Stealthy Turkey Swedish Meatballs

Growing up in northern Wisconsin, I have eaten my share of Swedish meatballs. Long before I ever saw a ball of meat swimming in a spicy red sauce, I had already eaten scores of those ping-pong-sized morsels floating in a pool of whitish gravy next to the mashed potatoes, green peas and cranberry sauce at Lutheran Church dinners. Though many people say that Swedish meatballs are bland, I think it is more accurate to say that they have a subtle flavor instead of the aggressive spiciness of Italian meatballs.

Traditional Swedish meatballs are made with beef or a combination of beef and pork mixed with bread or breadcrumbs, egg, milk and spices. This recipe substitutes ground turkey for the beef and pork. They are as good as any Swedish meatballs I have eaten in a long life. My family was founded by immigrants from Germany, so my tastebuds may not be as sensitive to authentic Swedish cuisine, but I really doubt you would suspect that these meatballs came from a turkey rather than a cow.

They really are stealthy. Try them on some unsuspecting guests or your family. I’ll bet that they will ask for seconds.


For the meatballs:
1/4 cup minced onion
1 minced garlic clove
2 T olive oil
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. lemon pepper
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cardamom
2 T chopped parsley
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
2 lbs. ground turkey

For the sauce:
4 T unsalted butter
5 T all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
Dash of nutmeg
1 cup water
1 tsp. instant chicken bouillon
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream


Clean and mince the onion and garlic. Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a small frying pan and sweat the minced vegetables on low heat until they have softened.

Blend together the breadcrumbs, salt, spices, onion, garlic and chopped parsley. Mix the egg, milk and ground turkey with the dry ingredients until you have a uniform meat mixture.

Preheat the oven to 400º and line a large baking pan with parchment paper. Set a bowl of cold water next to the bowl of meat and the baking pan. Use spoon or other small scoop to measure meat to make one inch balls.

Wet your fingers and form the balls. Place them about a half inch apart in the pan and bake them for about twenty minutes until they are slightly browned. You will have about two dozen meatballs. If you want to check for doneness when you take them from the oven, an instant-read thermometer should register 165º. Simmering the meatballs in the sauce will guarantee that your meatballs are well done. Make the sauce while the meatballs are cooking.

Melt the butter over low heat in a Dutch oven or saucepan large enough to hold all the meatballs with the sauce. Add the flour, salt and pepper and stir the mixture to make a roux. Raise the heat to moderate and stir continuously until the roux is a light brown.

Light Brown roux

Stir the chicken broth, water and instant bouillon into the roux and keep stirring until the sauce thickens. Reduce the heat and stir in the heavy cream. Put the meatballs into the sauce and allow them to simmer for about fifteen minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning before serving.

Swedish meatballs are usually served alongside potatoes or over noodles. If you prefer noodles, you can cook them while the meatballs are simmering.

NOTES: Use ground turkey thigh instead of turkey breast. Ground turkey breast is rather dry, so you might want to add a little extra olive oil to the meat mixture if you use turkey breast. Incidentally, ground turkey thigh is on average nearly twenty percent lower in calories when compared to eighty-five percent ground beef.

Omit the salt in the sauce if you use salted butter, but taste and adjust the seasoning before you add the meatballs to the sauce in case you think it needs a little more salt.

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