Monday, September 9, 2013

North African Lamb Boulettes and Amy's Pomegranate Cumin Salad Dressing


I love a good meatball.  And that’s exactly what a boulette is in French.  So I cached away David Tanis’ recipe for a North African version that appeared in the NY Times almost a year ago.  You only have to look at the most recent posts here to realize it’s been a seafood summer.  We’ve been cooking and enjoying fish and shellfish every chance we get.  But last week, we decided to break our pescatorian diet and out came the City Kitchen article and recipe. Now Chef Tanis allowed as how he had created his recipe from many.  But at their core, this is a meatball with its roots in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.  All of these are former French colonies and if you’ve been adventurous in Paris and gone into Tunisian or Moroccan restaurants there, you’ve undoubtedly seem them in several guises on menus there.  They’re often an appetizer, or a side dish but they reach their full glory in a fragrant main course ‘tagine’ accompanied by couscous. You can make these with beef or lamb and Mr. Tanis has even made them with ground turkey.  I went with lamb because Lord knows we may have had a lot of fish this summer but we’ve also indulged in a hamburger or twelve.  With our tagine, I served a simple red leaf lettuce salad with a dressing laced with cumin and pomegranate that was a perfect complement to the North African flavors of the boulettes and there’s a story there too.  

My dear friend Amy is fond of bringing us unusual ingredients. She is an incredibly thoughtful gift-giver whose most recent introduction was to a black olive oil called Azienda Agricola Persiani from Oliviers and Co, a French purveyor.  The label reads: “An Olivier and Co. selection: it’s the perfect traceability of a small batch of olive oil, the orchard, the plot, the producer and even the tank exclusively booked for OandCO are checked.”  Translated, the name means Persian Farms.  It turns out that “Persiani” doesn’t refer to the former country of Persia but to the Persiani Family who produce the Olive Oil.  The oil is amazing as a dipping oil. But I used it for this Pomegranate Cumin salad dressing, a Bon Appetit recipe.  The first ingredient in the dressing was also a gift from Amy: Mymoune Pomegranate Molasses from Lebanon. I have no clue where the Cumin came from but we’re squarely in North Africa now with both our boulettes and our salad dressing. Now if you don't have pomegranate molasses, there's a way of making your own listed below. And you can use any great extra virgin olive oil you please. The recipe for Amy's dressing follows the one for the boulettes.

    The boulettes float in a tomato sauce that surprised me.  There’s so little tomato in it—just two tablespoons of tomato paste—that I was amazed at what an intensely flavored broth it made.  Chef Tanis’ recipe called for Saffron threads.  Having none on hand, I eliminated them.   Like Chef Tannis, I opted for Israeli couscous thereby incorporating yet another Middle Eastern flavor to the dish.  Here are the recipes:
Recipe for North African Lamb Boulettes adapted from David Tanis in the New York Times.
4-6 servings. Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

For the Tomato Sauce:
         2 tablespoons olive oil
         1 and 1/2 cups finely diced onion
         3 garlic cloves, minced
         2 tablespoons tomato paste
         1 inch piece cinnamon stick
         Salt and pepper
         3 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
For the Lamb Boulettes:
         1 and 1/2 cups cubed day-old firm white bread
         1 cup milk
         1 pound ground lamb
         1 large egg, beaten
         1 teaspoon salt
         1/4 teaspoon black pepper
         4 garlic cloves, minced
         1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
         1 teaspoon ground ginger
         1 teaspoon turmeric
         2 teaspoons paprika
         1/4 teaspoon cayenne
         1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
         1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
         1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
         3 tablespoons chopped parsley
         3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
         3 tablespoons finely chopped scallion
         All-purpose flour, for dusting
         Olive oil or vegetable oil
For the Coucous:
         1 cup giant couscous, m’hamsa, or medium couscous
         2 tablespoons butter
         1/2 cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water to soften, then drained
         1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Make the sauce: Heat oil over medium-high heat in a wide, heavy bottomed saucepan. Add onion and cook without browning until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, cinnamon and saffron, and stir well to incorporate. Season generously with salt and pepper, and allow to sizzle for 1 minute more. Add broth and simmer gently for 5 minutes. May be made several hours in advance, up to a day.

Make the meatballs: Put bread cubes and milk in a small bowl. Leave bread to soak until softened, about 5 minutes, then squeeze dry.
In a mixing bowl, put squeezed-out bread, ground meat and egg. Add salt, pepper, garlic, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, paprika, cayenne, cloves, coriander and cumin. Mix well with hands to distribute seasoning. Add 2 tablespoons each of parsley, cilantro and scallion, and knead for a minute. May be prepared several hours in advance, up to a day.

With hands, roll mixture into small round balls about the size of a quarter. Dust balls lightly with flour. 

Heat a few tablespoons of oil, or a quarter-inch depth, over medium-high heat and fry meatballs until barely browned, about 2 minutes per side. Drain and blot on paper towel. 

Simmer meatballs in saffron-tomato sauce, covered, over medium heat for about 20 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, make the couscous, if desired: Cook according to package directions, fluff gently and stir in butter and raisins. Season with salt and cinnamon, and toss well.
Garnish meatballs with remaining parsley, cilantro and scallion. Serve with couscous and roasted tomatoes if desired.
Makes about 36 meatballs.
Recipe for Amy’s Pomegranate Cumin Salad Dressing:
Makes about 1 cup. Takes 10 minutes.
7 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 4 1/2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons sliced fresh mint leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon ground cumin
6 tablespoons minced shallots

Ingredient info: If you can't find pomegranate molasses at the supermarket or a Middle Eastern store, make your own by boiling 1 cup pomegranate juice until reduced to 3 tablespoons syrup, about 15 minutes.
Whisk first 5 ingredients in bowl. Mix in shallots; season with salt and pepper.

1 comment:

  1. This looks so luscious! Thanks for posting the beautiful pics, too.

    Summer is winding down here in the deep South but the temps are still high and lighter meals are very welcome. This one will come in very handy.

    Thanks, Monte.