Finnish Meatballs

How to make homemade Finnish Meatballs from scratch, baked in the oven and cloaked in the traditional Finnish cream gravy and served with lingonberries. My recipe uses three techniques to turn out light and tender meatballs. The meatballs may be made in advance and frozen, then finished and served as an appetizer or a main course in a shallow skillet or slow cooker. Finnish Meatballs (that's Suomolaiset Lihapullat in Finnish) are perfect for holiday entertaining, no last-minute cooking! Finnish Meatballs are traditional at Christmas in Finland, below you'll find a Finnish Christmas menu with typical Scandinavian recipes.

Traditional Finnish Recipe, a Favorite at Christmas. Three Easy Techniques for Light, Tender Meatballs. Great for Meal Prep, Great for Freezing, Great for Mostly Hands-Off Party Food. Low Carb. High Protein.
Finnish Meatballs ♥ KitchenParade.com, made from scratch with three easy tricks to produce light, tender and flavorful meatballs, then baked in the oven and cloaked in a cream gravy for a traditional Finnish Christmas meal. Easily made ahead of time, perfect for entertaining. Low Carb. High Protein.

We ♥ Meatballs!

Call it meatball mania, our infatuation with globes of ground meat, whether they're from Finland, from Sweden, from Italy, from all parts of the world. There’s plenty to love about meatballs!

  • Meatball ingredients are easy to find and inexpensive
  • Meatballs can be cooked ahead of time
  • Meatballs freeze beautifully in party-size, family-size or individual servings

Most of all, meatballs are somehow more festive than – say – meatloaf, even though meatballs and meatloaf are made from identical ingredients.

How I Fell In Love with Finnish Meatballs

In Finland, meatballs are celebration food. I first fell for Finnish Meatballs when I lived in Finland for a year as an exchange student. I also fell for Homemade Finnish Mustard, Finnish Summer Soup, Karelian Borscht (Finnish - Russian Beet Borscht Soup), Finnish Fruit Tart and Finnish Strawberry Whipped Cream Cake – but those are stories for other days, today, let's stick to how to make Finnish meatballs.

RESOURCES More recipes from Finland!


Since that year in Finland, I like to serve Finnish Meatballs on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or even on Boxing Day with a traditional menu like this. It's a host's dream, there’s practically no last-minute cooking.

But for too long, my Finnish meatballs were dense and tough, reminiscent of the proverbial hockey pucks. It took several tries to achieve the tender and flavorful meatballs worthy of a life-time relationship.

At last, I've conquered the meatball!

I'm sharing the techniques I learned, nothing fancy or complicated, just effective.

Three Easy Tips & Techniques for Tender Meatballs of Any Sort

For tender Finnish Meatballs, I use three simple techniques. But these techniques can work on any kind of meatball, including your own favorite recipe.


  • #1 SOAK BREAD CRUMBS IN MILK OR BUTTERMILK Soak the bread crumbs in milk or buttermilk, adding moisture that’s easy to distribute throughout.

  • #2 AVOID COMPACTING THE GROUND MEAT Be gentle with the meat. When mixing and forming the meatballs, avoid "packing" the meat, which makes for dense, tough meatballs. To allow plenty of room, I use an extra-large bowl for mixing the meatballs, then use a light touch to shape them into balls.

  • #3 EXTRA INGREDIENTS SHOULD BE VERY FINE Ingredients like parsley and onion add moisture and bulk but should be minced fine so that they almost disappear into the meat itself. I use a food processor to make the bread crumbs, then to mince the onion, then the parsley.

What Do You Need to Make Finnish Meatballs? Mostly Pantry Ingredients!

Finnish Meatballs ♥ KitchenParade.com, made from scratch with three easy tricks to produce light, tender and flavorful meatballs, then baked in the oven and cloaked in a cream gravy for a traditional Finnish Christmas meal. Easily made ahead of time, perfect for entertaining. Low Carb. High Protein.

In all my recipes and most well-written recipes, every ingredient serves a purpose. Each one matters. Each one contributes to the overall dish. It's not that an ingredient can't be substituted by something else but when choosing the substitute, it's important to understand why the original ingredient was present in the first place.


  • For Bulk, Flavor & Protein – the ground meats. I use a mix of low-fat ground beef and ground pork. Ground elk and ground venison would also work but since wild game is lower in fat, the mixture might need a little extra fat, depending on how the meat was ground.

