Saturday, April 30, 2011

North African Meatballs

Supermarkets have come a long way from the time I began cooking in my early twenties. We can now buy everything from Chinese Five Spice Mix to Mexican chiles- fresh, dried and in Adobo sauce. We have purple potatoes, tomatillos and an International aisle that tempts us with Spanish condiments and exotic Thai spices. But lately I've been having a problem getting herbs and green leafy vegetables that look alive (edible) and entice me to buy them. Remember when I had the lemongrass meltdown and discovered Gourmet Garden Lemongrass Herb Blend? That was a life saver. Well I'm going through the same nonsence buying cilantro. For the third time in so many weeks I have yet to find a bunch of cilantro that has a healthy leaf on it and I've been avoiding one of my favorite herbs. So I once again went to the Gourmet Garden section of the produce department and found exactly what I was looking for.

Gourmet Garden Cilantro Herb Blend. This 4 oz squeeze bottle claims to contain 3 bunches of cilantro. That's 3 less trips to the market standing at the herb counter debating whether or not I should purchase inferior produce. I grabbed the tube, and it is everything the Lemongrass Blend is. A life saver.

Today I made North African Meatballs in an exotic tomato broth. I love the flavors and aromas of North Africa and this recipe has them all and is quick and simple. If I hadn't found the bottled cilantro I would have put off cooking this dish, because cilantro is a major flavor ingredient in the meatballs. Aside from the ground meat, these are the simple, easy to find ingredients I used to make the meatballs:


North African Meatballs

1 egg slightly beaten

2 T tomato paste (I use the tube- very cost effective)

3 T chopped cilantro (I used 3 T Gourmet Garden Cilantro Blend)

1 T fresh grated ginger

1 tsp ground cumin

pinch of cinnamon

1-1/2 slices Italian bread, coarsely ground in food processor or spice mill (if you're using store-bought crumbs, 1/2 cup will do)

kosher salt

ground black pepper

1 pound ground chicken (or any ground meat of your choice)


Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients except chicken until incorporated. This is the colorful, aromatic mixture that flavors the meatballs. Doesn't it look yummy?

Add the ground chicken and mix gently with your fingertips until all ingredients are combined. Form 16 meatballs and place on baking sheet prepared with cooking spray. Bake on center rack for 30 minutes.

While meatballs are cooking, prepare the sauce. The prep is easy.


Tomato Sauce

1 T canola oil

1/2 cup red onion chopped

3 cloves garlic (about 1 T) minced

1 lemon zested

1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives chopped

1/2 cup white wine

1/4 cup water

1 14 oz can diced tomatoes

1 tsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

pinch of cinnamon

salt and ground black pepper


In large saucepan heat oil on low. Sweat onion for 5 minutes, covered. Add garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Now add lemon zest and olives. Cook two minutes more. Increase heat a bit and add white wine and deglaze the pan. It should begin to smell like a North African kitchen. Let wine reduce (uncovered) for 2 minutes. Stir in water, diced tomatoes in their juice, sugar, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, and salt and pepper. Return to simmer and add cooked meatballs. Lower heat, cover and cook meatballs in the sauce for 15 minutes.

How would you like to serve this this exotic dish? For an entree I'd be sure to include some rice and a vegetable- sauteed zucchini or yellow squash seems like it would be delish. Or omit the rice and serve couscous combined with cooked zucchini, onions and raisins. My favorite idea so far is to serve the meatballs (in their sauce) on grilled flat bread, slathered with a cucumber, scallion raita. And maybe a green salad with a lemon vinaigrette as a side. And I must admit, they've been pretty tasty as an appetizer with a little sour cream while I wrote this post.

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