I don’t remember the first time I went to IKEA, but I remember that part of the allure was getting a plate of meatballs for $2.99 at the cafeteria. Maybe it was the cheap lunch factor (this was early in our careers when dining was limited to $5 and under places) or the fact that I was married to a Swedish man but I loved those meatballs. Once I stopped eating gluten, I had to stop eating those since they have breadcrumbs in them (or at least the beef ones do) but I recently saw them pop up on Instagram when the weather cooled off and I decided it was time I updated Swedish Meatballs and make them with no grains so they would be Paleo friendly.
Are Swedish Meatballs Swedish?
Well, we Americans all assumed so until the Swedish government tweeted back in May of 2018: “Swedish meatballs are actually based on a recipe King Charles XII brought home from Turkey in the early 18th century.” The lingonberry jam that is served alongside, however, truly is a Swedish gift to the Turkish-turned-Swedish dish.
What Sets Swedish Meatballs Apart from Italian
Swedish Meatballs are flavored with sweeter spices such as nutmeg and allspice where Italian meatballs have more assertive flavoring agents like oregano, basil and garlic. The sauce is perhaps even moreso the difference between the two; Italian meatballs are almost always served in a red sauce while Swedish meatballs are served in a flour-thickened (AKA roux-based) sauce that has cream or sour cream added for enrichment.
How are these Swedish Meatballs Paleo and Whole30?
Breadcrumbs are typically used to lighten the spiced meat mixture but to make it Paleo and Whole30 friendly, I used almond flour and finely chopped mushrooms and onions instead. The sauce is still roux based, but rather than using flour or cornstarch, I use a mixture of almond flour and tapioca starch to thicken the chicken broth base (my go-to for thickening all gravies and sauces). For the creamy element, I use the fattiest part of canned coconut milk. With a few flavoring agents, these meatballs and gravy will stand up against the frozen ones you can pick up at IKEA (the very same ones they serve by the millions at the cafe everyday.) While this doesn’t affect the Paleo/Whole30 nature of the recipe, I used a mixture of ground turkey and beef rather than the beef and pork you find in many recipes. You can certainly use one or the other.
What to Serve with Swedish Meatballs
Traditionally, the meatballs are served with mashed potatoes, gravy and lingonberry jam. Since I never have this jam in my house, we serve with jalapeno orange cranberry sauce instead but mashed potatoes are non-negotiable. They are after all the vehicle for the creamy sauce. You could also do a version of that quintessential party snack of meatballs and jam by combining the meatballs (sans creamy sauce) with cranberry sauce or lingonberry jam and heating them together then serve the glazed meatballs on toothpicks.
Swedish Meatballs | Paleo and Whole30
1 tbsp ghee or butter
8 oz very finely chopped mushrooms
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground turkey or pork
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg (leave out for egg allergies)
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil (or more ghee)
- Gravy Ingredients
2 tbsp almond flour
2 tbsp tapioca starch
1 3/4 cup chicken or beef broth
1 3/4 cup full fat coconut milk from a can
2 tbsp coconut aminos
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
To serve: mashed potatoes (or rice) and lingonberry jam or cranberry sauce (Note: Rice, jam and cranberry sauce are not Whole30 compliant.)
- Heat the ghee in a large skillet then add the mushrooms and onions. Cook on medium high until the mixture has softened and reduced in volume by half. (The veggies lose their water and will shrivel up.)
- Mix the cooked mushroom and onion mixture with the remaining meatball ingredients and form into 1” balls (a little under golf ball size.)
- Heat the olive oil and brown the meatballs then remove from pan. Remove all but 2 tbsp fat from the pan. (Note: If you use all turkey, you may have to add fat to get 2 tbsp.)
- Mix together the tapioca starch and almond flour then add to the fat in the pan whisking well to incorporate then slowly add the broth until you have a very thick mixture.
- Whisk in the coconut milk and the remaining ingredients then add the meatballs back to the pan to finish cooking.
- Serve the meatballs and gravy with mashed potatoes or rice and the lingonberry jam or cranberry sauce on the side.