Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kids Make German Meatballs

More than a month ago the kids in my "food appreciation" classes here in the District of Columbia peeled a bunch of turnips and turned them into sauerruben, basically the turnip equivalent of sauerkraut.

The turnips were mixed with sea salt and pressed into a heavy-duty plastic bucket, where they have remained in one of the colder back rooms of our house ever since, fermenting ever so peacefully.

Today, I decided, was time to unveil our sauerruben to the kids who made it. But I couldn't see just plopping a lump of fermented turnips in front of them. We needed something to create pizazz, some buzz. We needed a show-stopper food partner that would give these turnips the lift they deserved.
Why not...meat balls?

By way of the internet I was steered right back to The Joy of Cooking and a recipe for German meatballs that I've modified slightly. What could be better than German meatballs to go with sauerruben? That, in fact, is a very good question, since I completely struck out when I went searching for recipes that employ sauerruben in an actual meal--even in my small collection of German cookbooks (lots of sauerbraten, sauerkraut, sausages--no sauerruben).

There are plenty of reasons for caution when cooking meat and with children. Hygiene would be first and foremost. Keep the meat cold. Have the children wash hands frequently. Maintain immaculately clean work surfaces. Otherwise, they love the process of making meatballs--squishing all the ingredients together in their fingers, rolling the mix into balls.

They especially love eating meatballs. I served them with a coq au vin sauce I just happened to have in the fridge (we called it "gravy"). And they gobbled up the fermented turnips, this after all kinds of moaning and groaning and face-making when we passed the bucket around. They do give off quite a distinctive stench, these fermented turnips, but the taste is oh so nutty and sweet, with a horseradish-like bite.

For the meatballs: In a mixing bowl, place 1/2-pound each of ground beef, ground pork and ground veal (or turkey). Add two beaten eggs; 1/4-cup diced onion, sauteed until lightly browned; 3 tablespoons chopped parsley; 1 1/2-teaspoons salt; 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce; 1/2 teaspoons mild paprika; zest from one lemon, finely chopped; 1 teaspoon lemon juice; and one thick slice rustic bread, soaked thoroughly in milk.

Using both hands, squish all of the ingredients together until well mixed. Form into 2-inch balls and brown in a skillet with butter or extra-virgin olive oil. Pour 5 cups beef broth into the skillet. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, about 12 minutes.

Use the broth to make a gravy. Serve the meatballs warm, with a spoonful of gravy over each and tangy, fermented sauerruben au naturel on the side.

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