This spring, consider celebrating an unofficial holiday that recognizes one of the most important aspects of American (and Italian Cuisine).
National Meatball Day is one of those strange cult holidays with no real origins. No governments recognize it, no large organizations sponsor it, and yet the collective internet and culture decided that there must be a day for these little balls of meat to gain recognition and appreciation. In this case, that day is March 9th, annually.
A day of celebrating meatballs might seem a bit extraneous, but then again—can anything be ruined by good meatballs. This simple food can be prepared by just about anyone, and with the right sauce and ingredients, be used on just about any food.
Forget spaghetti and meatballs—as these small meat delivery devices can be utilized in a variety of dishes, pots, pans, pizzas, pies, and just about any meal you can think of. They can be sweet, sour, spicy, and everything in between.
Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at what makes the meatball so special. We’ll be talking about how your friends and family can celebrate the day of the meatball, as well as handing out a few recipes to bring a little bit of variety to an otherwise-simple product.
The Origins Of The Meatball
Meatballs are one of those simplistic meat preparations that predates much of our written history. As far back as 2200 years ago, cooks were using hunks of meat to spice up their dinner routines. Meatballs can be found in recipes from China, to Russia, to the United States. Their proliferation is only matched by their versatility.
Today, we use meatballs as a way to bring protein to pasta dishes like spaghetti. Meatballs are also often served in sandwiches and drizzled with shredded cheese, or smashed onto a pizza for added flavor.
However, that’s mostly the American approach to the meatball. Internationally, we can see how spices, sauces, and varied preparation methods can produce some interesting and unexpected dishes.
Meatballs Around The World
While we’ll be visiting some other countries in our worldwide breakdown of the meatball, it’s best to first pay our respects to the reason friends and family flock to IKEA for food rather than furniture.
Swedish meatballs are one of the principal food products aligned with the country of Sweden. The Swedes have a unique approach to meatballs, and refer to this recipe as “Köttbullar med gräddsås,” or “meatballs with cream sauce.”
With Swedish meatballs, you first begin with lean ground beef and add onion, egg, salt, and some breadcrumbs. Nothing fancy here, as the real secret to Swedish meatballs, comes in the sauce.
Worcestershire sauce and beef broth make up the backbone of any good Swedish meatballs. We’ll be breaking down a full recipe a little later on, so hang on if any of this is making your mouth water.
In Spain, meatballs are prepared in a bowl of soup as opposed to served alongside pasta. “Albondigas,” as the dish is referred to, calls for meatballs to be served partially submerged in a beef broth saturated with fresh potatoes, carrots, and other herbs.
Keftedes are the Greek variant of meatballs, are not served in a broth or pasta. Instead, the Greeks opted to serve these beef and lamb balls alongside other appetizers traditional to the country or with included tzatziki sauce, which is made up of yogurt, cucumbers, and garlic.
Finally, we travel to the Far East, where meatballs are traditionally made from fish meat. The medium through which to serve varies greatly, so if soups and stews aren’t your things, you can go for a bed of fried rice or noodles to plop down your culinary creation.
To make these in the style of the Chinese, take meat (fish or otherwise) and add in spice powder, white pepper, a touch of soy sauce and a bit of sesame oil. Plop into boiling water and let simmer for just a few minutes. Once finished, these balls can be used in whatever fashion you may like.
As you can see, the world has quite a few different ways to serve such a simple treat. Keep these ideas in mind when celebrating National Meatball Day.
Now, onto the day’s festivities:
Breakfast & Lunch
Breakfast and lunch are perhaps the most difficult meals to incorporate meatballs into since heavy meats are more commonly associated with dinner in America.
However, there are a few ways to sweeten up meatballs and make them a quality side to your family’s breakfast buffet. For example, light maple-glazed meatballs work well as a replacement for the traditional sausage links or ham slices. To make this breakfast treat, you will need:
Here’s how to make them:
Make your meatballs with your favorite meat (preferably pork), and add in chopped apple, bread crumbles, an egg, and some herbs and spices. Bake these in the oven on medium to high heat, and while that’s going, start up on the glaze.
Making the glaze is simple—just add maple syrup, apple butter, and maybe a touch of mustard if you’re a fan. Pull the finished meatballs out of the oven, hit them with the glaze, and serve with eggs cooked just how you like them.
For lunch, we’d recommend going either going easy on the meat or possibly trying out a meatball soup like a few we mentioned that are made internationally. For vegetarians and those trying to watch that level of meat and protein, consider making some veggie balls for your lunch.
Veggie balls use lentils, onions, carrots, celery, and other healthy treats to make up the inner filling of the mall. While we can’t call these “meatballs,” on a technical level, there's no harm in celebrating National Meatball day in whatever way fits your palate, diet, and personal conviction.
Dinner is, of course, the place where meatballs thrive. We strongly recommend seeking out an international recipe like the ones above to experience a little piece of another culture right from the comfort of your own home.
For example, sticking with a simple meal like Swedish meatballs will be enough to enjoy the holiday without breaking the bank. To make quality Swedish meatballs, you will need:
Despite the larger amount of ingredients, Swedish meatballs can be made in a pinch.
To start, combine your meat will spices and herbs. For a traditional flavor, go for your parsley, nutmeg, garlic, and some onion. Roll into balls, add the breadcrumbs, and brown carefully, making sure to hit all of the sides.
The sauce is the real key here. To make your sauce, take butter and flour and whisk until you have a nice roux. Add your broth and cream, then Worcestershire sauce. Hit with more spices and herbs, and thicken on low heat.
Finally, toss in your meatballs and continue to cook on low heat, while tossing the fusilli pasta into boiling water and cooking. Once finished, you can either combine and serve or place out separately so that your guests can add as many balls and as much sauce as they’d like to your pasta.
For a final touch of Swedish tradition, put a dollop of lingonberry jam on each plate. This is meant as a final dessert with the meal and a palette cleanser for all of that heavy cream and meat.
While we’ve given you a few recipes to try out, we’ve barely even scratched the surface of how you can serve meatballs and celebrate National Meatball Day. If Swedish meatballs don’t sound appealing to you, going for the lighter Greek variant or a traditional Chinese meatball soup are also worthy options for dinner.
Perhaps you want to celebrate National Meatball Day with some simple spaghetti and meatballs, just like mom used to make. However you want to approach the day, do so in a manner that keeps you out of restaurants and puts you in the kitchen.
Nothing can beat good home-cooked meatballs, and if your kitchen skills are lacking in this department, what better excuse can you look for to start working your way around the kitchen? Meatballs are an excellent menu item to start with due to their versatility with sauce, and honestly, their difficulty in ruining.
So go ahead—look up your favorite recipe, and get cooking. There are so few ways you can fail, and so many new flavors and textures you can try out. Who knows? You may just uncover your next favorite meal.