Russian Meat-and-Rice Meatballs (Tefteli) are Comforting Home Cooking – and Gluten Free

Russian Meat-and-Rice Meatballs (Tefteli) are Comforting Home Cooking – and Gluten Free

At the Buford Highway Farmers Market, just outside I-285 in Doraville, north Atlanta, where I used to teach international cooking, I occasionally ate at their international food court. Among other cuisines there, the food court offered several genuine Russian dishes. There’s also a Russian bakery, an extensive Russian deli, and many Russian imports at the Market. The story is that several of the Russian women who baked there introduced their own family-style recipes for meatballs and stuffed cabbage rolls at the food court. I loved both the dishes. Where else in a public place can you get authentic Russian comfort food?

Some research informed that there are various types of meatballs in Russia, including “kotleti” (a variant on the name “cutlet”) and “frikadeller” (the Danish/Scandinavian name for meatballs). The meatballs at the Farmers Market food court are “tefteli” (тефтель), the “porcupine” meatballs containing rice grains rather than breadcrumbs. Those are what I eat at Buford Highway when I get the chance. As it turns out, the tefteli meatball is amazingly similar to the filling of the cabbage rolls (coincidence?), though the sauces for the two dishes are somewhat different.

People familiar with my cooking know how fond I am of meatballs, all kinds of meatballs. There are several other meatball recipes featured in this blog already (Swedish meatballs, 8/30/2019), Greek/Turkish meatballs, 8/20/2019), and Italian-American meatballs with spaghetti (7/30/2019); more will be coming.

A novel feature of tefteli meatballs is they are gluten-free, since their carbohydrate filler is rice rather than bread crumbs. In my own family, but especially among some of the customers at our restaurant, are individuals who cannot eat gluten, the principal protein in wheat, rye and barley. So these Russian meatballs are fine for gluten-intolerant people. That’s a bonus. I love tefteli for their flavors and texture.

The recipe makes enough for four people, Serve with a rice dish or noodles.

1 pound ground beef, pork or lamb
1 1/2 cups cooked unsalted rice
1/2 cup finely minced onion (use remainder of onion in sauce)
2 tablespoons minced flat (“Italian”) parsley, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Large pinch cayenne
2 eggs

Knead everything together well. Shape into 2-inch balls. Set aside while preparing the cooking sauce.

1/2 small-medium onion
2 medium tomatoes
1 small carrot
1/4 red bell pepper
3 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Minced parsley or dill for serving

Place mince onion, tomatoes, carrot and bell pepper, all cut in chunks, in food processor. Pulse the vegetables and scrape down inside of container, until mixture is very fine, but not quite puréed.

Fry the mixture in the oil in a very wide frying pan or casserole, stirring frequently, until mixture dries off and the oil emerges a little.

Add water, vinegar, salt and spices. Simmer several minutes.

Add meatballs in a single layer. Cover pan and simmer 10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, but not stirring the meatballs (or they will break). Once meatballs have become more firm, move them carefully and turn them over. Simmer another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and basting them with the sauce. Add a little water if becoming too dry.

To serve, sprinkle with reserved minced parsley or dill.

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