January 01, 2009

warming meatball & vegetable stew

I bought some ground turkey because it was on sale and because poultry is about the only organic meat that Shaw's sells in my neighborhood. And I was at the Shaw's rather than the Whole Paycheck because I wanted to take a walk outdoors, somewhere, anywhere, but I needed a reason to go or else I wouldn't have managed to leave the house.

So anyhow, I wound up with this ground turkey but no actual plan for using it. As it turned out, I used it last night to make a very successful stew, improvised from a base of a couple of recipes in The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden, a book I adore and turn to very often. Nom nom nom. I used aspects of Daoud Basha, particularly for the meatballs themselves and the cooking method of browning the balls then finishing them in a tomatoey sauce, but I also stole from an Armenian recipe that used leftover mashed potatoes instead of breadcrumbs or eggs in the meat mixture, and then I added in a bunch of diced vegetables to make it more of a stew than just a sauced meatball.

It wound up like this:

Mix one package ground turkey, about a pound, to a smooth paste with:

1/4 teaspoon each allspice, cumin, hot hungarian paprika, coriander and cinnamon, going a little heavy on the cinnamon

2-3 cloves garlic, minced then mashed to a paste with a scant tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup leftover mashed potatoes

1/2 cup raisins and 1/4 cup pine nuts (approximately), roughly chopped

(I also put in a tiny bit of finely minced onion because I had it to use up; you could use more or omit entirely, i think it would be fine either way.)

Form this meat paste into balls about the size of little walnuts, then roll them in a little olive oil. Fry in a skillet with a bit of olive oil, making sure they brown on all sides. You could also bake them, as the original recipe specified, but I didn't feel like turning on the oven.

In a deep pot, heat about a tbsp of olive oil, and add 1-3 minced cloves of garlic until fragrant, then add vegetables: I used half a butternut squash and two carrots, cut into 1/4" dice to match the size of the chickpeas going in later. Season the vegetables with a sprinkle of kosher salt and another good dash of hot paprika and some ground black pepper. When it seems like the garlic might burn if you wait any longer, add half a 28 oz can of tomato puree (or a 15 oz can if you have one, i didn't), and a cup of chicken broth or water or both. I also added a little sprinkle of dried jalapenos, a pantry staple that I've been finding surprisingly useful in many situations -- you can make salsa at the drop of a hat with canned tomato, assuming you have lime and an onion in the house which I usually do, and they add spice and green to lots of things that otherwise wouldn't get it in the dead of winter.

Cook this at a simmer until the hard vegetables are getting semi-cooked, then add a drained can of chickpeas. Stir periodically so it doesn't burn or stick on the bottom. When the veg are nearly done, add a zucchini cut into 1/4" dice. After about 5 minutes, add the meatballs and nestle them into the tomato sauce. The meatballs are probably nearly done through anyway if you browned them thoroughly, so 5-10 minutes would probably do it, or whenever all the vegetables are nice and soft and the sauce starts to smell like spiced meatballs. You can let it cook longer if necessary or if you are schlepping it down the block to a New Year's Eve gathering and need to reheat it. Serve with plain hot white or brown rice.

You'd never know this was turkey. The meatballs stay relatively moist, or at least you don't notice if they're dry because they're spicy, savory and sweet from the raisins and pine nuts, and they're draped in a bright, simple tomato sauce with a solid serving of vegetables. And it just occurred to me that this is a gluten-free dish, tricky to accomplish sometimes with meatballs because they always call for crumbs. Very tasty, and serves a crowd, I'd guess, because it made about 27 li'l meatballs -- but since this got served after a cheese plate, deep fried pickles, perfect deep fried buffalo wings, and a batch of homemade dumplings, not much of it got et at the party. More for us.

Happy New Year!

Posted by foodnerd at January 1, 2009 02:01 PM

Good gracious that sounds good!

For this recipe in particular, and for poor deprived souls like me in general, wtf do you do if you can't eat garlic? I know there's no real substitute, but is there something that might suffice?

Posted by: Kate at January 5, 2009 01:37 PM

i think i would just leave the garlic out. you could maybe make the tomato sauce a little spicier with chilies, or chuck in a dash of sugar, or even put in a few of the same spices that went into the meatballs. Or try onions, if that allium doesn't bash you the way garlic does. The thing I was shooting for is a simple, bright tomatoey gravy for the rich spices of the meatballs, so you could probably just mix tomato puree and chicken broth and be done with it -- it does take on some of the flavors of the meatballs from the simmering. And i have to say, after having eaten all the leftovers, this recipe really did come out good. i recommend you give it a shot.

Posted by: foodnerd at January 5, 2009 10:07 PM

I'll definitely do that. Thanks!

Posted by: Kate at January 6, 2009 02:54 PM


I must say, too, it's a very forgiving recipe. I can't eat garlic, so that was out. I only had sweet paprika. Peter bought summer squash when he couldn't find butternut (so I used a sweet potato and added the squash with the zucchini). We don't have dried jalapenos on hand. And my rice went inexplicably fubar (no idea why, other than a new brand of rice), so I served it with leftover potatoes (which I had on hand to make mashed potatoes for the meatballs).

Honestly, this is one of the best stews I've ever had in my LIFE.


Posted by: Kate at January 18, 2009 07:08 PM

awesome! i am so glad it came out good. i think if you like this recipe, you should go out and buy Claudia Roden's cookbook -- it is full of good stuff like this. Easy as can be, most of it, too. I usually ignore it when she says to deep-fry stuff, and just either pan fry or steam... the recipes tend to be pretty adaptable, and if something is really important to not skip, she says so and why.

Posted by: foodnerd at January 22, 2009 10:49 AM

I'll do that. Thanks!

Posted by: Kate at January 22, 2009 02:37 PM
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