Sephardi-Style Stuffed Meatballs with Celery Root and Carrots

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In both Sephardi and Italian-Jewish cooking, there is a wealth of recipes for ground meat or poultry cooked with vegetables. Most familiar, of course, are meat-stuffed vegetables, baked or braised; meat is also mounded between sliced vegetables, then breaded and fried; or it is prepared as in this recipe, combined with chopped vegetables, formed into meatballs, fried, and then braised.

I’ve cooked these meatballs over braised celery root and carrots, a favorite Sephardi combination. If you can’t find celery root—or if the knotted bulbs appear too daunting—substitute fennel or celery, perhaps intensifying their flavors with a generous pinch of crushed fennel or celery seeds.

And instead of the green olives or roasted red peppers I’ve combined with the meat here, you can experiment with other cooked vegetables as well, like chopped spinach, fried eggplant, or braised fennel. Adding vegetables to the meatballs both flavors and lightens them, making this method a particularly good choice when you are using ground chicken or turkey.

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  • 1 thick (about 1-inch) slice challah or good-quality white bread or semolina, crust removed
  • cups chicken broth, preferably homemade, or use good-quality, low-sodium canned
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic, plus 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 5 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 pound ground chicken, turkey, or beef
  • 1 cup pitted green olives, chopped (use good-quality brine- or oil-cured), or ½ cup minced roasted red pepper (see Cook’s Note, for method)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • pounds celery root (also called celeriac)
  • 1 pound carrots
  • Olive oil, for frying
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest


  1. Tear the bread into 2-inch pieces and put it into a small saucepan. Add ½ cup broth and cook over medium heat until the bread has absorbed all the liquid. Transfer the mixture to a food processor, together with the chopped garlic, 2 tablespoons parsley, and the egg and process until well combined. Put the meat in a large bowl and add the pureed bread mixture, the olives or red peppers, and salt and pepper to taste. Knead with your hands until all the ingredients are thoroughly amalgamated. If you have time, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors blend.
  2. Prepare the vegetables. Peel and trim the celery root and cut it into large cubes—you’ll have 3½–4 cups. (To facilitate the peeling, cut it into largish pieces first, then trim and peel.) Cut the carrots into pieces roughly the same size as the celery root—you’ll have about 2 cups.
  3. Wetting your hands as needed, form the meat into walnut-sized balls. Heat about ¼ inch oil in a large, heavy, deep-sided sauté pan until hot but not smoking. Add the meatballs and sauté in batches until lightly browned on all sides but not cooked through. (This is the one-pot method. If time is a problem or you don’t have a deep-sided sauté pan, fry the meatballs in a regular skillet and braise the vegetables at the same time in a Dutch oven or heavy casserole.) Transfer the meatballs to a platter as they are done.
  4. Wipe out the skillet, add 3 tablespoons oil, and heat until hot. Add the celery root and carrots and sauté over medium-high heat, in batches if necessary, until the vegetables turn golden brown at the edges. Keep lifting and turning with a spatula so the vegetables color on all sides. If you worked in batches, return all vegetables to the skillet. Add the lemon juice, remaining 2 cups broth and 2 teaspoons minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well, then simmer over low heat, covered, for about 10 minutes. The vegetables should be almost tender at this point.
  5. Add the meatballs to the pan, and spoon the pan liquid and vegetables over them. Cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender and the meatballs are cooked through. Adjust the salt and pepper and stir in the lemon zest and the remaining 3 tablespoons parsley.
  6. Transfer the meat and vegetables to a serving platter and ladle some of the pan juices over them. Pass the remaining pan sauce separately. (If you want a more concentrated pan sauce, reduce it for a few minutes over high heat after you have removed the meatballs and vegetables.)