Monday, August 27, 2007

Mediterranean Meatballs: Köfte or Keftedes with two Sauces

It's been a hot summer in Atlanta. Work has been busy, plus the Athens family restaurant business has occupied me on the weekends. I've been deficient on getting recipes onto the blog. So here's one from my cooking class at Evening at Emory. It's seasonal for summer, and can be served on a cool-temperatured buffet or picnic. But it also makes an excellent hot dish for dinner, accompanied by a rice pilaf (see my earlier 1/5/07 blog posting from the archives).

All sorts of tasty meatballs are concocted in the Mediterranean and Middle East. The beautiful but easily made treats in this recipe are the small savory appetizer meatballs of lamb or beef that are known as köfte in Turkish and keftedes in Greek. Lamb, if you can get reasonably lean ground lamb, is the most luscious, but good ground beef, chuck or sirloin, works quite well too. The meat balls are served with sesame (tahini) and lemon sauce, or with a yogurt-cucumber-dill sauce (çaçik in Turkish, tzadziki in Greek). They can even be served with a sort of marinara sauce (see my earlier 8/7/06 blog posting in the archives) but with some cinnamon added toward the end of cooking. For serving, the meat balls are piled up on a platter and sloshed down with the sauce. They are then colorfully garnished, if desired, with pomegranate seeds and cilantro or parsley leaves, and sprinkled with the herb sumac, if available. The recipe serves six as an appetizer, four as part of a main course.

Eastern Mediterranean Meatballs Tim

1 pound fairly lean ground lamb, beef, or a mixture
1 small onion, minced
1 small (e.g., roma) tomato, quartered, seeds and juice removed, and flesh chopped finely
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 recipe of sesame-lemon sauce or yogurt-cucumber-dill sauce (see recipes, below)
1 pomegranate, if available
Coarsely chopped cilantro (coriander) leaf or parsley

Set oven for 400 degrees (380 if convection). Oil a cookie sheet (with sides).

Combine the meat, onion, tomato, egg, seasonings, cilantro or parsley, and lemon juice. Knead the mixture well. With hands moistened with water, roll the mixture into balls either 1 inch or 1-1/4 inch in diameter. Place them on the oiled cookie sheet with space between them. (If desired, they can be refrigerated at this point.) Roast them in the preheated oven (top rack) for 16 minutes, stirring them after the first 10 minutes, and remove them from the oven.

While the meatballs are baking, make the sesame-lemon sauce, or the yogurt-cucumber-dill sauce, and cut open the pomegranate and collect and separate about 2 tablespoons of the seeds into a bowl. Coarsely chop the cilantro or parsley.

When the meatballs are cooked, run a spatula under them so they don’t stick to the pan. Lift them from the baking sheet with tongs and arrange them on a platter. Spoon the tahini-lemon sauce or the yogurt-cucumber-dill sauce over the meatballs, sprinkle them with the pomegranate seeds, and dust with chopped cilantro or parsley.

Tahini-Lemon Sauce

3 tablespoons tahini (ground sesame seed paste)
4 tablespoons lemon juice
Water sufficient to make a creamy mixture
Salt to taste

Whisk together well, adding water bit by bit. The tahini will harden up for a while, but then soften into a creamy texture as more water is whisked in. Add salt to taste.

Yogurt-cucumber-dill sauce

Peel and seed a medium-sized cucumber, and grate the flesh on the coarse side of a grater. Squeeze out the juice. Add the cucumber to 1 cup whole milk or part skim yogurt, along with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a small clove of garlic put through a press or finely minced. Add 1 tablespoon of freshly snipped or cut dill. Combine the mixture well. Let sit a few minutes, then taste and adjust the salt.

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