A Meatball By Any Other Name


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The meatball is associated with many cultures’ culinary traditions, including famously Spain, Italy, Sweden, and throughout Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.  It’s no surprise, then, that the Jewish diaspora has resulted in many adaptations of this hearty dish in Jewish cuisine.  It’s hard to say what the origins of meatballs are, but at least a recipe for albondigas can be traced to a publication in Venice dated 1549.  The word albondigas–usually associated with a Spanish or Mexican meatball– as it turns out, is derived from an Arabic word, al-bunduqa, meaning “hazel nut.”  Elsewhere, meatballs are known as kofta, a Persian word for “pounded meat,” boulettes, French for “ball,” and in Turkey they’re called “Yullikas.”  According to The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden, you can guess by the spices used what region the cook is from…so in this post we will explore two recipes inspired by different regions–the first is a recipe for albondigas I modified from the book Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and the second is my own creation inspired by the flavors of Turkey as defined in The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dorenburg, a wonderful resource for any cook who likes to think of recipes as being merely suggestions and who would much prefer to venture off the path into their own discovery.

Kosher Status : Meat

Israeli Albondigas (modified from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking)


Israeli Meatballs

Note: In Zahav, chef Solomonov makes chicken albondigas.  I modified his recipe a bit by switching out the chicken for ground turkey, adding matzo meal for substance, baking the meatballs instead of frying them, and using a simple sauce of tomato paste and chicken broth.

| Ingredients |

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 lbs ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup matzo meal
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 16 oz chicken broth

| Directions |

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F
  2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Cook onions, celery, and garlic until the onion and garlic are fragrant and the celery has softened.  Remove and allow to cool.
  3. Add the cooled vegetables to a large bowl with the ground turkey, matzo meal, paprika, cinnamon, and salt.  Mix until evenly distributed.
  4. On a foil- or parchment paper-lined baking sheet, place golf ball-sized balls in tightly packed, even rows.  Place meatballs into oven and cook for about 15 minutes or until browned.
  5. In a pot, combine tomato paste and chicken broth and bring to a boil over medium hot heat.  Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium low and allow to simmer.  Add meatballs and cook for another 5 minutes.
  6. Serve over rice.


Rows of meatballs

Rows of meatballs


Turkish Meatballs

Turkish Meatballs

Turkish Yullikas

| Ingredients |


  • 1 and 1/4 lbs. ground turkey
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons matzo meal
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon cumin, ground
  • 2 teaspoons allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Tomato sauce

  • Store bought garlic-based tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
  • Kosher salt, to taste

| Directions |

  1. Preheat oven to 500°F
  2. Mix all ingredients with the exception of the sauce in a large bowl, mix well and knead into a paste.
  3. On a foil- or parchment paper-lined baking sheet, place golf ball-sized balls in tightly packed even rows.  Place meatballs into oven and cook for about 7 minutes or until the color slightly darkens.
  4. In a saucepan, add the store-bought tomato sauce and heat over medium high heat to bubbling.  Reduce heat and add allspice, cumin, and salt.
  5. Add meatballs to sauce, cover pan, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  6. Serve over rice.

Turkish Meatballs2

We favored the Turkish inspired meatballs for their consistency which were a bit moister than the Israeli version due to the egg and for their spice combination.  Does your family have a meatball tradition?  Let me know in the comments!

Israeli Albondigas are inspired by “Chicken Albondigas” in:

Other books mentioned in this post:


All photos are by Thirteenth Knight Photo  © 2016