Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Middle Eastern Meatballs with Tahini Sauce


Apparently I am not the only one obsessed with making meatballs inspired by the Jerusalem cookbook. That book is the bomb, and I really did intend to follow their awesome meatball recipe. But . . . of course, I didn't.

Here's what I ended up with. Like all meatball recipes, it's a pain in the neck. Which is why you should always make an enormous batch and freeze half. You'll spend five extra minutes today, but next month you'll be desperately rummaging in the freezer, and there will be your fabulous, forgotten meatballs. Use all three pounds of meat - all the cool kids are doing it. If you really insist upon making a smaller quantity, divide this recipe in two. Math: it's half of what's for dinner!

Aside from industrial quantity, two tools minimize the hassle of meatball production. First, use a kitchen disher (aka ice cream scoop) to portion out all the meatballs in just a couple of minutes. Second, wear disposable gloves to mix and shape the meat. Rub a little oil on the palms of your gloved hands, and the balls will roll out faster and prettier. Bonus: you won't reek of garlic all day long. Win, win, win!

Middle Eastern Chicken Meatballs
2 cups dry bread crumbs
1 bunch of parsley, chopped fine
1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped fine
4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
6 cloves of garlic, pulverized
8 green onions, minced
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or more)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground sumac
2 eggs
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 lbs ground chicken (or veal or pork)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Spread about 18" of waxed paper on the counter. Divide the oil between two 9" pans, or one 13x11". In a large bowl, stir together everything but the chicken and oil. Glove up, rub a little oil on your hands, and work the chicken into the other ingredients. Pull off the gloves and use your disher to portion out the meat onto the paper. I use a large (1.25 oz) scoop which yields three dozen enormous meatballs. Make whatever size you like.

I'll admit, I use a second pair of gloves to roll the balls. You caught me. Oil the gloves and roll the meat into smooth balls. Roll them around in the oil as you arrange them in the pan.

If you have to bake them now, no biggie. But the texture will be better if you let them set up in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Feel free to freeze these in the baking pan. If the pan is glass, though, you'll want to give it a few minutes rest on the counter before putting it into a cold oven so the pan doesn't shatter from heat shock. Alternatively, freeze them on a baking sheet, and throw them in a zipper lock bag when they're hard.

Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes before flipping them over to brown on the other side for another 15 minutes. You're just going to have to use your judgment when they're done. Your meatballs may be smaller, your freezer may be colder, your oven hotter. Reasons this blog is called Listen to the Food! If you're in doubt, pull one out and cut it in half to see if it's still raw inside.

And while we're on the subject of judgment ...

Tahini Sauce
1/2 cup tahini paste
1/2  clove crushed garlic
juice from 1 lemon
1/2 - 3/4 cup water
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground sumac, optional

Adding only half the lemon and the lesser quantity of water, stir together all the ingredients. Taste them and adjust the acidity and texture to suit your palette. Remember that tahini thickens up as it sits. Feel free to make this in advance, but you'll probably have to add more water later. So, don't overfill the bowl or garnish with an extra shake of sumac until just before serving.

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