Daffodils, daylight savings time, green beer, Lent, basketball: March has arrived. I typically forget to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, have never filled out a March Madness bracket, and miss that hour of daylight in the morning. However, the extra hour of daylight in the evenings, the sight of the first green blades of grass and an Iowa State trip to the Big Dance are worth celebrating. What better way to celebrate than with a seasonal meal: Reuben Meatballs with Thousand Island Coleslaw!
deconstructed sandwich: reuben meatballs
I love Reuben sandwiches all year-long, but seem to crave them more in March when Corned Beef and Cabbage is so popular. When thinking about creating a meatball from this amazing sandwich, there were the obvious ingredients to consider: corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, rye bread, and Thousand Island dressing. The difficult part would be recreating that distinct flavor balance throughout each meatball.
The biggest challenge for this recipe was the main ingredient. I wanted to use ground beef as it is convenient and accessible. I have had mixed experiences buying corned beef in the deli counter: sometimes it’s great and sometimes it isn’t. Starting with a beef roast and allowing it to cure for 10 days was obviously much too complicated a process for making meatballs. After researching the spices and herbs used to create the brine for corned beef, a rather unusual combination resulted and, more importantly, worked! You can see the list of ingredients for the seasoning in the recipe below. Do not allow the number of ingredients to discourage you from making this recipe. They are likely already in your cupboard and take little time to measure and combine.
The cabbage that typically accompanies corned beef is incorporated two ways in this recipe: as sauerkraut inside, and in the coleslaw beside, the meatball. Replacing the milk that is typically added to a meatball mixture with finely chopped sauerkraut and some of the sauerkraut liquid ensures that element of the Reuben will not be lost.
And who can resist that layer of tangy dressing? Using it to create a side of Thousand Island Coleslaw and as a dipping sauce for the meatballs carries the flavor into every bite.
A Reuben just wouldn’t be a Reuben without rye bread. Making homemade bread crumbs is super easy and immediately adds more flavor to the meatballs. A blender is the perfect tool for making flaky breadcrumbs. My food processor tends to grind the bread up, making the crumbs dense. If the bread crumbs are dense, the meatballs will be too.
The trial run of this recipe turned out well but was definitely lacking something. My family agreed that they tasted good but did not taste like a Reuben. Adjusting the ingredient proportions and adding toasted caraway seeds was all it took to make the difference. Toasting and crushing the seeds is important; it brings out the oils in the seeds which wakes up the flavors.
The final enhancement comes from baking the meatballs alongside some carrots, celery and onions. When a beef roast is curing, these vegetables are added to the brine to give more flavor to the meat. Placing them on the pan with the meatballs will deliver a similar subtle flavor.
I am very happy with the results of this recipe. There were enough meatballs leftover so we now have a bag in the freezer to enjoy another day.
TIP: When reheating leftover Reuben meatballs, place some extra sauerkraut in a pan
with the meatballs and slowly warm them on the stovetop. The moisture from the
sauerkraut will keep the meatballs from drying out.
Blessings of March
Among all the other wonderful things about the month of March, I do love the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday, the midweek services and the accompanying soup suppers prior, Holy Week and the celebration of Easter are a traditional transition from winter to spring for my family. So allow me to close this post with a beautiful Irish blessing:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.