My meatball Stroganoff recipe combines recipes for two of my favourite Russian dishes, a spicy mushroom Stroganoff and juicy Russian meatballs called tefteli. It makes a deliciously comforting dish of Stroganoff meatballs that in winter can be served with mashed potatoes, pasta or rice and in summer can be lightened up with a fresh green garden salad.
If you’re fond of beef Stroganoff and its various iterations – from chicken Stroganoff to mushroom Stroganoff – and you’re also a devotee of meatballs (more meatball recipes here), then you’re going to adore this meatball Stroganoff recipe which makes the soft succulent Russian meatballs called tefteli that swim in the famous mushroom dish that’s something of a global phenomenon.
If you’re in the chilly southern hemisphere winter right now, then you probably won’t think twice about making my Russian meatball Stroganoff recipe. The dish is essentially juicy, tender and textured meatballs in a gently spiced mushroom gravy. It’s such a warming and filling dish, especially when served with creamy mashed potatoes, pasta or fries.
But I’ll happily tuck into a smaller serving of meatball Stroganoff in summer, too. During the warmer months, I’ll do as the Italians do – most Italian-style meatballs or polpetti are served with little else but a side of rucola – and I’ll enjoy this dish with a fresh green garden salad.
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Meatball Stroganoff Recipe for Juicy Meatballs in a Gently Spiced Mushroom Gravy
My mother and grandmother did not make this meatball Stroganoff recipe. I take full responsibility for this one. But I’m certain my baboushka, being a maker of addictively-delicious meatballs, would have approved and enjoyed this.
I grew up in the 1970s on mum’s fairly classic beef Stroganoff of melt-in-the-mouth slices of beef in a creamy gravy, served with dad’s chunky mashed potatoes. Aside from the mushrooms and onions, mum’s strog wasn’t too far removed in flavour from the earliest documented Russian beef Stroganoff recipe in Elena Molokhovets’ A Gift to Young Housewives, published in 1861.
As tasty as it is, Molokhovets’ recipe for Govjadina po-strogonovski s gorchitseju or beef in the Stroganoff style with mustard, includes little more than the tender beef, allspice, butter, salt, flour (to coat the beef), sour cream, bouillon, pepper, and Sareptskaja mustard. Her recipe didn’t list paprika nor the condiments that I love to include. They would come later.
While mushrooms and onions may well have featured in the original beef Stroganoff dish served in the grand dining room of the pink Stroganoff Palace in St Petersburg in the late 1700s, they didn’t appear in the early beef Stroganoff recipes for another century or so. And there’s no sign of a meatball Stroganoff recipe.
That doesn’t mean Russians weren’t already eating beef stews or beef and mushroom stews – there are detailed instructions for preparing beef stews using every bit of the cow in Domostroi: Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible, first published in 1533 – and mushrooms feature heavily, fresh, dried, pickled, boiled, baked, and fried in butter; in pies, pastries, patties, fritters, tarts, dumplings, soups, and stews.
In 1899, Pelageya Aleksandrova-Ignatieva’s beef Stroganoff recipe in her Practical Guide to the Basics of Culinary Arts called for beef tenderloin, butter, tomato paste, sour cream, beef broth, fume (an aspic-like bone broth), sausage, onion, salt, pepper, and Kabul sauce. But still no mushrooms in her Stroganoff. Nor a meatball Stroganoff recipe.
Kabul sauce – or Soy Kabul sauce or Mogul sauce – was also listed as an ingredient in an Olivier salad recipe published in the March 1894 issue of the Russian culinary magazine Наша пища or Our Food, edited by M Ignatiev.
Substitutes were suggested in the form of imported sauces produced by John Burgess & Son and Crosse & Blackwell, which could very well have included any of their popular condiments – everything from Burgess & Son’s Essence of Anchovy to Crosse & Blackwell’s fish sauce and mushroom ketchup.
Said to have been a brown colour, Kabul sauce (also spelt Cabul Sauce) was described as a sweet and sour, umami-rich condiment likened to Worcestershire sauce. While ingredients varied between recipes, they typically included any combination of ‘soy’ or fermented soya beans, mushrooms, various spices, peppers, cayenne, anchovies and even oysters. Some later recipes substituted Kabul/Mogul sauce for soy sauce.
Russians soon began manufacturing various versions of the condiment, one of which was called Kabuli. Apparently renamed Cabuli after the Russian revolution, it remained throughout the Soviet era, when it was mentioned in recipes in Soviet cookbooks such as the Book of Healthy and Tasty Food, first published in 1939.
I haven’t yet been able to determine exactly when, but, at some stage during the mid-20th century, the sauce was renamed or substituted for Yuzhny or South Sauce or Southern Sauce, recipes for which typically called for tomatoes, onions, garlic, salt, distilled vinegar, spices, raisins, and apple or other fruits. The colour of this sauce was said to be more red than brown.
Aside from the fact that one recipe I spotted included Madeira wine and another salted liver, the sauce is remarkably like ketchup or tomato sauce, which typically includes tomatoes, onions, garlic, salt, vinegar, sugar, and spices, among other ingredients.
