Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Freezer Favorite: Kofte Meatballs with Tomato Sauce

While most people think my surname is French, (and sometimes they even assume I am heiress to the Beaujolais wine fortune - I wish!) it's actually an old Christian Lebanese name. Before there was Lebanon, it was Phoenician. We were seafarers and incredible salespeople according to my father. I believe it since he could've convinced you to buy the hair on your head.

Unfortunately, due to my great-grandfather's immediate assimilation and marriage to a nice English girl from Ohio, the only Arabic thing about me is my last name. That and my extreme penchant for all Lebanese food, which is generally very healthy, comprised of lots of vegetables and whole grains with a little meat thrown in here and there. The flavors are very clean and tend to be more tart and less sweet than many of their Arabic counterparts.

As a people, the Lebanese are natural entertainers and cook in such a way that things are easily put together and always at the ready. This philosophy suits my life perfectly as baby girl doesn't always love it when Mommy is slaving in the kitchen and there are many nights when I'm dead tired. When that happens, I open up my trusty freezer and pull out ready-to-cook kofte meatballs and a tupperware of homemade ready-to-heat Lebanese tomato sauce. I make huge batches of kofte and tomato sauce a few times a year, freeze them separately and then I'm set. Paired with whole wheat cous cous, it takes just twenty minutes to put together. Oh, what a hostess I would be in the old country.

Lamb Kofte with Tomato Sauce and Whole Wheat Cous Cous
(This dish is inspired by the traditional Kofte and tomato sauce recipes which include fresh lemon juice and a Lebanese spice mixture aptly named Mixed Spice. While you can find it at specialty stores, it's just as easy to make yourself and have on hand for this dish or for sprinkling on meats, in eggs or any dish you think needs a lil' somethin' somethin')

Mixed Spice: Add equal parts of ground allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek, ginger and nutmeg to a clean spice jar. Shake it all about and set aside.

Place a frying pan over a medium high heat. Add a generous splash of olive oil and three to four medium onions, chopped. Cook until translucent and tender. Set aside to cool.

For the Kofte: If you're looking to have plenty to freeze as I do, put 4 pounds of fresh ground lamb in a big mixing bowl. Add half of the onions to the bowl, a cup of dried currents, two eggs, two heaping teaspoons of Mixed Spice, two teaspoons of salt, a cup of parsley and a few dashes of fenugreek leaves (Optional). Mix it all around until the ingredients are well incorporated. To mold the meatballs, scoop out a medium handful of the lamb mixture and roll gently between your hands, then mold the top like a bullet and make an indentation on the bottom.

For the Tomato Sauce: Place a pot over a medium high heat and add 4lbs of canned tomatoes (I like the Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes), two to four teaspoons of Mixed Spice, two to four teaspoons of salt, the juice of one to two lemons and the rest of the onion. (While I like it tart and aromatic, taste before you go all the way with the lemons and Mixed Spice.) Stir and bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes.

In a small pot bring two cups of chicken broth to a boil, add half a cup of currents and a cup of cous cous. Stir it around, cover, turn off the heat and let sit until the cous cous has absorbed the broth.

Bring the previously onion filled and now empty frying pan back up to a medium high heat, add a splash of olive oil and two kofte meatballs per person. Cook until medium rare in the middle.

To serve, place a helping of cous cous in a bowl, top with two kofte meatballs and smother with tomato sauce. I also like adding a little yogurt to mine for a creamy texture.

Approximate Dinner Cost
• Groceries - $30.00
• Leftovers – Expect 18 servings at $1.66 each!

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  1. Mmmm, delicious. I just made my swedish meatballs the other day... now I will have to try these, too!

  2. yummy! what is fenugreek?

  3. That looks delicious. I love the "before" picture, because you can really see the ingredients! What other Lebanese recipes do you know? if you have one, please share you recipe for cucumber yogurt sauce! i love that stuff!

  4. *What is Fenugreek? Great question! Fenugreek is a dual use plant: the leaves are eaten fresh or dried as an herb and the seeds are used as a spice. They have a sort of bittersweet flavor that, in small doses, adds a flavor dimension.

    *Cucumber Yogurt Sauce? I grew up calling it Laban and arguing with my Greek friends who insisted it was Tzatziki. Yes, I have a fabulous recipe for it. It is one of my favorite things on this earth. Stay tuned!



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