Meatballs, Eastern Mediterranean Style

Meatballs, Eastern Mediterranean Style, with tomato sauce

Update: After making these Meatballs, Eastern Mediterranean Style a second time with egg, crumbs and flouring them I’ve gone back to the original as the added ingredients somehow managed to diminish, or obscure the overall flavour of the spices.
This time I’ve roasted them in the oven for about 40 minutes and they turned out beautifully. As they roast any fat permeates the meat keeping it really moist. And, because the fat oozes out these are far healthier to eat. Plus, as I had decided to roast them I didn’t even buy extra lean mince. Only drawback, I might use parchment paper to line my roaster next time to prevent so much necessary cleaning up afterwards. And, glad to say that pan-fried potatoes taste great with this.

Anyway, I’ve got to explain something here as otherwise this post might sound weird. Years ago I worked as a butchers assistant, albeit for only two weeks. And yet, I’ll never forget making huge quantities of sausage meat. You know, the type you slice and pan-fry. The stuff that goes into it put me off from eating any type of sausage (apart from chorizo, occasionally) and all meat burgers (except for Viennese burgers), for that matter. Because of that I’ve only ever eaten meatballs once, and that was in the North London branch of IKEA – where they served Swedish meatballs with an Italian tomato sauce…yes, you read that right! Really didn’t like them as the meat was cheap and gristly. Have never had them since. Therefore, this is the first time to make them. Having found a recipe in my archives, which was based on a recipe by Troth Wells, I decided to go more with this instead. After reading quite a few recipes online on a theme of Daoud Pasha (like Swedish meatballs there are loads of variations) none of them suggested using flour to coat, nor adding an egg to bind. Am I missing the point here?

Could anything go wrong with something as simple as making Eastern Mediterranean style meatballs? Oh, why did I even bother to write that. Even though I shaped them really small, and had the pan with a little oil nicely hot, they stuck like concrete. So, out of desperation I tried my trusty Le Creuset saucepan that’s the heaviest one I have. Same thing. Had to roll them in flour to prevent them from sticking. Then, they sank in the middle which is why they look like small, fat burgers instead! Next time I’m hoping to use 50/50 plain flour with ground almonds to coat them. Having said that, I reckon I’m going to have to not only use egg in the mixture but, after shaping them, dip them in egg as otherwise the ground almonds would disappear. I also love the idea of placing a small, or maybe half a Green Spanish olive stuffed with pimento inside each meatball before shaping them. I think their sightly briny flavour would work well.

Happy to say that they tasted amazing.The right amount of seasoning and spices. Even the inclusion of raw onion and garlic didn’t put me off. With the sauce this was incredibly moreish. Regardless of how late my lunch turned out to be. So late in fact that I didn’t bother making a rösti as planned. Glad I didn’t as potatoes wouldn’t really go with this. Exactly what would is a guess right now. Maybe bulgur wheat within a version of tabbouleh. Earlier I was so hungry that half of this was devoured with lots of flat leaf parsley instead.

I’ve decided to make this again on Friday, partly as they were so delicious (and partly as the photo above is going to be easy to replicate). Saying that, these are supposed to be spiced with allspice. Guess what? I checked, twice no less, for allspice in my local supermarket and they didn’t have it in stock. So, earlier today I thought that if allspice is used within baking in the UK then it might be within that section. No. Out of curiosity I triple-checked, after making these, and they’ve restocked the herb and spice section – including allspice that was staring me in the face! Grrrrr. At least Winter’s over…right? Whad’ya mean we’re expecting snow by the weekend?!?

If anyone has any tips or hints on making the perfect meatballs then, do please let me know! Just don’t tell me the weather forecast.

