Tefteli – Slavic Meatballs Simmered in Tomato Sauce

Almost every culture has its version of meatballs. In Ukraine, Russia, and many other Slavic countries, we call them tefteli. Tefteli (tefteli – plural, teftel’ – singular) are made with a mixture of ground meat, onion, and rice and simmered in tomato or sour cream sauce. They are great with creamy mashed potato, kasha (cooked grains), or mamalyga (Slavic polenta). I always find myself craving tefteli when the weather is getting colder, and my body needs something comforting to warm up.

The ingredients for these Slavic meatballs are very straight forward, just some good-quality ground beef and pork, finely chopped onion, parboiled white rice (any type will do, really), and a pinch of salt and pepper. For the sauce, I usually use a large yellow onion, a 16 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes, and a bit of heavy cream and sugar to tone down the acidity. Despite its modest appearance, this dish is full of flavor and an excellent option for a casual weeknight dinner. Among other pluses, it’s easy to scale, you can cook it in one pan, and it’s also freezer friendly.

Tefteli Slavic Meatballs

I always use one trick to make my tefteli extra flavorful – I sear on them on all sides before adding to the sauce. This way, the taste will get more complex and intense. I sear the tefteli in a deep pan, and when they are golden-brown outside, I transfer them to a platter and saute the onion in the same pan. Finely chopped onion has a lot of juice, which helps to deglaze the pan and to keep all those delicious bits of caramelized meat in the sauce. I hope you’re already drooling over the photos, and without further ado, here is my tefteli recipe.

Oh, one more thing before I forgot, here is a couple more comforting dishes you might like: Shkmeruli – Georgian Chicken Cooked in Milk and Garlic and Georgian Satsivi. Enjoy!

Tefteli Slavic Meatballs

Tefteli – Slavic Meatballs Simmered in Tomato Sauce

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes


For the meatballs:

  • 10 ounces ground beef
  • 10 ounces ground pork
  • 3/4 cup parboiled white rice
  • 1 medium yellow onion minced
  • 2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • oil for frying

For the sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion finely chopped
  • 24 ounces crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • a handful of fresh basil leaves
  • salt to taste
  • sugar to taste
  • black pepper to taste


  • n a large bowl, mix all the ingredients for the tefteli. Roll the mixture into golf-ball-size meatballs.
  • Add the oil to a deep, heavy-bottomed pan and heat over medium-high heat. You should use enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan entirely. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, add the tefteli and sear them on all sides until golden brown. To ensure even browning, don’t overcrowd the pan and fry the tefteli in batches. Once all tefteli are done, transfer them to a platter.
  • To the same pan, add one tablespoon of oil and the chopped onion. Saute the onion over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, until translucent, scraping all the delicious meat pieces that stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  • Then, add the tomatoes and bring everything to a gentle simmering. Pour in the heavy cream and add the basil leaves. Season the sauce with salt, sugar, and pepper.
  • Add the tefteli to the pan, cover with the lid, and let them slowly simmer for 20 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste and remove from the heat.

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