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Bubbe’s Meatballs

Earlier last week, I spent a few hours in the kitchen cooking and baking up food to store in my fridge and freezer, in order to have some home cooked meals to eat while I spend another week in my nearly empty house. This recipe for Sweet & Sour Meatballs caught my eye not only because it was easy and called for very few ingredients (a plus when you are cleaning out your cupboards), but also because unlike many sweet & sour recipes, this version does not contain any ketchup and also does not call for pineapple. Instead, mild chili sauce is mixed with grape jelly to produce the sauce. I know this sounds a bit offbeat, but it really was quite good, if a bit sweet. I think you could likely try other combinations of jelly flavors, such as red pepper jelly. These were really easy and quite tasty, and they do indeed freeze and reheat beautifully.

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Hebrew School

Feed Me Bubbe

With days growing shorter, light going dimmer, and wallets growing thinner, we all seem to be taking more and more of a cue from Cathy, enjoying “not eating out in New York.” It seems like this is my natural tendency when fall comes, not to mention the sorely-awaited prospect of being able to turn on a stove in an un-airconditioned, third-floor apartment.

Bubbe’s sweet and sour meatball recipe (video) was our inspiration. To me, the basic structure of the preparation hit a nostalgic nerve, but with an idiosyncratic twist. And there’s Bubbe, too, a strong and compassionate proponent of Jewish soul food, emphasizing thrift, health, flavor and tradition. Though I can’t help but think that her grandson and his coterie of advertisers have her tied up in some suburban Boston basement, releasing the poor woman every month or so to slave over a hot stove without so much as an electrical appliance. Nonetheless, the recipes are great, and Bubbe gently encourages you along the way, flatly rejecting the notion that there is simply one way to make the food right.

Anyway, the meatball recipe and its odd mixture of ingredients just seemed so patently ridiculous that we had to try it on our own. First, Bubbe has you assemble the meatballs in a manner that mostly transcends ethnicity, though this speaks more to the assimilative process of Ashkenazic Jewish-American cuisine as a whole: ground beef (we used a lean, grass-fed variety), breadcrumbs (fresh, from white bread), an egg, minced onion, spices. Form into balls, brown in a skillet, reduce heat, cover and let cook through.

Then it’s time for the secret ingredients:

That’s right: Grape jelly and chili sauce in equal proportions. We went with the Smuckers Concord grape jelly, which is what Bubbe uses, de-branded, in her video. For chili sauce, we went for some sweet Thai. Amused? Repulsed? Incredulous? So was I.

Combine both in the pan with the meatballs. (This is different from how Bubbe did it.) The jelly and chili sauce melt together, co-mingling with the meatball drippings, to create a deep reddish brown gravy. There’s a little inexplicable magic in this that I can’t quite understand. Perhaps too many novitiates have been studying the kabbalah; I don’t know. A very strange and wonderful synthesis happens:

“9 acres is not an amusement park.”

Coat the meatballs with this juice using the spoon. Cover and simmer some more.

Bubbe suggests serving the meatballs with rice, or in a “sub sandwich,” (or “extra meatballs”), and with no harm intended towards the real genius, we mixed meat and dairy by concocting a fresh tomato and parmesan risotto. I guess we figured that the initial flavor combinations were so bizaare that any futher missteps would simply cancel out. Double transgession theory.

They did.

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