And that, dear readers, is my justification for including spices, fish sauce, dark soy sauce, and tomato sauce in my meatball Stroganoff recipe and other Stroganoff recipes. Meatballs are ancient and meat patties or kotlety also feature in Domostroi. Just don’t ask me when meatballs in the gently spiced mushroom gravy that distinguishes Stroganoff first appeared. Not yet, anyway. I only have a few tips to making my Russian meatball Stroganoff recipe as the recipe instructions are super detailed.
Tips to Making this Meatball Stroganoff Recipe
Just a few tips for you to making my Russian meatball Stroganoff recipe, beginning with the meatballs.
When comes to seasoning the meatball mixture with spices and sauces, if you don’t normally cook with a lot of spice or condiments such as fish sauce, start with half my suggested measures then either fry or microwave a little of the mixture to cook it, try it, then adjust the seasoning to your taste.
Adding spices and seasoning gradually and tasting throughout the cooking process is super important. Not only because we all have different palates, but different products can taste vastly different to each other, and fish sauce is a great example, with some brands being so much saltier than others.
I’ve recommended dark soy sauce in my meatball Stroganoff recipe, but if that’s too intensely flavoured for you, go with light soy instead. And if you’re not a fan of the funky flavours of fish sauce, simply leave it out. In addition to umami, fish sauce adds salt, so you may need to increase the salt a little. Taste and adjust as you go.
Do make the meatballs first, so you can refrigerate them and they can firm up while you’re making the mushroom Stroganoff gravy. The meatballs will then hold their shape better when you fry them.
The mushroom gravy can then be simmering away and reducing while you are frying the meatballs. After you fry the meatballs, a batch at a time, you can then transfer them to the mushroom gravy. The meatballs will soak up the flavour of the gravy while the gravy in turn will be infused with the flavours of the meatballs.
While I usually serve mashed potatoes or shoestring fries with my Stroganoff dishes, I plate this meatball Stroganoff with pasta in the cooler months and pair it with a crisp green garden salad in warm weather. Garnish the meatballs in fresh fragrant dill and serve with gherkins and sour cream. Enjoy!
Meatball Stroganoff Recipe for Juicy Meatballs in a Gently Spiced Mushroom Gravy
- 1 cup jasmine rice steamed
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 125 g onion finely diced
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 250 g ground pork
- 250 g ground beef
- 150 g carrot grated
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 1 tsp ground paprika
- 1 tsp allspice
- 1 egg whisked
- 100 g plain flour or as needed
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 large onion roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 125 g brown mushrooms sliced in halves or thirds depending on size
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp allspice ground
- 200 ml sour cream
- 100 ml cream
- 150 ml beef stock
- 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
- 1 tsp ketchup (tomato sauce)
- 1 tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp fish sauce
To fry the meatballs and finish
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 100 ml sour cream
- ½ tsp salt or to taste optional
- 10 g fresh dill , roughly chopped
- If you don’t have leftover rice in the fridge, steam a cup of rinsed jasmine rice in a rice cooker. When done, loosely spread the rice over a large tray and set aside to cool.
- Make the meatballs: in a small, deep frying pan over medium heat, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and fry the finely diced onion until soft, then add the garlic and fry until fragrant, and transfer to a mixing bowl.
- To the same bowl, add the pork, beef, cooked rice, carrot, egg, a teaspoon each of sea salt, white pepper, sugar, ground paprika, and allspice, and combine until everything is just incorporated but don’t over-mix. Scoop out half a teaspoon of mixture and microwave it or fry it in a little oil, let it cool, try it, and adjust the seasoning or spices to your taste.
- Sift some plain flour onto a small plate and over a large tray and, using a tablespoon and digital kitchen scales, scoop out a spoonful of minced meat mixture and weight it, aiming for around 38-40 g, roll it a few times between your hands to form a round meatball, roll it in the flour, and place it on the large tray. Don’t over-roll: you want the mixture loose. Repeat until you’ve used all the mixture and have around 20 meatballs then slide the tray into the fridge.
- Make the mushroom gravy: in a cast iron skillet or large pan over medium heat, melt a tablespoon of butter and gently fry the chopped onion until translucent and soft, then scoop out and set aside.
- To the same pan, add another tablespoon of butter, sliced mushrooms, sea salt, black pepper, ground allspice, and two tablespoons of olive oil, then turn up the heat, sauté the mushrooms until soft, then set aside with the onions.
- Turn the heat down to low, add the sour cream and cream, stir until warm, slowly adding the beef stock, stirring to combine, then return the onions and mushrooms to the pan, add the mustard, ketchup, soy sauce, and fish sauce, stir to combine, and gently simmer.
- To fry the meatballs: in the small deep frying pan over high heat, heat half a cup of vegetable oil until hot, then, using long tongs, transfer 5-6 meatballs to the pan (ensure they’re not touching) and fry until brown, rotating the meatballs a few times until evenly coloured, then transfer them to the mushroom gravy. Repeat, frying the meatballs in batches until all are in the pan.
- To finish: add 100 ml sour cream to the gravy, stir to combine, taste, add more salt or spice if needed, then simmer the meatballs on low for ten minutes or so to soak up the flavours. Plate with pasta, mashed potato or crispy shoestring fries, garnish with fresh dill, and serve with sides of gherkins, additional sour cream and a crisp Russian garden salad.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you make my meatball Stroganoff recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.