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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Learning to Read

This recipe falls into the category of "What the Hell Was I Thinking?"

When, oh when, will I learn that before I get myself all excited about a recipe, it pays to take the time to actually read the recipe from start to finish?  That's how you find out (1) how complicated it is, and (2) how many thousands of ingredients it calls for.

You would think, with all the thousands of meals I've cooked, that I would know this by now.

But alas, I did not read this recipe thoroughly, nor did I review the ingredient list.  I skimmed it, just enough to determine that I needed to pick up cilantro, scallions, and some Israeli couscous when I went to the grocery store.  I figured that with my well stocked spice drawer, I would have everything else I needed.

This was, in fact, true.  I did have all the spices -- all 10 of them -- including the saffron.  Who the hell has saffron just languishing in the spice drawer.  Me.

So I got started on my North African Meatballs.  First I made the saffron sauce, which was pretty easy and only required a little dicing and measuring.  Then I moved on to the meatballs, which required more dicing, some soaking, and a lot more measuring.  Then I rolled the little meatballs.  Then I dusted them with flour.  Then I fried then in olive oil.  Then I simmered the meatballs in the saffron sauce.  And only then did I made the Israeli couscous to serve along side which, btw, required no dicing, just soaking.

Time to Saute...




and finally...


Need I say more?

But here's the good news.  These North African Meatballs were to die for.  Yes, you heard me right.  These North African Meatballs were worth all the dicing, measuring, rolling, frying, and simmering.

I just wish I'd known what I was in for before I started.

I really must learn to read the instructions.

Recipe:  North African Meatballs (Boulettes)
(New York TimesTry Curling Up With a Good Meatball, David Tanis, September 19, 2012)

Prep Time: 1 hour 15 minutes (or more... if you're slow)

For the Tomato Saffron Sauce:


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 and 1/2 cups finely diced onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 inch piece cinnamon stick
Large pinch saffron, crumbled
Salt and pepper
3 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water

For the Meatballs


1 and 1/2 cups cubed day-old firm white bread
1 cup milk
1 pound ground beef or lamb
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons finely chopped scallion
All-purpose flour, for dusting
Olive oil or vegetable oil

For the Couscous (Optional but worth the effort)


1 cup giant couscous, m’hamsa, or medium couscous
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water to soften, then drained
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon.


Make the sauce: Heat oil over medium-high heat in a wide, heavy bottomed saucepan. Add onion and cook without browning until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, cinnamon and saffron, and stir well to incorporate. Season generously with salt and pepper, and allow to sizzle for 1 minute more. Add broth and simmer gently for 5 minutes. May be made several hours in advance, up to a day.

Make the meatballs: Put bread cubes and milk in a small bowl. Leave bread to soak until softened, about 5 minutes, then squeeze dry.

In a mixing bowl, put squeezed-out bread, ground meat and egg. Add salt, pepper, garlic, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, paprika, cayenne, cloves, coriander and cumin. Mix well with hands to distribute seasoning. Add 2 tablespoons each of parsley, cilantro and scallion, and knead for a minute. May be prepared several hours in advance, up to a day.

With hands, roll mixture into small round balls about the size of a quarter. Dust balls lightly with flour. Heat a few tablespoons of oil, or a quarter-inch depth, over medium-high heat and fry meatballs until barely browned, about 2 minutes per side. Drain and blot on paper towel. Simmer meatballs in saffron-tomato sauce, covered, over medium heat for about 20 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, make the couscous, if desired: Cook according to package directions, fluff gently and stir in butter and raisins. Season with salt and cinnamon, and toss well.

Garnish meatballs with remaining parsley, cilantro and scallion. Serve with couscous and roasted tomatoes if desired.

Serves 6.  Makes about 36 meatballs, depending on the size.

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