Meatballs, Eastern Mediterranean Style, with tomato sauce

INGREDIENTS:

  1. 200g (7.05 oz) x onions, grated or finely chopped
  2. 250g (8.81 oz) x minced or ground beef
  3. 2 x medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced/crushed
  4. 3/4 x teaspoon mixed spice
  5. 1/4 x teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  6. 1/4 x teaspoon cayenne pepper
  7. 1/4 x scant teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  8. 1/4 x teaspoon cumin seeds, dry roasted and coarsely ground
  • rapeseed or olive oil
  • 200g (7.05 oz) x onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2 x medium garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 x teaspoon cayenne pepper, more to personal taste
  • 1 x 400g or 240g drained weight (14.10 oz or 8.46 oz drained) can plum/Roma tomatoes in juice, any green bits or skin removed, and tomatoes mashed
  • 1 x dried bay leaf, ripped
  • up to 20g (0.70 oz) x either curly or flat leaf parsley, washed and finely chopped, including thin stems – keep the thicker ones for stock

Measurements within brackets above are approximate only.

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Mix the first 8 ingredients in a large suitable bowl. I left mine to stand for a while to get on with preparing the sauce.
  • Put a large heavy-based saucepan or pan/skillet on electric heat No 4. Prep the onions for the sauce and when ready drizzle in enough oil to coat its base. Add the onions and stir often to avoid scorching. When beginning to turn a pale gold reduce heat to No 3. Continue to cook and stir until golden. Reduce heat to No 2 and add the garlic. Allow several minutes for it to cook before adding the cayenne pepper.
  • Prep the tomatoes and mash them. When the cayenne has infused add the tomatoes and bay leaf and up the heat to No 4 again. Bring to boiling point, then reduce heat to No 1 or 2 to simmer. Do stir through occasionally to prevent any scorching.
  • Preheat oven to 200°C or 392°F.
  • Shape the meatballs as small as possible (this should make around 20, according to size), about 2.5cm (1 inch) in diameter. Try to compress them slightly, too, to remove any air. Set each one in a suitable roasting tin/tray and drizzle with a little oil. Place on the middle shelf and roast for up to 40 minutes (as my oven is electric it seems to take longer to roast), checking on them after about 20 minutes just in case the roaster needs to be turned around or if the heat is too high. When meatballs are nicely brown all over they will be cooked. Check with a meat thermometer as they should be at least 73.88°C or 165°F internally.
  • When the meatballs are nicely brown all over remove with a slotted spoon, add to the simmering sauce and cover with a lid. Simmer for 10 minutes or so if you need to reheat, stirring through gently to prevent the sauce from catching on the base of pan. Keep the heat low as the sauce could dry out. If that’s the case add a little more olive oil or even a little stock. The sauce should be dryish, though, as it’ll be too wet on the plate otherwise.
  • Serve with lots of freshly chopped/snipped parsley.

All photographs within (Todas las fotografías dentro de) Feed the Piglet:
All rights reserved (© Todos los derechos reservados) – Copyright © Johnny H Hepburn


4 comments

  1. Your ingredients look very nice. We have many types of meatballs in Greece. So, if you remove the parsley and you add spearmint you get one type (the one we fry after we flour-coat). But we also put an egg inside the mix, cause it keeps it together while frying. If you remove the parsley and add cumin you get another type. What we put in every kind is some stale bread (or ready breadcrumbs). Sorry for the long comment!! Anyway, the dish looks delicious with the red sauce! 🙂

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    • Thank you. Glad you mentioned cumin as I’d used a third teaspoon of roasted cumin seeds in my mixture and forgot to add that. I’ve just updated. I’d also forgotten to add the parsley until earlier! Get it together, Johnny. Yes, next time I’ll be using egg. I get really frustrated with new recipes, especially if things fall apart or don’t turn out beautifully. As I write I’m reheating leftovers to try and re-shoot as my meatballs look dreadful in the existing photo! Again, thanks for your info!

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  2. Oh, yum! I’ve never made meatballs myself, but my mom’s recipe includes egg as well as some breadcrumbs for binder (kinda like making a meatloaf), and they turn out shapely and delicious every time. Yours might be shaped funny, but man, do they sound tasty!!

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    • It’s funny that they don’t seem to use egg nor flour their meatballs in the Middle East. Maybe they roast them for a bit instead, then place in the sauce. Definitely next time I’m using egg to bind. And, yes they were tasty. I’m just loving making new stuff and finding newish products. Sometimes it’s good to step out of the bubble I’m in. Finding WP an absolute joy for that. Thanks for your comment!

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