Minted Lamb Meatballs with Cranberry Sauce

25 Aug


The funny part is, I actually thought I was going to have time on Fridays to review recipes. Somehow, between shopping for the ingredients (before work), working, getting home at 9 PM, and having a friend over to polish off the last of the drunken chicken (and that bottle of Chardonnay) it got to be 2 AM, there were videogames involved, and I realized it just wasn’t happening.  So, I started in on it this morning, instead. Reviews may have to be a flexible weekend thing for me, it seems!

The cookbook I decided to flip through, this time, is Street Food, by Tom Kime.  I love just skimming through this book whenever I have the itch to try something new, honestly.  It’s full of amazing photographs of everything featured, interesting tidbits about where he encountered it, and simple instructions.  I’m almost sad I don’t have the time this weekend to try and make some flatbread to eat with the meatballs, honestly.  The recipes within are grouped together by region, which I like because it can help give good ideas for foods that complement each other well, and the index lists recipes by their traditional names, English translation, and main ingredient, for ease in finding what you’re looking for.
The recipe I chose was kebab b’il karaz, or lamb meatballs with sour cherry sauce.  With a few minor… modifications, of course.  Because I can’t not. Yeah.

To be fair, I couldn’t find dried sour cherries or flat-leaf parsley, so I went with my gut instincts instead.  Also, I hate the taste of parsley.

Ingredients:

1 and 1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp pomegranate syrup
juice of 1 lemon

2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 small dried red chili peppers, chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
pinch of salt
olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
500g (1 lb 2 oz) lamb mince
handful of fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

To start with, the original recipe called for 300 g (10 oz) pitted dried sour cherries.  I lacked sour cherries and went with cranberries instead, but then committed my first error.  I assumed the 300 g was dry weight and went by what the packaging on my cranberries said, not by the ounces on my measuring cup.  Thus, I probably actually used 2 cups or more of dried cranberries, which resulted in some fiddling about, adding of liquid, and minor panic as the mass in my saucepan bore no resemblance to the photograph of the apparent intended product.  I am not actually sure if dried sour cherries would soak up considerably less liquid than cranberries do, which may also have made a difference.  Anyway.

Put your dried cranberries in a smallish saucepan.  Add 200 ml (7 oz) water, the sugar, and the pomegranate syrup, then bring it to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The original recipe claims that this will reduce the sauce to a thick syrup.  I did not find that this happened, mostly because my cranberries soaked it all up and turned into a rather tasty (if puzzling) batch of cranberry sauce I would be proud to bring out at Thanksgiving. Seriously? Pomegranate syrup. Who knew.

What I did at this point was make a second batch of the liquid ingredients (another cup of water, tablespoon of sugar, and tablespoon of syrup), boil it, and attempt it to reduce it instead, adding about half a cup of cranberries from the original sauce as it bubbled.  Even this did not reduce to anything like the “thick and syrupy” consistency the book would lead me to believe.  However, once I had simmered it down for awhile, I added it all into the bowl of sauce to make that just a bit more liquid.  Crisis averted.

The next thing to do is start on the meatballs. Crush the garlic, dried chili pepper, ground coriander, and salt to make a thick paste. I used a mortar and pestle, and probably lost a teaspoon or more of it stuck in the grooves at the bottom, but then I had used the two largest cloves of garlic I could find, so maybe it evened out. You could also save yourself some of the grinding and just use dried red pepper flakes.

Heat some olive oil over medium high heat, then fry the paste for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the onion to this, drizzle a bit more oil in, and sauté for about 4 minutes, stirring it all together.  Then, empty the onion/spices/oil into a small bowl and stick it in the freezer to cool down for a couple minutes so you don’t burn your fingers doing this next part.

Put the lamb in a big bowl with the chopped mint leaves and mix.  Add the cooled onion/spices in, stirring it all together.  Season with a few shakes of salt and additional red pepper flakes, if you like a bit of extra kick.  I prefer red pepper to black pepper, any day, but you could use that instead.  Then, roll the meat into little balls, approximately the size of cherry tomatoes. Prepare to cover your entire (tiny) kitchen workspace in tiny balls of lamb. This makes about 60 meatballs.
Clean and dry the pan you used to fry the sauce paste.  If you don’t, these will stick to everything.  Trust me. Even if you do, they’ll try, but it’s a little easier to stay on top of it.  Heat some olive oil over medium-high heat.  Fry the meatballs, a few at a time, until they’re golden-brown.  Leave yourself room to gently nudge (or scrape) them free to turn them, without bumping their neighbors, because if I have discovered one thing, it is that lamb mince loves going to pieces.  Drain in a mesh sieve or on a paper towel.

Here, the original recipe suggests adding the finished meatballs and fruit sauce together to let the flavors mesh and cooking them so for a minute or two.  Since I can’t eat the sauce 6 days a week, due to my diet, and seem to have quite a bit more of it than I really need, I opted to keep them separate so I could eat the meatballs normally and save the sauce for my sanctioned ‘cheat’ days.

Serve the meatballs warm, with a drizzle of sauce and a sliced mint leaf, for garnish.  A dollop of good plain yogurt and some flatbread to wrap these up like a sandwich would also taste great, perhaps even some cucumber salad or hummus on the side.  I don’t find the meat spicy at all, made as per the recipe’s instructions, even though I added extra red pepper flakes, but the type of dried chili pepper you use will undoubtedly play a role.  I also think the substitution of mint for parsley was far more palatable, personally.  Go light on the sauce, as it’s quite sweet, but it makes for a built in dessert as you mop it up afterwards. Or, uh, go out and get some Turkish ice cream. For the theme, yeah.

The original dish is apparently popular in southern Turkey and Syria, but traditionally uses fresh sour cherries of a particular variety that might be difficult to find in your area.  The author’s substitution of dried sour cherries and my own substitution of dried cranberries both seem to work out alright.  I might be tempted to splash a bit of fruit drinking vinegar in for additional bite, if I make the sauce again using cranberries.

The biggest problem I had with this recipe, as printed, was more due to my reading failure than the author’s lack of clarification.  I should have read the ounces, not just the grams, and drawn the logical conclusion when making the fruit sauce.  Pomegranate molasses, as such, was quite unfamiliar to me, though Google seemed to indicate that the syrup and molasses are the same product, and I lucked out in that it’s very easy to find a number of common Middle Eastern ingredients in markets in Itaewon, Seoul.

My rating: ✧✧✧✧✦

(Time-intensive preparation, measurement confusion, and lack of premeditated yogurt or flatbread on hand. Quite delicious anyway.)

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3 Responses to “Minted Lamb Meatballs with Cranberry Sauce”

  1. Becki August 25, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    I’m curious, how long did the preparation require, assuming I could find all these ingredients locally? Also, do the meatballs freeze well?

    • oddvocado August 25, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

      It took me longer than it should have, mostly because I kept checking things on the computer in between steps. The sauce takes about 45 minutes, start to finish, due to the long simmering time, but I effectively made two batches, nearly doubling that. Without distractions, the meatballs shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to mix and shape, but you can’t cook too many of them in a pan at once. I cooked them in batches of 10, maybe 5 minutes apiece? However, I only have the use of one burner on my stove, so couldn’t double up and start the process while the fruit sauce was simmering, either.

      Can’t say for sure on the freezing, yet. They are fairly firm, after being fried, so I think they would hold up well enough to be frozen and reheated later.

  2. Becki August 29, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

    Ground turkey worked really well as a substitute for lamb. I found that freezing didn’t work, because I ate them before I could get them into the freezer. Delicious

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