, from Italy to Israel to Canada. So join us as we sample meaty globes from around the globe – trust us, it’s going to be a ball.

Italian (“big a-spicy”) meatballs

Italy is our first stop on our meatball tour, home to those iconic meatballs served with pasta or in submarine sandwiches by a fat, moustachioed man in a white apron. These are typically made of ground beef, pork or a mixture of both, seasoned with basil, garlic and other herbs and finally cooked in a tomato and red wine sauce. Here is a great recipe from BBC Good Food.

Ikea-style Swedish meatballs

Moving further north we arrive in snowy Sweden, whose time-honoured meatball reputation has been bolstered in recent years by, of all places, the famous meatballs served in the cafe of Swedish furniture giant Ikea. But you don’t need to go shopping for homewares to experience these classic Swedish meatballs with gravy.

Israeli meatballs with tahini

Our journey continues east to the Biblical “Land of Milk and Honey” and these kosher meatballs made with beef, turkey or veal, pan-seared with garlic and cumin and served with homemade tahini sauce. Mazel Tov!

Persian meatballs (kooften)

1A zesty and exotic take on beef meatballs from Iran. Kooften is cooked with beef ground into a fine paste, making the balls smooth and malleable, and tomato, lemon and burberries, giving an intense aroma and spicy, zesty taste.

Indian vegetarian “meatball” curry

We now enter India, the vegetarian’s paradise, where traditional koofta meatballs are often made without meat at all (malai style), opting for a cheese or vegetable medley in place of the traditional beef or buffalo. This recipe uses balls of peas, carrots and sweet potatoes served with a rich, restaurant-style curry sauce.

Vietnamese pho meatballs

Welcome to East Asia, where, in Vietnam, we leave the bold spices and intense meatiness behind for lighter, subtler meatballs especially prized in classic Vietnamese pho noodle soup. Here is a step-by-step on how to concoct these smooth, buoyant meatballs in the authentic style of a Hanoi street vendor,  which you can then add to this recipe for the rest of the soup!

Japanese tsukune meatballs

Back to the grill! Japanese tsukune meatballs are grilled on a skewer in the yakitori style, glazed with soy, teriyaki or classic yakitori tare sauce. Here is an excellent recipe for chicken tsukune that employs egg yolk, ginger and potato starch.

Mexican albondingas with egg inside

Now we have crossed the Pacific to the New World, where Mexico awaits with its own special meatball style: red meat balls (usually chicken, beef or lamb) cooked in a tomato-based sauce and stuffed with hard-boiled eggs. Here is a recipe for these authentic albondingas with an eggy surprise inside.

Manhattan deli meatballs

No trip to the Big Apple would be complete without sampling the classic Manhattan deli-style meatballs. These are originally derived from the Italian meatballs at the top of this list, but while eating these, you’re allowed to shout “I’M WALKIN’ HEA!” at the top of your lungs.

Québec ragoût de boulettes (meatball stew)

Our journey around the world ends in the Canadian province of Québec, where people feast on a traditional stew of seasoned pork meatballs simmered in heavy gravy. This recipe from Genius Kitchen claims to be extracted from a 1951 newspaper.

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