Romanian meatballs, also known as chiftele or parjoale: juicy, garlicky, full of herbs and flavor. Grandma-style pork and beef meatballs, one of the most popular Romanian recipes.
Meatballs are popular all around the world, I can imagine that there is hardly any country that doesn't have a traditional recipe. These are the Romanian meatballs, the way my grandmother used to make them, the best chiftele ever! Of course, that is something every Romanian would say about their grandma/mother's meatballs... But these are really amazing, trust me on that!
The recipe she used was originally a Moldovan parjoale (roughly translated as “burnt on embers”) recipe. My grandfather was born in the Romanian part of Moldova, so many of the dishes my grandmother cooked were typical for that region. Have a look at these Cabbage Pies, Branzoaice or Sweet Cheese Pies or Chicken in Cream Sauce.
What sets chiftele apart from other meatballs?
- First of all, the shape. Traditional Romanian meatballs are not cute and round like the ones we see most of the time. They are rather large and flat. My grandma used to say that it is important to flatten them so that they cook quicker and more evenly.
- You can use a mixture of beef and pork, or only pork. Pure beef meatballs are not typical for Romanian cooking.
- They are often made with grated potatoes instead of white bread. If you would like to replace the bread in this recipe, grate about 2 small potatoes on the fine grater and add them to the mixture.
- The potato was used not only to add moisture to the meat mixture but also as a way of stretching the meat during the difficult communist times.
- And I cannot remember ever hearing of anybody using breadcrumbs for the mixture, it was always white bread or potatoes.
- The onions are not pre-cooked like you see in many other recipes. That is why it is important to chop them very finely before adding them to the chiftele mixture. The best way to do that is to grate them on the fine grater as well.
- And the garlic - more than I use for any other meatball recipe.
- Another important ingredient is fresh dill or dried savory, either the one or the other, never combined.
- Dried savory is typical for the Romanian cuisine but rather difficult to find outside Romania unless you have access to ethnic stores. It can be replaced with thyme, it is somewhat similar although not the same. But the meatballs will still be delicious!
- I used dill for today's recipe, always fresh, never dried.
- The patties have to be turned into flour before frying, that is also something that I rarely do with other kinds of meatballs. The flour makes them slightly crusty.
How to make Romanian meatballs?
- Soak the crustless, torn white bread in water.
- Grate the onion and the garlic on the fine grater.
- Mix all the ingredients (except the flour and the oil) in a large bowl. Mix very well and make sure to season the mixture properly. Salt is important, to make sure you have enough, you can fry a small amount of meat, taste it, and add more accordingly.
- Form them, they should be rather large, slightly elongated, and flat.
- Turn into the flour. Pat them carefully to remove the excess flour.
- Use a cast-iron skillet, another thick-bottomed pan, or a nonstick pan to fry them.
- Fry until deeply browned on both sides, about 3-4 minutes on the first side and 2-3 minutes on the second.
- Check if they are cooked through by cutting one in the middle.
- Place on kitchen towels to absorb the excess fat and keep warm while you fry the next batches.
Can you bake them?
- Of course, my grandma would have never done it, but baked chiftele are great as well.
- This way you will use less oil, work less, and the house will not smell of fried foods.
- Place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper spray them lightly with cooking oil.
- Bake in the preheated oven at 200 degrees Celsius/ 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 25-35 minutes, turning and lightly spraying with oil at half time.
- Check if they are cooked through by cutting one in the middle.
How to serve?
What to do with leftovers?
Whenever I make these Romanian meatballs, which is quite often in our house, I tend to make too many of them. Why? Well, first of all, because we all like them so much, and secondly because I love to eat any kind of meatballs cold.
My grandmother used to make some extra every time not only so that we could eat them on bread the next day, but also to make Chiftelute marinate, which are meatballs in tomato sauce.
They keep well in the fridge for 3-4 days in an airtight container.
You can also freeze them for up to 3 months. Freeze them on a baking tray at first, so that they don't stick to each other. Once frozen, place in freezer bags or airtight containers. Let thaw in the fridge and reheat in the oven.
More meatballs? I have so many!
Mushroom Stuffed Meatballs - also Polish
Romanian Meatballs - Chiftele Recipe
- 2.2 lbs mixed ground meat 1 kg, mixed pork and beef (Note)
- 5.5 oz white bread 150 g
- 1 medium onion
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 4 large garlic cloves
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 4 eggs
- 2 tablespoons chopped dill
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3-4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3-4 tablespoons vegetable oil for frying
- Soak bread: Tear the white bread into smaller chunks and let them soak in water until needed. Grate the onion and the garlic on the fine grater.
- Combine: Place the ground meat into a large bowl. Squeeze the soaked bread very well and add it to the meat. Add onion, garlic, milk, lightly beaten eggs, chopped dill, and parsley. Add the salt and pepper and mix very well with your hand. If you want to make sure that there is enough salt in the mixture, fry a very small meatball and taste it. Adjust the taste again accordingly.
- Form the meatballs. They should be rather large, slightly elongated, and flat.
- Coat with flour: Place the flour onto a large plate and turn the meatballs into the flour. Pat them carefully to remove the excess flour.
- Fry meatballs: Heat about 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large cast-iron skillet or a non-stick pan, turn the heat to medium-low and fry the meatballs in batches, turning once, to brown on both sides. Add more oil between the batches, if necessary.
- The cooking time depends on the size of the meatballs. They should be deeply browned and cooked through. I cooked mine about 3-4 minutes on the first side and a bit less on the second side. Check one meatball and adjust the cooking time accordingly. The fact that they are flat means they will cook a bit quicker than round meatballs of the same size.
- Serve: Place the fried meatballs on kitchen paper to absorb the excess fat and keep warm. Serve as suggested above.