My Grandmother's Gefteles

April 19, 2016
3 Ratings
Photo by Yvette Fromer
  • Serves 12
Author Notes

This is a dish my grandmother and mother only would make on Rosh Hashanah and Passover, and my sister and I would fight over who got to take home the leftovers, as they are incredibly good the longer they sit in the fridge. Based on the "sweet and sour" flavor profile so common in Eastern European cuisine, but I have never found the name or a similar recipe anywhere on the internet, so I think its my grandmother's invention?! Sour salt is the key ingredient...the dish can't be made without it. —Yvette Fromer

What You'll Need
  • 2 quarts bottles of store bought borscht
  • 3 cans of sliced beets (approx 36 ounces)
  • 1 bunch fresh red beets
  • 1 tablespoon sour salt, or more for your taste
  • 1 lemon, zest removed and then sliced thin
  • 3 cups honey
  • 2 large onions, finely diced
  • 4 pounds ground veal
  • 11 egg whites
  • 3 or 4 egg yolks
  • 3 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 bottle peanut oil
  • 1 bottle safflower oil
  1. In a large pot, make the cooking liquid: drain the liquid from the canned beets directly into pot and reserve beets. Add to that the two bottles of borscht, the lemon zest and lemon slices, the sour salt, and two cups of the honey. Start to bring to a simmer to let the liquid reduce slightly and bring the flavors together.
  2. Finely dice the cooked canned beets (or put into a food processor and pulse a few times for a thick puree), and put the beets into the cooking liquid. Wash, peel the fresh beets. Slice them thin and then halved, and add them to cook inside the cooking liquid.
  3. Saute the onions in a frypan over gentle heat. Do not let the onions brown, but they must cook until very soft. Take them off of the heat when done, and let them cool.
  4. Whip the egg whites until stiff, and in a second bowl, gently beat the yolks until combined. Set both aside.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground veal; cooled onions, nutmeg, about 1 tbsp of salt and 1/2 tbsp of pepper, and beaten egg yolks. Gently mix, taking care not to overwork the meat (which will make the meatballs dense). Gently fold in the egg whites until combined. It is important to make sure whites are incorporated so they do not leech out during cooking.
  6. In a large frying pan, heat both peanut and safflower oil together until hot. Just enough oil to cover pan, this is not a deep fry. Using a cutlery teaspoon (not measuring teaspoon), drop uniform size oval meatballs into pan and let cook until brown on one side. Flatten slightly while cooking. Flip over and cook other side. They should be be completely cooked, but browned on both sides to develop flavor to so they stay together while they finishing cooking in the beet mixture.
  7. Remove and let drain on paper towels. Finish frying the meatballs. You will need to change out the oil and wipe the pan down several times during this process. As oil turns brown, change out to a new batch. I do it three times total.
  8. When all the meatballs are browned and drained, taste the simmering beet liquid BEFORE adding the meatballs. Adjust with more honey, pepper and salt (or sour salt) as your taste allows. There should be a rich beet flavor, with an even balance of sweet honey and sour lemon. Gently add the meatballs to the cooking liquid. Simmer for 10-15 minutes to combine flavors. Serve in the liquid, which becomes its sauce.
  9. These are better the next day or that night...let them sit in the liquid to really take on the beet color and flavor. They can easily be refrigerated in the liquid at this point and reheated in a covered dish in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes when needed.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • maggiesara
  • Yvette Fromer
    Yvette Fromer

2 Reviews

maggiesara April 30, 2016
This looks just wonderfully good. It also looks like it makes a ton -- I think I'll cut the recipe in half. But I'm definitely making it!
Yvette F. May 12, 2016
Actually it does make a ton! I should mention that in recipe..this serves as an entree, 12 people..on a buffet with other items, it served 24!