This Russian meatballs recipe for tefteli makes some of the juiciest meatballs you’ll ever taste. Made with ground beef and minced pork, grated carrot, and cooked rice, these incredibly delicious meatballs are coated in flour, fried until brown to lock in their juices, and simmered in a rich, creamy tomato sauce to finish cooking and soak up even more flavour.
I know I told you that our Italian-style meatballs recipe made one of the best meatballs ever for the most flavoursome and juiciest meatballs you’ll taste. But I hadn’t yet shared my baboushka’s Russian meatballs recipe for tefteli, an even softer, even more succulent, yet textured meatball thanks to the addition of cooked rice and grated carrot.
Like our recipe for the Italian-style meatballs, this recipe for my Russian-Ukrainian grandmother’s home-cooked meatballs is another of our best meatball recipes – which, if you haven’t browsed that collection, includes recipes for all kinds of meatballs, from the Spanish meatballs called albondigas, a popular tapas bar snack, to the Southeast Asian meatballs that squeezed into baguettes here in Northern Cambodia or rolled up in rice paper in Vietnam and Southern Cambodia.
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Russian Meatballs Recipe for Tefteli – Juicy Beef, Pork and Rice Meatballs in a Creamy Tomato Sauce
Before I tell you all about my Russian meatballs recipe for tefteli, I have a confession to make. If you’re thinking I have a bit of an obsession with meatballs – and no, I wouldn’t go as far as calling it an addiction – then you’d be right. Like trillions of other people throughout the history of time, I adore meatballs. But who doesn’t love meatballs?!
Every culinary culture seems to have its own meatballs and there are reasons for the ubiquity of meatballs. Meatballs are super easy to make. The flavour can be enhanced with herbs, spices and sauces. Meatballs can be made with any meat, including the cheapest meat off-cuts.
You don’t even need a lot of meat, as my Russian meatballs recipe for tefteli shows – rice and vegetables, such as grated carrot create a more delicious, a softer and a more textured meatball.
An aside: The higher ratio of rice you use, the more textured the meatball becomes and the rice pokes out and is even more pronounced when frying, which leads them to being called ‘porcupine meatballs’ or ‘hedgehog meatballs’.
Meatballs are ancient, too. Meatballs have been made everywhere from China and India to the Mediterranean and Morocco. And meatballs have been cooked since ancient times. Many credit the Romans with having invented meatballs, yet it turns out the oldest meatballs are from the Middle East.
Middle Eastern kofta, which can be found right across the region – we used to them every week when we lived in the United Arab Emirates for many years – are these days shaped into cylindrical minced patties, and are thought to have originated in ancient Persia before travelling to Arabia.
Meatballs have been made by Russians and their siblings in Ukraine and Belarus since the oldest Russian cookbooks were published. It doesn’t matter what crazed dictator thinks he is in charge of that colossal country, but the Russian people, just like the Ukraines and Belorussians, come from the medieval empire of Kievan Rus and before that from Viking ancestry.
And, of course, that explains the connection with Swedish meatballs, the Swedes being Scandinavians, who are all the children of Vikings. I’ll tell you more about that and the connection to German meatballs and Prussian meatballs in another meatball post. Yes, there are more meatball recipes to come!
Meatballs are also very eco-friendly – hear me out – because once you understand what makes meatballs work, that is, what makes them so juicy and tender and textured, you can do something with whatever stale bread or buns or baguettes or whatever you have lying around and use anything wilted you have in the bottom of the veggie drawer of your fridge.
Tips to Making this Russian Meatballs Recipe for Tefteli
I only have a few tips to making my grandmother’s Russian meatballs recipe for tefteli, as they’re super easy to make. I use a round flat bottomed wok but by all means use your favourite fry pan or skillet.
You’ll need enough olive oil to fry the diced onion until soft and translucent, so depending on the size of your fry pan or skillet, my suggestion might not be enough or may be too much. Use your best judgement.
I prefer a combination of lean beef and fatty pork mince, as fatty meat means more juice and flavour, and we believe that’s best and is balanced by moderation, but by all means do what works for you. Just note that lean meats result in less juicy meatballs.
It’s important not to over-mix your minced meat mixture when you’re combining the fried onion, garlic, ground pork and ground beef, cooked rice, grated carrot, egg, etc, as it will result in a very tight, dense, firm meatball, when you want a meatball that is more rustic, loose, and light.
Definitely use digital kitchen scales to weigh your meatballs, as it’s not only about aesthetics. Uniformly sized meatballs mean they’re going to cook more evenly, so you don’t have some cooked and others oozing blood or worse, over-cooked.
Sometimes my family served these meatballs as one of an array of many sharing-style dishes served at one of our Sunday family feasts. At other times, on those quieter and less boisterous mid-week nights, we’d eat these on individual plates, atop creamy mashed potatoes, garnished with fresh fragrant dill, with a crisp Russian garden salad and plate of dill pickles on the side.
Russian Meatballs Recipe for Tefteli
- 1 cup jasmine rice steamed
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 250 g brown onion finely diced
- 2 cloves of garlic minced
- 400 g can crushed tomatoes
- 1 tsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp paprika
- 250 g ground pork
- 250 g ground beef
- 150 g carrot grated
- ½ tsp allspice
- 1 egg whisked
- 100 g plain flour or as needed
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 100 ml cooking cream
- 10 g fresh dill roughly chopped
- The day before you make the meatballs, steam the rice in a rice cooker, then once it has cooled down, transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight.
- In a small, deep frying pan over medium heat, heat two tablespoons of olive oil and fry the finely diced onion until soft, then add the garlic and fry until fragrant. Divide the fried onion and garlic in half; transfer half to the large, deep frying pan or skillet, in which you’ll make the sauce, and half to a mixing bowl to make the meatball mixture.
- First make the tomato sauce: to the large deep fry pan or skillet over medium-high heat, add another tablespoon of olive oil and heat, then return the fried onions to the pan, empty a can of crushed tomatoes into the pan, add a teaspoon of tomato paste, a teaspoon of sea salt, a teaspoon of white pepper, sugar, a teaspoon of paprika, and stir to combine.
- When the tomato sauce begins to bubble and splutter, turn the heat down to low to simmer and allow the sauce to reduce.
- Next make the meatballs: to the mixing bowl with the fried onion and garlic, add the ground pork and ground beef, cooked rice, grated carrot, egg, a teaspoon of sea salt, a teaspoon of white pepper, a teaspoon of paprika, and allspice, and use a spoon or spatula to combine just until everything is incorporated; don’t over-mix.
- Scoop out half a teaspoon of mixture and either pop it on a small dish in the microwave for a minute or fry it in a little oil, then taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary, adding more salt, pepper or spices to suit your palate.
- Sift some plain flour onto a small plate and over a large tray and place a small square of oven paper onto your digital kitchen scales.
- Using a tablespoon and digital kitchen scales, scoop out a spoonful of minced meat mixture, aiming for around 38-40 g, then roll it a few times between two hands to form a round meatball, roll it in the flour, and place it on the large tray. Don’t over-roll as you want the mixture loose to produce a more rustic meatball rather than a tight ball. Repeat until you’ve used all the mixture and have a tray of meatballs. (Should make around 20.)
- To the small deep frying pan over high heat, heat the vegetable oil until hot, then, using long tongs, transfer 5-6 meatballs to the pan, ensuring they’re not touching. Fry until brown, using the tongs to rotate the meatballs a few times so that they’re evenly coloured, then transfer them directly to the pan with tomato sauce.
- Continue to fry the meatballs in batches until all are in the pan, add 100 ml cooking cream to the tomato sauce, stir to combine, then simmer the meatballs on low for 15 minutes so that they soak up the flavours.
- Serve atop mashed potatoes, garnished with fresh fragrant dill, with a crisp Russian garden salad and plate of dill pickles.
Please do let us know if you make my Russian meatballs recipe for tefteli as I’d love to know how it turns out for you.