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.

Grandma Emma’s Swedish Meatballs

Here is another recipe from Pegi’s grandmother, Emma Ada Melrose, that she passed on to her daughter and granddaughter. Dale and Pegi brought these Swedish meatballs to a church potluck a few years ago, and I asked for the recipe. Most Scandinavian recipes are light on spices, but Grandma Emma’s doesn’t call for any at all, unless you want to call salt a spice.

Apparently Pegi’s grandmother devised a shortcut by using a can of condensed cream of celery soup rather than the more traditional milk or cream and various spices one finds in most Swedish meatball recipes. The list of ingredients for condensed cream of celery soup includes “flavorings” which suggests spices. I was a bit apprehensive when I saw that not even black pepper was in the recipe, but I followed instructions, and my meatballs were as tasty as those I remembered.

Jerri thinks that Grandma Emma probably put this recipe together in the 1950’s when almost every cook in the United States was experimenting with condensed Campbell’s soups. That statement, incidentally, includes my mother and aunts, who fed us kids dozens of dishes promoted by the Campbell Soup Company. Jerri’s Green Bean Casserole is one deriving from that time that I still love. Since Campbell’s introduced cream of celery soup in 1913, it’s possible that the recipe is even older.

The one thing I know for certain is that this is a recipe worth making once in a while. It’s extremely simple and produces Swedish meatballs just as good as most of those I have enjoyed over the years at many a lutefisk dinner. Serve the meatballs with boiled or mashed potatoes and a vegetable. If you want to be a true Wisconsinite, pass a bowl of cranberry sauce as well.


1 can condensed cream of celery soup
1/2 cup water
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 egg
2 T minced onion
2/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1 tsp. salt
A little extra water


Blend the water into the condensed soup in a small bowl to make a smooth sauce. Combine a quarter cup of the sauce with the ground beef. Lightly beat an egg and mince two tablespoons of onion. Thoroughly mix the egg, onion, bread crumbs and salt with the meat.

Lightly oil a large skillet and shape the meat into balls about an inch in diameter. Brown them in batches over moderate heat, leaving room to turn the balls without breaking them. Once all the meatballs have been browned, drain any extra fat from the skillet. Return the meatballs to the skillet and add a tablespoon or two of water. Cover the skillet and simmer the meatballs about twenty minutes until they are done.

When the meatballs are fully cooked, you can cool and store them and the sauce in the refrigerator. Later you can mix the sauce with the meatballs and heat them thoroughly in a pan, casserole or microwavable bowl before serving. If you wish to serve them immediately, mix the hot meatballs with the sauce and continue simmering them for another ten or fifteen minutes.