Romanian Meatballs With Sauce Recipe – Chiftele Marinate, A Delicious Classic!

A white plate with a dollop of mashed potatoes on it, and the meatballs in the red sauce next to it.

Let’s talk about meatballs! I love them, and as you have made it to this page I bet you love them too. There are so many different meatball recipes out there. Even in Romania, there are lots of meatball recipes. I alone know four different ways to cook meatballs, as well as everyone else who have their own recipes, add-ons and preferred seasoning. You can bake them,  fry them, slow cooker them and these days, even air-fry them! Serve them as a snack, on their own, in a soup, or with sauce, even with pasta. Lets face it, meatballs are so wonderfully versatile. 

So today, I give you my Romanian meatballs with sauce recipe!

In Romanian, meatballs are called “chiftele”. When we make them for the meatballs soup, we call them “perisoare” – even though they are practically the same thing.

The Ingredients Needed for This Romanian Meatballs With Sauce Recipe

A white bowl with the minced meat mixed with the onion and egg, and the spices put on top, ready to be mixed in as well.

I have always liked the fact that this recipe for Romanian meatballs with sauce doesn’t require many ingredients. Besides the minced meat, you will probably have all the other ingredients around your pantry as well: herbs and spices, eggs, onions, garlic, and one pepper.

For this recipe I used chicken minced meat, but you can use turkey, pork, beef, or a mixture. I like pork best, but the friend I was cooking with is a fan of chicken, so we used that.  

It’s actually interesting that the Romanian name of this recipe is “Chiftele Marinate” – Marinated Meatballs. This is not because the meat is marinated, but because the name of the sauce is a variation of the Italian Marinara sauce.

How to Make Romanian Meatballs With Sauce

The meatballs inside a black pan with a little oil on the bottom. They are still raw.

The first step in making the Romanian meatballs with sauce recipe is preparing the meat. Mix the meat with the spices and herbs, and then add the beaten egg. The egg is the binding element, and will prevent the meatballs from breaking when you fry them. I used sweet paprika, thyme, dill, salt and pepper in the mixture.

Heat up some oil in a non-stick pan, and wait until it reaches the frying temperature. Add the meatballs carefully in the pan, with a pair of tongs, as the oil will splash. Cover the pan with a lid, to avoid oil splashing everything. Turn the meatballs around a couple of times, to make sure they have fried on all sides.

The ready meatballs inside a glass bowl.

It’s important not to overcrowd the pan, this will avoid watering down the oil.

Once the meatballs have cooked, take them out of the pan and let them rest until you make the tomato sauce. Start with frying the chopped onion for a couple of minutes, and then add the bell pepper. I chopped the onion and pepper in chunky pieces, because I wanted my sauce to have a bit of a texture and not be too smooth. If you want a smooth sauce, you can always blend it once it’s ready.

A close-up of the pan with onions, peppers, and the spices mixed together, simmering.

After a few minutes, add the minced garlic, the herbs and spices, season with salt and pepper, and top in the can of chopped tomatoes. For a better taste, try buying a can of Italian San Marzano tomatoes. Let the sauce simmer for 10 minutes or so, and then add the meatballs back in.

This dish is best served with mashed potatoes. You can also decorate the finished dish, before serving, with chopped parsley or even basil for a more refreshing taste.

The Romanian meatballs with sauce is a great recipe for summer evenings, when it’s hot and you don’t want to spend too long making food in the kitchen.

Recipe Notes and Tips:

A close-up of the meatballs on the plate, covered with the red sauce, next to the mashed potatoes.
  • You can use any type of minced meat you like. I prefer meatballs made with a mixture of pork and beef. However, this recipe was made at a friend of mine’s house, so we used chicken as she likes lighter meats.
  • When it comes to seasoning the Romanian meatballs with sauce, go for what herbs and spices you enjoy most. I like to add sweet paprika for flavour but also thyme and dill for freshness.
  • For another layer of flavour, you can replace the sweet paprika in the tomato sauce with smoked paprika.
  • You can use yellow onions as well to make Romanian meatballs with sauce. I like the red onions for this recipe because they are sharper and have a more intense taste.
A white plate with a dollop of mashed potatoes on it, and the meatballs in the red sauce next to it.

Romanian Meatballs With Sauce Recipe

This Romanian meatballs with sauce recipe is a simple but delicious recipe that you can make when you want a quick and flavoursome dinner.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Romanian
Servings 4 people


For the meatballs:

  • 500 gr minced meat chicken, pork, beef, or mixed
  • 1 red onion finely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp dill
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • vegetable oil for frying

For the sauce:

  • 1 red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 red peppers
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 400 ml can of tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • Beat the eggs well as if you were making an omelette.
  • Mix the minced meat with the onion, herbs, and fold in the beaten eggs.
  • Take a small quantity of the mixture and form medium-small balls using your hands. Wet your hands so that the meat doesn’t stick to your hands.
  • Cover the bottom of a pan with oil and fry the meatballs.
  • Avoid overcrowding the pan (you can fry in batches)
  • Once you have fried all the meatballs, set aside.
  • In a fresh pan, fry a red onion for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the red pepper, which you have diced previously.
  • For a better texture of the sauce, don’t cut the onions or the pepper too small.
  • Let them fry for another 3-4 minutes, then add the seasonings, the minced garlic, and the can of chopped tomatoes.
  • Let the sauce simmer for 10-15 minutes, until it’s cooked but the vegetables are still holding their shape.
  • Add the meatballs to the sauce and mix gently, so you don’t break them.
  • Serve the Romanian meatballs with sauce alongside mash potatoes.


How to store the Romanian meatballs with sauce?

Do not leave the cooked meatballs for more than 2 hours at room temperature. You can store the Romanian meatballs with sauce in an airtight container with a lid, for a maximum of 4 days, in the fridge.  

How to reheat the Romanian chiftele?

If you are using chicken or pork to make the Romanian chiftele with sauce you need to reheat them properly. The easiest way is to transfer the dish into a pan and reheat on the hob, on a low heat, for 20-30 minutes. Make sure that the sauce is simmering and not boiling. To make sure they are done, stick a meat thermometer in them – the temperature should be 73 degrees Celsius or over.

Fore more traditional Romanian dishes, check out my recommendations below:

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