  • To Loosen the Meat – Bread crumbs break up the dense meat, lightening the final meatballs. For the bread itself, use something with both good flavor and some structure. I use everything from whole-grain rolls to a sour dough baguette to a grainy rye bread. The crumbs themselves should be light and airy, not dry and dense, you may need to cut off the crusts beforehand. Don't use canned bread crumbs, they're too dry and too fine.

  • To Tenderize the Meat & Add Moisture – Milk or buttermilk is used to soak the crumbs, a plant-based "milk" would work fine too.

  • To Add Flavor & Freshness – Onion and parsley help contrast with the rich meat. These should be minced very fine so that they almost "disappear" into the meatball mixture, I use the food processor but a grater or even some careful knife work are good substitutes.

  • For Seasoning – Just salt; white pepper, which is slightly more peppery and is traditional in many Scandinavian foods but black pepper works fine; black pepper too; a big spoonful of allspice, this is a key ingredient, try not to skip it!

  • To Bind It All Together – Two eggs help keep the meatballs intact, without them, they'd fall apart into grainy bits.

  • For the Cream Sauce (Cream Gravy) – Chicken stock & heavy cream are left to simmer to thicken.

  • To Serve Alongside – Finnish Meatballs are traditionally served with lingonberry sauce. In the U.S., specialty stores like HomeGoods and TJMaxx often carry jars of lingonberry jam or preserves, they're all labeled a little differently. A good substitute is a whole cranberry sauce like Homemade Whole Cranberry Sauce for the Slow Cooker.

Finnish Meatballs vs Swedish Meatballs

The Short Answer The difference between Finnish Meatballs and Swedish Meatballs is in the sauce. Finnish Meatballs are draped in a white cream gravy; Swedish Meatballs are served in a brown gravy. Both, however, are traditionally served with lingonberry sauce.


Have you tasted Swedish meatballs? Probably, if you've shopped at the top Swedish retailer, that is. The Swedish company IKEA [pronounced eye-KEE-uh] has singlehandedly taken Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce "to the world" – even if the meatballs, to my taste, are completely hemks.

But what makes Finnish Meatballs "Finnish" anyway? And how are Finnish Meatballs different from Swedish meatballs? Mostly, it's the sauce.

  • Real Swedish meatballs made from scratch are served in a lovely brown sauce, they're underbar!
  • Finnish Meatballs are draped in a white cream sauce, a thick cream gravy.

Both versions are meatballs, both are served with lingonberries. The difference is in the sauce, brown sauce or brown gravy for Swedish meatballs, white cream sauce or cream gravy for Finnish Meatballs.

Now you know, that's how Finnish Meatballs and Swedish meatballs are different!

Cooking Meatballs: Baked or Fried? Definitely Baked.

Finnish Meatballs ♥ KitchenParade.com, made from scratch with three easy tricks to produce light, tender and flavorful meatballs, then baked in the oven and cloaked in a cream gravy for a traditional Finnish Christmas meal. Easily made ahead of time, perfect for entertaining. Low Carb. High Protein.

Over the years, I’ve come to prefer baked meatballs. There’s no added fat, no added flour and the house doesn’t reek of fried meat for days. Besides, baking meatballs takes less time.

But fried meatballs do have one big advantage, they’re round!

So I worked out a "sear and swirl" technique for frying meatballs when shape is important.

If you insist on frying meatballs, here's how to do it.

  • Heat a skillet on medium high. A cast iron skillet works if it's well-seasoned, otherwise choose a non-stick skillet.
  • Add a light covering of a neutral oil (vegetable, canola, etc.) until shimmery and let it get hot; don’t use too much oil, it makes it harder to "swirl". The oil is hot enough when water flicked off your fingertips sizzles.
  • Roll a few meatballs in flour or arrowroot flour and drop gently into the hot oil, be careful, the skillet may spatter. Cook only a few meatballs at a time, leaving plenty of room to "swirl" the meatballs around.
  • Let the balls sear on one side for a minute, then lift the skillet and "swirl" to cook on another side.
  • Repeat the "sear and swirl" process until the meatballs are fully cooked.
  • Repeat with the remaining meatball mixture. You won't need to add fresh oil every time but may need to start over with a clean pan and fresh oil every so often.
  • Go ahead, reconsider the frying choice. Baking is definitely easier, faster and simpler.

Can Finnish Meatballs Be Frozen?

Yes! Meatballs freeze really well. I freeze meatballs all the time, some packaged for a single meal, some packaged to feed a crowd. Here's how I do it.

