So why call this recipe French meatballs? Honestly, I can’t really claim this recipe to be authentically French, nor did I ever have anything like this in France. In truth, the recipe actually draws on a very delicious ready made, just pop-in-the-oven, meal I once bought in a little shop in torvehallerne in Copenhagen, an upscale street food market in the middle of the city.
Pricy and quite hipster, it is honestly a great place to visit if you get the chance to visit the capital of Denmark. I’m not sure the shop still exists and I forget the name of it, otherwise I would surely have given a referral. But I do remember that if you bought a meal there on Fridays, you got a free bottle of pancake batter to take home for Saturday brunch. Now that is what I call customer care!
So, really, why French? I guess the flavors just remind me of rustic French country cooking. The lentils, the fresh thyme, the Dijon mustard and the strong, yet elegantly aromatic leeks combined with the sweetness of apples… I really see myself sitting in a cosy French country home when eating this. Certainly, this is real comfort food. And though it doesn’t have any starch like potatoes or pasta in it, the lentils guarantee a hearty meal, even if you pass on the baguette on the side. Plus, it is very easy to prepare and make, and once in the oven, you get to sit back, relax and enjoy the wonderful smells that the oven expels.
The original meal that inspired this recipe had regular plain green lentils in it, so feel free to use those if you like. I just once found these gorgeous beluga lentils in a nice supermarket in Copenhagen, and have preferred to use them since. They are a little more elegant and concentrated in taste I find, but admittedly not very easy to find in your average grocery store. (I found these in an organic supermarket in Toronto after having almost given up on finding them on the north American continent.) If you can’t find them, just use the regular green ones, or maybe French Puy lentils, the dish will still taste amazing, I promise.
And a confession at the end…I did say French meatballs, but the icing on the cake in this dish is serving it with lingonberry jam…I know, that’s, eh, kind of Swedish (and in north America you can only really get lingonberry jam in IKEA, sorry!). Well, hail fusion cooking, and I can’t deny my Scandinavian roots. But, it is really really good!!
French meatballs – with lentils, apples, leeks, thyme and creamy Dijon sauce (serves 4)
For the meatballs:
1/2 lbs (250 g) minced pork
1/2 lbs (250 g) minced veal
1 shallot onion, finely chopped or shredded
2.5 oz (75 g) bread crumbs
4 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
For the rest of the dish:
7oz (200 g) dried black (beluga) lentils, or green French Puy lentils, or just plain green ones (whatever you prefer)
1/4 gallon (1 liter) water
1 large or 2 small leeks
1 small bunch/handful fresh thyme sprigs
2 cups/17oz (500 ml) whole cream, about 35% fat
4 tbsp Dijon mustard
Extra olive oil to drizzle on top
Salt and pepper
Lingonberry jam (alternatively maybe cranberry or red currant jam)
1. Start by mixing all the ingredients for the meat balls together in a bowl. Remember to season with salt and pepper. Then put the meat mixture in the fridge for later.
2. Next, pour the dried lentils into a sieve and wash them well under running water for a minute or so. Pour the water and the lentils into a pot, bring to a boil and cook the lentils for about 10 minutes. They are not supposed to be fully cooked before going in the oven, as they will finish cooking with the sauce, apples and leeks. Let the lentils drip off in a sieve or colander and then transfer them into a large ovenproof dish or pot. Set the oven to 400 F (200 C).
3. Now prepare the leeks and apples. First, clean the leeks well and remove the outer layer. Then cut into medium thin slices and add to the lentils. Remove the core and cut the apples into slices and add these to the lentils and leeks as well. Using your hands or a spoon, mix the lentils, leeks and apples.
4. In a bowl, whisk the cream together with the Dijon mustard and season with salt and pepper. Then pour the mixture over the lentils, leeks and apples. Next, garnish with sprigs of fresh thyme. Leave a few sprigs for when the dish come out of the oven. Then shape little round meat balls out of the meat mixture and disperse the balls evenly on top of the lentils, leeks, apples and sauce. Drizzle generously with olive oil, and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the meatballs are cooked all through.
5. Take out of the oven, leave to cool for a few minutes, and garnish with a few extra sprigs of fresh thyme. Then serve your French meatballs with lingonberry jam and fresh baguette, and maybe a nice Pinot Noir.
Here’s more to cook, if you liked this recipe. From a few other French inspired recipes to classic Danish meatballs. Have a try and see which is your favorite?
And of course, we’ll need a dessert after this: