Savta’s Famous Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Posted by hsimpsongrossman on March 25, 2014

These meatballs were one of the staple foods of my childhood.  All other meatballs recipes are bench-marked against them and usually rank much lower.

We used to have them as a forshpeis (an appetizer in Yiddish) on Friday nights, in rotation with other winner Friday night specials such as spicy fish, sauteed liver, puff-pastry shells filled with mushrooms and many more.

Since my mother used to work until very close to Shabbat on Fridays during the school year, she started cooking on Thursday nights, and those familiar smells coming out of the kitchen every week were the first sign of the weekend approaching (and a motivation to wake up in the middle of the night and sneak a meatball or a flaky freshly baked puff pastry shell, cooling on the counter).

Savata Famous Meatballs in Tomato Sauce Quartet

These were one of the first recipes my mother gave me over the phone when we moved to New York (where, to my dismay, I had discovered that red meatballs, over there, meant the sweet and sour kind (more sweet than sour to be precise), which I could never get used to), one of the first real foods tried by each one of my mother’s grandchildren (thus their name) and a big hit in our kosher food Forum.  Interestingly enough, they never taste the same when prepared by anyone but my mother.  Needless to say that a Shabbat at my parents’ would not be complete without leaving their house with meatballs for the coming week.

Savata Famous Meatballs in Tomato Sauce One for me and One for You
One for me and One for You

In fact, when my brother came over for Shabbat a couple of weeks ago he came bearing a few gifts from Mama, including two containers of her famous meatballs – one for me and one for my sister (who, come to think of it, hasn’t picked hers up yet, which reminds me that I need to go back to my notes regarding abounded property).Savta Meatballs in Tomato Sauce Frozen

One of my mother’s tricks for making these especially loved by children, including fussy eaters, is to grate the onions rather than chop them. This negates the need for the compulsive act of picking little bits of “things” out of them..

Another feature, which makes them loved by very young ones, is that they call for bread (rather than breadcrumbs), soaked in water, drained and then crumbled, which contributes to their smooth texture.

Savata Famous Meatballs in Tomato Sauce Bird's Eye View
Bird’s Eye View

Savta’s Famous Meatballs in Tomato Sauce on the Spot: Fry onion.  Mix meatballs ingredients.  Prepare sauce.  Cook meatballs in sauce.  Voilà!

Savta’s Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Ingredients, for about 30 small meatballs:

For the meatballs:

2 large onions, chopped (or grated, when picky eater are anticipated)

2 slices of Challah or white flower bread, soaked in hot water for 10-15 minutes (or ¼ cup bread crumbs or matzo meal)

1.5 Lbs. (700 grams) ground meat (preferably mixed, half the amount beef and half turkey or chicken, though using one kind of meat for the whole amount will do just fine as well)

1 large egg

1 teaspoon sweet Paprika

1 teaspoon of garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

4-5 tablespoons of vegetable oil for frying

For the tomato sauce:

1 tablespoon sugar

1 6 oz. can (about 200 grams) of tomato paste

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon of sweet paprika

Salt and pepper, to taste

Leafs from a dozen sprigs of parsley, chopped

1 chopped jalapeno pepper or some crushed chili flakes, optional, for a spicier version

3 cups boiling water


In a large sauce pan, fry both chopped/grated onions in vegetable oil, until golden.  In the case of grated onions, make sure not to burn the onions as they will cook much quicker. Leave in the pan and set aside.

Squeeze the water out of the soaked slices of bread.  Remove the crusty parts.

In a large bowl, crumble the damp bread (it will take the place of breadcrumbs, and will create a smooth texture in the meatballs, which my fussy eaters love).  Add the ground meat, egg, paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper, as well as half the amount of the fried onion (leave the other half of fried onion in the pan) and mix together.  Let the mixture rest in the fridge for half an hour.

To the rest of the fried onion in the pot, add tomato paste, sugar, chopped garlic, salt, pepper, sweet paprika, parsley and water.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for five minutes.  For a spicier version, you may add a chopped jalapeno pepper or some crushed chili flakes.

Take the meat mixture out of the fridge and create small meatballs.

Carefully place the meatballs in the sauce, cover and cook on a low heat for about an hour.  Shake the pot gently every now and then to ensure all side of the meatballs are covered in sauce.

Check the amount of liquids in the pot occasionally and if they seem to be evaporating too quickly, add another half cup of boiling water.

Savata Famous Meatballs in Tomato Sauce Standalone

These meatballs are great served as an appetizer (with a slice of white bread or Challah to wipe the plate clean with) or as a main dish along with rice, couscous or pasta.

They freeze well and will keep, tightly covered, in the fridge for up to four days.

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