Finnish meatballs – Lihapullat

October 27, 2010

Lihapulla - Finnish meatballs

The other day I was talking to friends in twitter about how weird is to make blog posts about savory foods and hot meals (compared to sweets and bakery ) once they just don´t look good at all when you take photos of them. They can be super tasty and delicious .. but they can look so ugly too :P

Well.. besides nice sweets and well fixed bento meals, we also eat “normal” food.. like everyone else. Who normally takes a picture of your last pasta bolognese? I mean.. without taking the risk of the meal cooling too much and kids start yelling they are hungry and can´t wait for mom to take the best “shot” ?

Aha. See my problem ^_^ !

Anyways..  I made Finnish meatballs. The complete meal (“koko setti” – the whole set,  like we would say here) and I decided to post about it (bear with me).

Meatballs in Finland are very very common. They can be quite similar to the meatballs they make in Sweden (and I am almost sure you are thinking about the Ikea meal right now… gotcha!) but with less herbs and spices. It differs from the “Italian” meatballs too. Read the recipe and you will understand why :)

Ok, so the recipe basically calls for minced meat, breadcrumbs, egg, spices and kermaviili. “Kermaviili” what? Well, yes, that. This is the recipe I use often and it’s how I learned to make “lihapulla”. There might be variations (my mother-in-law does not use “kermaviili” in hers as far as I know).

And what the heck is that kermaviili then? Before moving here, I had never heard about it. True.  Kermaviili is a dairy product made by fermenting milk cream, similar to the normal “viili” (which is another delicacy from the nordic countries ) but can be used in cooking, baking and to make dips. “Viili” is more like a gooey yogurt and most likely to be eaten as breakfast or dessert.

… (hey, but..) …

Yes! I have suggestions if you can´t find the kermaviili! (*clap, clap* XD) Substitute it by equal amounts of cream, milk, plain yogurt+cream, crème fraiche or meat stock . I can´t guarantee it will be the same meatball as mine but I believe it is worth a try. ^_^

We eat meatballs with cooked or mashed potatoes (this time the potatoes were from girls´ grandparents´place, special!) , gravy, homemade lingonberry jam, salad and sometimes cucumber pickles (when I remember I have them in the storage…). The ultimate Finnish confort food!

By the way.. they are a terrific freezer stash.. I can use in soups, sauces and for my bentos.. my girls enjoy  them a lot, like most of the kids in Finland.

Finnish Meatballs – Lihapullat

Makes 4 – 6 portions

  • 500 g ground beef (or you can use half beef and half ground pork)
  • 1 dl (about half cup) dry breadcrumbs. It is called “korppujauho” here and it differs from normal breadcrumbs (and Japanese “panko”) once it absorbs a lot of liquid when soaked (and looks like semolina flour when dry). Substitute by normal breadcrumbs or soak 2-3 slices of old dry bread.
  • 200 g “kermaviili” (I used this). Update: if your substitution is too liquid, milk or stock, I suggest to half the amount
  • 1 egg
  • 1-2  chopped onions
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp allspice (“maustepippuri”, it´s what a Finnish meatball must have, according to hubs)
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika

Heat the oven to 225 °C

In a large bowl soak the breadcrumbs in the kermaviili (or in the liquid of your choice), leave for about 10 minutes. The result must be moist, somehow hard, not “runny”. Adjust the amount, if using a substitution, according to the softness of the mixture.

Fry the onions in a skillet (use butter or oil) until soft, set aside to cool.

Add the egg, mince, onions and seasonings to the breadcrumb mix.

Knead the mixture thoroughly until well combined and firm. Shape into walnut sized balls with slightly oiled or moist hands (keep a bowl with water nearby) and place them on a greased shallow baking tray or over parchment paper. Do not crowd .

Bake for about 15 minutes until golden. You can turn them to cook evenly but I usually  don´t . They  get a crispy bottom ^_^ .

While the meatballs are baking, you can make the gravy.

Gravy – Ruskea kastikke (“brown sauce”)

  • 1 -2 tbsp butter
  • 2-3 tbsp flour
  • about 1/2 l beef stock
  • salt and pepper to taste

Boil the stock and keep it warm. Melt the butter in a large skillet and add the flour, mixing until the “paste” turns golden brown and starts to release a nutty aroma.

