If you've never heard of porcupine meatballs, let me clear up something right at the top of this column before you grimace and turn the page: They aren't made from porcupines.
Still with me? Good!
Porcupine meatballs are typically made with beef, but can be made with other ground meats including pork and chicken. They get their name because the meat is combined with rice and as the rice cooks, it sort of sticks out all around the meatball like quills.
These meatballs are versatile. Switching up ingredients and type of sauce takes the meatballs from Asian to Mexican, Indian, American or just about any cuisine you might want.
Today's recipe is a take on the flavors of stuffed peppers. I also enjoy cabbage rolls, and it is an easy change here to sprinkle chunks of cabbage over the meatballs instead of the bell pepper.
Every time I make porcupine meatballs, I'm convinced they aren't going to work. When I form them, they feel too wet. When I flip them in the skillet, they nearly fall apart. When I pour the sauce over them, it looks like I'm going to end up with sloppy joes instead of meatballs.
But trust yourself and the recipe. The meatballs firm up as they cook and more as you let them cool after removing the skillet from the heat (though the rice does make them a little looser than what you might be used to for spaghetti).
Some of the rice also ends up in the sauce as it cooks, helping that to thicken.
This recipe doesn't use a whole pepper per serving like a traditional stuffed pepper, so I'm including roasted green beans as a vegetable side because I like the freshness next to the heavy flavors of the meatballs.
Porcupine Meatball Unstuffed Peppers
Makes about 15 meatballs.
For the meatballs:
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup uncooked white rice
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
For the sauce:
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup water
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bell pepper
In a large bowl, combine the meatball ingredients and mix well. Form into meatballs about the size of a golf ball and set aside.
In another bowl, mix the tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, water, garlic and salt and pepper. After removing the core and ribs, chop the bell pepper into pieces about the size of a thumbnail.
In a large skillet over medium high heat, brown the meatballs on all sides. They will be loose at this point, so a spoon works best to turn them.
When the meatballs are browned, reduce the heat to low and pour sauce over the meatballs. Sprinkle chopped pepper on top and cover. Continue cooking about 45 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through and sauce has thickened. If the sauce thickens too much, gently stir in a bit more water during cooking.
Remove the skillet from the heat and allow meatballs to cool slightly before serving.
Roasted Green Beans
Note: I like my green beans on the crunchier side, so I go for about 15 minutes in the oven. If you like them softer, bake them a few minutes longer. Leftovers are delicious as a cold snack out of the refrigerator.
1 pound green beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch of salt
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Rinse beans, pat dry with a paper towel and snap or chop off the stem ends.
In a bowl, toss beans with oil and salt. Spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet at bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
Recipe Swap is published the second Tuesday of each month. Corey McMaken is a home cook, not a food expert. To share your favorite recipe for possible inclusion, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Corey McMaken, c/o The Journal Gazette, 600 W. Main St. Fort Wayne, IN 46802; include recipe, cooking tips, full name, city of residence and a phone number so we can contact you.