  • Prepare the meatballs through the baking step, cooking them all the way through. Skip the Cream Sauce / Cream Gravy for now though.
  • Package the meatballs in freezer containers, usually a single layer and no more than a couple of layers deep. I usually line the container with waxed paper first, then press a double layer of waxed paper onto the top of the meatballs. This helps keep the meatballs from getting freezer burned, a bigger risk with meatballs since they're round and the freezer container will have lots of empty spaces for ice crystals to form.
  • Freeze for two to three months. They can be frozen longer but the longer the time in the freezer, the greater the risk of freezer burn and being about to "taste" the time in the freezer.
  • Thaw the meatballs in the fridge, this can take a day or two.
  • Then follow the instructions in the recipe, below, starting with "About an Hour Before Serving".

Meatballs = Party Food

Meatballs are such great party food!

FINNISH MEATBALLS as an APPETIZER For a great appetizer at parties, I like to make extra-small mini Finnish Meatballs, then keep toothpicks or small forks nearby to let people spear the meatballs right from the pan! You can also use a slow cooker to keep the meatballs warm for a couple of hours, again, people like spearing their own!

And meatballs are also a cook's best friend! They're slightly fussy up front but wow, make them ahead of time and put them in the freezer. Party food, ready to go!



A Traditional Finnish Christmas Menu

Smoked Salmon Spread
with Rye Bread or Crackers, Cucumber Slices & Fresh Dill

~ Finnish Meatballs ~
with Lingonberry Jam

Swedish Red Cabbage & Apples
New Potatoes Tossed with Butter & Fresh Dill

Christmas Rice Pudding with Warm Fruit Soup
and / or
Pulla (Finnish Cardamom Bread) and
Glöggi: Hot Red Wine 'Mulled' with Winter Spices

But Just One Meatball Recipe Can Take You Around the World

The Cream Sauce / Cream Gravy and allspice are what makes these meatballs "Finnish Meatballs".

But this is such a good basic recipe for meatballs that I can heartily recommend using other spices too. Here are some ideas!

  • Use Italian seasoning or ground fennel to make giant Italian meatballs to serve with my Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce
  • Use oregano and lemon for Greek meatballs
  • Use pimenton for Spanish meatballs
  • Use curry powder and cumin for Indian meatballs
  • More ideas? Let me know!



COOKING LESSON: RECIPE for FINNISH MEATBALLS

Hands-on time: 90 minutes
Time to table: about 2 hours
Makes 4 dozen small meatballs or 2 dozen larger meatballs
    MEATBALLS
  • 3/4 cup whole milk or buttermilk
  • 1 cup (50g) fresh bread crumbs (see ALANNA's TIPS)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 medium onion, minced very fine (about 1 cup)
  • 1 bunch parsley, minced very fine (about 1 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon allspice (don’t skip this!)
  • Bread Crumb & Milk Mixture
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • Additional chopped fresh dill (or more parsley) for garnish
  • Lingonberry jam for serving

MISE EN PLACE Mixing and forming the meatballs is a little bit messy, so get out whatever you'll be baking the meatballs on and have it/them handy. I use a good non-stick baking sheet, also a cast iron griddle. A baking sheet will work, you'll probably want to line it with parchment.

Set the oven to 350F/175C.

BREAD CRUMBS Gently warm the milk in a medium saucepan, add the bread crumbs and let soak.

MIX In an extra-large bowl with room for mixing everything with your hands, whisk the eggs. Add all the remaining meatball ingredients EXCEPT the meat.

Stir in the Bread Crumb & Milk Mixture, combine very well, really distributing all the ingredients before adding the meat. (Now comes that messy part!) With your hands, gently break the meat into pieces, then gently work the meat into the mixture until it's all very well combined.

TASTE for SEASONING This is an optional but recommended step. To test the seasoning, form a small meatball and fry it in a tiny bit of vegetable oil in a skillet. Taste and if needed, adjust the seasonings.

FORM MEATBALLS With your hands or a cookie scoop (to measure) plus your hands (to form), gently form and shape the meatballs, taking care to not compress the mixture. Arrange the meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet about an inch apart, the meatballs don't spread but they do need room for the heat to circulate.

BAKE THE MEATBALLS Bake until the meat is cooked clear through and beginning to brown on top, about 15 minutes for small two-inch meatballs, about 25 minutes for larger three-inch meatballs.

MAKE-AHEAD If cooking ahead, let the meatballs cool, then cover, refrigerate or freeze. If frozen, thaw before continuing. Finnish Meatballs freeze beautifully!

