Thursday, 17 March 2011

Lamb, mint and pinenut meatballs

Middle Eastern type meals are the ones I really love. All their spices and flavours, long stews, fresh salads, tangy yoghurt, toasted flat breads, saffron, almonds, pomegranate salads, dried fruit and meat combinations, grilled fish, mint teas, honey soaked pastry... The list goes on...



We took a trip to Istanbul last Autumn and just ate and drank and tasted and smelt interesting and lovely things the entire time. Highlights were grilled mackerel fillets in a piece of fresh bread from a man fishing and grilling by the river, sitting on the harbour on the Asian side eating sticky baklava watching huge cruise ships, hot sweet milk flavoured with orchid root after a complicated ferry trip up the Bosphorus, amazing sesame flat-breads, grilled lamb, smoky aubergines and dips in a very smart kebab house of sorts, grilled chicken and yoghurt drinks on plastic stools in the Spice Market... I loved every second of it and the list of places to visit in that part of the world is steadily growing... Damascus, Syria, the Bekaa Valley...



This recipe brings a few of those flavours and spices together. Starting with the spicy tomato sauce so it can simmer away while you do everything else. Chop half an onion finely and a clove of garlic, then cook them in a tablespoon of olive oil on a low heat until they are soft, about 10 minutes. Then add a tin of tomatoes, a pinch of chilli flakes and some salt and pepper and allow it to simmer gently until you need it. Keep stirring it now and again to make sure it doesn’t stick.



Chop the other half of the onion finely, along with a few sprigs of mint and another clove of garlic. Add this to 500g of lamb mince. This makes enough for 2 to 3 people. Add half a teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of allspice and another pinch of salt and pepper, and mix everything up thoroughly. Roll the mince into little balls about the size of a ping pong ball and roll them around on a plate you have covered in olive oil.

Add all the meatballs to a roasting tray and put them in the oven at 180°C for about 15 minutes. Give them a shake half way through. They should just be browned a little but not too much, you don't want them to dry out.

While the meatballs are cooking measure out 200g of couscous, put it in a pan that can go in the oven and add the same volume of boiling salted water, so 200ml. A teaspoon of salt will be sufficient. Leave it to rest with the lid on, to absorb the water for 10 minutes.


When the meatballs are at the correct stage of brown add the tomato sauce and mix them all together, put them back in the oven for another 15 minutes. At the same time you can take a fork to your couscous and break it all up, it will have become solid as it has absorbed all the water, you need it to be loose in little grains and full of air. Add a large glug of olive oil and mix it through. Put the pan in the oven with the lid on and leave it in for the same amount of time as the meatballs.

I made a sweet cumin yoghurt to go with the meatballs, which is really delicious. It came from The Salad Club originally, but I can't find it on their website, and I kind of make it up a bit differently each time now until it tastes right. Add 4 tablespoons of yoghurt to a small bowl, to this add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a heaped teaspoon of ground cumin and a heaped teaspoon of caster sugar. Then whisk this all together. Add a pinch of salt and pepper too.


It is really good on a BBQ-ed lamb kofta, or a lamb skewer, with some spicy tomato sauce, smoky charred aubergines, pitta bread and chopped salad. I'm longing for summer BBQ's on my little bucket BBQ in the yarden...

Take the meatballs and the couscous out after about 15 minutes. Chop a couple of knobs of butter into the couscous and allow it to melt through. It will be soft and steamy underneath and crunchy around the edges, mix it all up evenly.


 
Serve a big mound of steamy couscous topped with meatballs and tomato sauce, some fresh chopped mint scattered about and a big spoon of sweet cumin yoghurt. Buttery couscous, spicy tomato sauce, rich minty lamb and sweet spiced yoghurt...
 



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