Porcupine Balls

My wife has gone to LA to make a presentation at a conference so I’m feeling a little lonely and vulnerable this weekend and my thoughts have turned to one of the staples of the cuisine of my childhood: porcupine balls. We had these frequently when I was a kid growing up. Did everyone?

No actual porcupines have been injured in the making of this dish.

Porcupine Balls

Serves 6

1 lb. ground beef
½ cup bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
¾ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. paprika (use only Hungarian paprika!)
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tbsp. finely chopped green peppers (optional)
¼ cup uncooked rice
2 cups tomato sauce

  1. Mix the ground beef, bread crumbs, egg, salt, paprika, pepper, onion, and optional green pepper.
  2. Roll the mixture lightly into balls.
  3. Roll the balls in uncooked rice.
  4. Bring the tomato sauce up to the simmer in a large pot.
  5. Add the porcupine balls.
  6. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes.

This recipe is derived from one in Joy of Cooking, natch. Interestingly I’ve found recipes in a half dozen different cuisines that closely resemble it. It must be a universal.

Does anyone else have favorite childhood recipes? I once heard a Chinese poet quoted as having said “Patriotism consists in large part of the good things to eat one had as a child”.

8 comments… add one
  • OMG, Dave. I loved these as a kid! My mother (a wonderful Hungarian cook–you’re righto about the Paprika) used to do this, adding some ground pork for “flavor,” e.g. fat. And always, the tomato sauce was home-canned from the garden bounty. They were one of my favorite comfort foods.

    I’m going to have to make these now. You’ve solved my recipe quandry this weekend.

    With some variations, (substitute pork and veal for the beef and boil some cabbage whole and eliminate the bread crumbs and peppers) this can become a very good stuffed cabbage recipe. Most people use cooked rice, but my mother always used raw. The result was more concentrated flavor and better texture.

  • Can’t remember any huge favourites, we were very much a meat and 3 veg kinda family.

    Never heard of Porcupine balls before!

  • Welcome back, Amanda. I’ve been checking your blog religiously to see how you were doing and saw when you re-emerged. How’s the new job going?

  • New job pretty much sucks, am looking around to find something else now. Big step, seeing as it means leaving a company I’ve been with since October 01.
    Being down about it was probably the major reason I haven’t been blogging for a while, but I’m back again now!

  • Joanie Jones Link

    Dave, thank you for your recipe. My Mom used to make these when I was growing up and I couldnt remember how to make them. Im so happy I found your recipe, going to have them for dinner tonight.

  • Melsie Link

    I too loved these as a kid. My husband can’t have tomato products. Do you have a recipe or suggestion that doesn’t use it?

  • Melsie, does your husband have allergies to other members of the nightshade family (same family as tomatoes?) e.g. peppers, potatoes, eggplant, etc.? If not, I think that a very credible alternative could be made with red bell peppers. It wouldn’t be the same, of course but it might be good.

    To make the sauce I’d probably use 1 medium onion chopped, five large red bell peppers (or more) cleaned, seeded, and chopped, and probably add a cup or so of white wine to make it a little soupier. You might need to adjust the seasoning a bit with a little white wine vinegar. Saute the onion and pepper in a little olive oil, puree the whole shebang in a blender or food processor, and adjust the seasoning. If you try this please tell me how it comes out (I’m just hip-shooting here).

  • Skye Link

    My mom made these with cream of mushroom soup instead of tomato sauce, still haven’t found a recipe that makes them this way. Hope this helps with the tomato problem.

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