ABOUT ONE HOUR BEFORE SERVING Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large pot. For serving tableside, the base of a tagine or a large shallow skillet with a lid [#ads] works beautifully. Stir in the cream and return to a gentle boil.

Add the meatballs and return to a gentle boil, let bubble until the cream thickens considerably, spooning cream over the meatball tops every five minutes or so to coat the meatballs. The meatballs shrink a bit in the skillet, you can add more, just keep them in a single layer.

TO HOLD Once the cream sauce has thickened and coated the meatballs, you can "hold" the dish in the oven for about 30 minutes before serving. Set the oven to 180F/80C, cover the dish to prevent further thickening, leave it uncovered if you'd like the cream mixture to continue to thicken.

TO SERVE Just before serving, sprinkle the meatballs with fresh dill. For an authentic Finnish Christmas dinner, serve Finnish Meatballs with Lingonberry Jam, Swedish Red Cabbage & Apples and boiled new potatoes tossed with a little butter and fresh dill.

NUTRITION INFORMATION
For Large Meatballs, assumes 24 meatballs, per meatball: 198 Calories; 14g Tot Fat; 8g Sat Fat; 81mg Cholesterol; 187mg Sodium; 3g Carb; 0g Fiber; 1g Sugar; 12g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS Old Points 5 & PointsPlus 5 & SmartPoints 7 & Freestyle 7.

For Small Meatballs, assumes 48 meatballs, Per Meatball: 99 Calories; 7g Tot Fat; 4g Sat Fat; 40mg Cholesterol; 93mg Sodium; 2g Carb; 0g Fiber; 0g Sugar; 6g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS Old Points 2 & PointsPlus 2 & SmartPoints 3 & Freestyle 3.

More Traditional Christmas Recipes

(hover with a mouse for a description; otherwise click a photo to view the recipe)

Oyster Stew Lazy Man's Ciopinno, Shrimp & Fish Stew Twice-Smoked Ham
~ more Christmas recipes ~
~ more beef recipes ~

More Recipes from Finland

(hover with a mouse for a description; otherwise click a photo to view the recipe)

Homemade Finnish Mustard Karelian Borscht (Finnish - Russian Beet Borscht Soup) Finnish Fruit Tart
~ more Finnish recipes ~

Shop Your Pantry First

(helping home cooks save money on groceries)

~ beef ~
~ pork ~

~ All Recipes, By Ingredient ~
~ How to Save Money on Groceries ~

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via recipes@kitchen-parade.com. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

© Copyright Kitchen Parade 2009, 2014, 2015 & 20192

Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.

Comments

  1. More Finnish recipes, please!
    Cait

    ReplyDelete
  2. I chuckle every time the holidays come 'round. It is the only time of year that I see recipes for brussels sprouts.
    It has to be an east coast thing, as here in Minnesota, brussels sprouts were not EVER included in holiday fare.
    I happen to love them and eat them year 'round, and I 'Thank You' for the the explanation of why some people do not like them. I usually cut the 'x' and cook them whole, but will from now on cook them cut in half instead of whole.
    This is also on a plane that east coaster's like mac and cheese for holiday meals. Where did that start?
    Thanks,
    Cait

    ReplyDelete
  3. I haven't made Swedish (as I grew up calling them) meatballs in about three years. I should rectify that lapse.

    ReplyDelete
  4. 1 cup of bread crumbs in the recipe, and yet 0 carbs? What recipe analyzer are you using??

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Unknown ~ Ooops, looks as if you may have mis-read the nutrition information, there are carbs listed.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've never heard of Finnish meatballs being served with lingonberries of any kind. That is a Swedish custom. Neither have I heard of serving meatballs for Christmas. The traditional Finnish Christmas dinner in my family consisted of various fish for appetizers, ham, rutabaga casserole, beet salad, potatoes a couple different ways, home made mustard, sweet rye bread with fennel with good Finnish butter and dessert. Rice porridge with fruit soup is eaten for lunch.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Outi ~ Aha, you’ve got me in a “world fusion” moment! You are so right, the Christmas menu you’ve listed is exactly the one I remember from the one Christmas I spent in Finland some, ummm, forty years ago this year. (YIKES.)

    But I’ve made Finnish meatballs “my” Christmas tradition here in the US, either on Christmas Eve or on Boxing Day, oops, that’s a British holiday! World Fusion, indeed.

    Thanks so much for sharing your menu, I’m right now longing for every single one of those, especially the amazing fish. We can’t come close to Finland’s fish, we just can’t.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have some good recipes... if you're interested.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna