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Swedish Meatballs with Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Substitutions

Swedish Meatballs with Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Substitutions

From the kitchen of Jan Warner

With gluten-free & dairy-free substitutions and additional instructions by Erik & Mary Warner

Ingredients

3 pounds ground beef

1 ½ pounds ground veal or lamb

1 ½ pounds ground pork

2 eggs

1 finely chopped onion

Crackers or breadcrumbs (use gluten-free bread, like Canyon Bakehouse, or cooked quinoa as gluten-free substitute)

Milk (use oat milk or almond milk as dairy-free substitute)

Nutmeg to taste (1/2 – 2 teaspoons – grinding fresh nutmeg enhances flavor)

Salt & pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix well-thawed meat in a very large mixing bowl. Mix in eggs and onion. Add milk and crackers or breadcrumbs (the smaller the crackers or bread, the finer the texture of the meatballs). If using quinoa, be sure to cook it first.

Add enough milk and crackers, bread, or quinoa to ensure the meatballs hold together without being too sticky.

Mix in spices thoroughly.

Form meat into small balls approximately 1 ½ inch in diameter. A small scoop (#70 or .5 ounce) will ensure uniformity and make this process faster. If using a scoop, roll each ball between your hands to give them a consistent round shape.

Mixing bowl with the last of the Swedish meatball mix and small scoop for forming meatballs, December 2021.
Mixing bowl with the last of the Swedish meatball mix and small scoop for forming meatballs, December 2021.

Place meatballs on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. (Parchment paper is optional, but it makes removal of meatballs and cleanup easier.)

Placing meatballs on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Each scooped meatball was rolled between hands to smooth out the shape. December 2021.
Placing meatballs on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Each scooped meatball was rolled between hands to smooth out the shape. December 2021.

Bake meatballs for 10 minutes, then turn them over and bake for another 10 minutes.

After baking, transfer meatballs to a frying pan to brown them and finish cooking. Save the drippings in a separate pot or pan to make the Swedish meatball gravy or sauce.

After the meatballs are baked in the oven until cooked through (20 minutes total), they are browned in a cast iron skillet. December 2021.
After the meatballs are baked in the oven until cooked through (20 minutes total), they are browned in a cast iron skillet. December 2021.

Swedish Meatball Sauce

You can make as much or as little sauce as you like for your Swedish meatballs, so there are no exact measurements given.

Add beef stock to the meatball drippings in a sauce pot and bring to a simmer. Add half-and-half to give it a creamy texture. For a dairy-free version, substitute oat milk or a soy sour cream substitute, like Tofutti. If using Tofutti, a little goes a long way. Melt 2 or 3 tablespoons into the sauce. Add more as needed.

A traditional Swedish meatball recipe calls for milk and half-and-half for the sauce. To make it dairy-free, use Tofutti sour cream substitute. December 2021.
A traditional Swedish meatball recipe calls for milk and half-and-half for the sauce. To make it dairy-free, use Tofutti sour cream substitute. December 2021.

Add nutmeg to taste.

Once sauce is hot, thicken to desired consistency with a flour rue, cornstarch, or potato flakes. We prefer potato flakes as our gluten-free thickener because it provides a nicer texture. If using potato flakes, add a small amount at a time to allow the flakes to fully absorb the liquid. This will prevent the sauce from becoming too thick too fast.


The Story Behind the Recipe

Okay, now that the recipe is at the top of the post for those who want it immediately and don’t care to read a story about it first (a position we have been in all to often on the internet when it comes to recipes!), here’s the story behind it.

If we had to pick one food tradition that is solid in the larger Warner family, it would be eating Swedish meatballs at Christmas. We add other Swedish items (lefse, fruit soup, herring, Swedish almond cake) as desired, but the meatballs are a given.

Erik’s mom, Jan Warner, taught him this recipe over the years. Her mother’s family was Swedish, with her grandmother, Amanda Sundquist speaking Swedish to her when she was young.

The typed recipe we got from Jan was a little short on instructions, but that’s because she’s been making Swedish meatballs for so long that she doesn’t really need the instructions. With Erik’s help (who is also getting to a point where he doesn’t need instructions), I have filled in the details.

While the basics of the recipe don’t change much, minor adjustments are made each year based on what meat is available and the dietary needs of family members. Because a number of family members have developed food allergies, we’ve figured out gluten-free and dairy-free substitutions.

The nutmeg really makes this recipe, so we are not sparing with it.

The photos above were taken during our Christmas 2021 Swedish meatball-making session. We made a double batch of meatballs, which ended up producing 237 meatballs (but who’s counting?). That is A LOT of meatballs.

We intended to join the larger family for a Christmas gathering at Jan’s, but I was sick. With Covid Omicron making the rounds, I didn’t want to pass what I had on to anyone else. (It wasn’t Covid, thankfully.) Erik dropped the meatballs off and the family made a dent in the pile but didn’t finish them. We have been working on the leftovers, which is a pleasure.

I hope you enjoy the recipe for this family favorite.

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2022!

Thoughtful comments welcome.