Start pouring the hot stock using a whisk to constantly mix it in (oh yes, beware of the steam! It can be scary at this point). Stir well, whisking until no lumps remain. If you feel uncomfortable to continue with the skillet, transfer the sauce to a deep pan and continue cooking and stirring until the sauce thickens.

Season a little with salt and pepper.

Serve with potatoes, meatballs and lingonberry jam.

Lihapulla - Finnish meatballs

My notes about the recipe:

If you don´t like the oven method, you can fry the meatballs in a large skillet. Make batches and keep the ready ones warm until you are ready to serve.

It is possible to make patties with the same mixture. Adjust the cooking time according to the size of your patty.

You can freeze the meatballs, raw or already baked. They are both good but I prefer freezing them ready. They keep well for about 3 months in the freezer. To use, I simply add the ready ones straight to soups, sauces and “warm” them up. For bentos, I defrost and gently reheat using a frying pan.

Some people would mix the ready meatballs to the sauce before serving but I prefer offering them separately. Others would add cream to the gravy.

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13 Responses to “Finnish meatballs – Lihapullat”

  1. Lia Chen Says:

    The meatballs looks absolutely yum! And very interesting recipe too *my tummy is rumbling*

  2. sheri Says:

    Thank you for the detailed instructions! Interested in seeing how the dairy adds to the flavor an consistency; sounds delish! I love meatballs too, for their convenience and bento-ability. Things that are easy for a 3yo to manage are always good.

  3. karaimame Says:

    Thank you Lia! Hope not so “exotic” recipe to scare people away! ^_^

  4. karaimame Says:

    I found it strange to add that much dairy in the recipe. But then.. I got used… it makes the meatballs very soft but still very tasty. And I agree with you, things that are easy for a 3yo to manage is VERY good! ^_^
    Thanks for your lovely comment and support!

  5. phua Says:

    I just came back from Finland, where my friend made these for me! I just had to find the recipe! Except for not frying the onions, everything is almost the same! Thanks for this recipe, I can now recreate this lovely meal.

  6. karaimame Says:

    Hi phua! Frying the onions is not a rule of thumb and you can add the raw onions straight. I usually fry them first to get a smoother taste but it is totally optional :)
    Hope you can make the meatballs soon ^_^
    Thank you for your lovely comment!


  7. […] What is it? Meat balls, traditionally served with kermaviili (a meat stock and cream sauce). Find a recipe here […]


  8. […] What is it? Meat balls, traditionally served with kermaviili (a meat stock and cream sauce). Find a recipe here […]


  9. […] I had some lingonberry sauce from…Ikea! Now, the recipe from Acquiring Taste called for a Finnish dairy product called “kermaviili”, which I had to recreate using […]

  10. Monica A Says:

    Ooohh these are gorgeous, believe me!
    When you’re frying the meatballs in a pan, you get the best result when you fry them on a medium high heat to a gorgeous dark golden brown color, remove them from the pan, make the gravy in the same pan (make use of the flavor left in the pan by the meat) and then return the meatballs in the pan with the gravy. Let simmer on a low heat 10-15 mins until the meatballs are cooked through, then enjoy.

    You can also substitute the kermaviili/low-fatsour cream and breadcrombs with boiled, mashed potato (or, if you have leftover mash, use that) and double cream. Makes it gluten-free and all the more delicious! For 500 grams of mince I’d use about 2 large or 3 medium sized potatoes and enough cream to give the mashed potatoes a firm-but-soft consistency when mixed together.

    Using the two methods together – pan frying and cream&potato – you get really soft and juicy meatballs!

  11. Julie Says:

    Confused, do you add beef when you soak the bread? (trying to figure out this consistency thing) or after the bread has soaked up liquid when other ingredients are added? Recipe does not state when to add meat.

  12. karaimame Says:

    Hi Monica, thanks for your comment! The potato mash addition is one of the variants of the traditional meatball recipe, so glad to hear you enjoy it and I hope others can also use your recipe to achieve juicy lihapulla :)!

  13. karaimame Says:

    Hi Julie! Sorry if you got confused with my recipe. I add the meat after the bread/crumbs/liquid mixture stands soaking for about 15 minutes. Then I add the meat, egg and spices. I hope this clarifies.
    Thank you for leaving the comment!


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