Monday, August 31, 2015
I've been trying to broaden my culinary horizons recently, and break from the ho-hums of too much French cuisine. (Can there be such a thing?) This is made more challenging by John's recent conversion to semi-carb-free living, which--up until three weeks ago-- was incomprehensible to me. Ordinarily, I survive primarily on carbohydrates. Ask friends. Ask family. 75% of my daily caloric intake consists of Kashi Crunch cereal, the remaining 25% usually supplied by french fries or Salt & Vinegar chips. (My nutritionist would be proud.)
Okay, clearly I don't have a nutritionist...
But back to the current cooking crisis... I've been trying to get with the program and make carb-free-ish dinners, but it's no easy task, especially if you don't have access to a grill. Basically, if I put another niçoise salad or another bowl of lentils in front of John, I was going to find myself living on the street, so it was time to shake things up a bit. This was made even trickier because we were also having half a dozen carb-eating-consumers over for dinner on Saturday night, so I needed to come up with something to satiate the masses without throwing John under the bus. What I came up with was relatively carb-free. Lamb meatballs with lemon and feta, served with a side of orzo and a modified Greek salad. Not perfect, but not bad. And all John had to do was avoid the crusty bread I served everyone else, avert his gaze from the irrestible orzo I made to go with the Greek salad, and not be too persnickety about the panko flakes in the meatballs. (Life is full of compromises.) In total, this meal was a win. Surprisingly easy, extremely satisfying, fairly bread-less.
The meatballs were made exactly according to the recipe below-- though I doubled the sauce recipe to ensure we'd have plenty to go around. The lovely lady at Smitten Kitchen notes that you add less water if you're not going to brown them and more water if you are. Apparently the distinction here is squishy vs. more firm meatballs, and since I reside in the "squishy" camp, I skipped the browning and added less water. They came out perfectly. Still well-formed and meatball shaped, but not hockey-puck-esque. I will definitely make this recipe again.
Lamb Meatballs with Feta, Lemon and Mint
Yield: About 36 small meatballs (I use a 3T scoop to yield 1.5 to 2-inch meatballs)
3 to 8 tablespoons water
2 pounds ground lamb
1 large egg
1 1/4 cup (about 70 grams) breadcrumbs, fresh or plain, such as Panko
1/2 cup (55 grams) crumbled feta cheese
3/4 teaspoon table salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 small garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons (35 grams) tomato paste
Zest of half a lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
A couple glugs of red wine or white/dry vermouth (optional)
1 28-ounce (795 grams) can of crushed or pureed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Zest of half a lemon
3/4 to 1 teaspoon table salt
Pinches of red pepper flakes (to taste)
1/3 cup (about 45 grams) pitted, chopped kalamata olives
1 tablespoon thinly sliced mint leaves, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup (30 grams) crumbled feta, for garnish
Make meatballs: If you plan don’t plan to brown the meatballs, use only 3 tablespoons water. If you do, use all 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup). In a large bowl, combine all meatball ingredients except oil; I like to do this with a fork. Using wet hands, form mixture into small (1 1/2 to 2-inch diameter) meatballs; I have taken to using a large (just shy of 3 tablespoon) cookie scoop for easy sizing.
Brown meatballs: Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and heat it through. Evenly space meatballs in pan and very carefully turn and roll them so that all sides become brown. Don’t worry if they don’t remain perfectly round; mine never do. Don’t worry if some pieces become stuck to the pan; they will deliciously infuse the sauce in a minute. Drain meatballs on a paper towel-lined plate.
[If you prefer not to fry your meatballs before cooking them in the sauce, you can cook them right in the sauce — it will take about 10 minutes longer.]
Make sauce and finish cooking meatballs: Pour out all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet and return to medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add wine or vermouth and scrape up any bits stuck to the pan. Cook until the liquid almost disappears. Add tomatoes, oregano, lemon zest, salt, pepper flakes, olives (if you’re using them now), mint and parsley. Bring mixture to a simmer and return meatballs to the pan. Cover with a lid and cook at the lowest simmer for 20 to 24 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through. Squeeze lemon juice over meatballs and sauce.
Serve: Sprinkled with additional olives, feta and herbs. We had this with orzo and a Greek salad.
Greek Salad with Lemon and Oregano
Serves 2 generously, 4 as starter or side
1/2 a large, seedless English cucumber (about 6 to 7 ounces), chopped
1/2 a green bell pepper, chopped (I skipped this...)
1 cup (about 6 ounces) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup kalamata olives (you can also serve these alongside) And skipped these...
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 lemon, halved
2 to 3 ounces feta (Bulgarian or French, if you can find them, are my favorites), in thick slices (And crumbled my feta instead...)
2 tablespoons olive oil, or more to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 sprig oregano, leaves minced
Toss cucumbers, pepper, tomatoes, olives (if using) and onion in a shallow bowl or deep plate. Squeeze half a lemon over it. Arrange feta slices on top. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and oregano. Serve with a slice of feta on top of each serving, and the second half of the lemon for those that like their salads punchier.
* If you’re concerned about the pungency of the raw onion, you can squeeze the lemon juice on top of it and let it sit for a while in a dish before adding both to the salad. It will mellow and soften it.