Sunday, January 28, 2007

Iraqi Jewish Meatballs

This is a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food. Why do I love this cookbook? Well, the recipes are delicious, but there's something more to than that...

I guess my cultural/ethnic background is muddled at best, but basically I'm an atheist Southerner with Eastern European Jewish roots on my dad's side and down-home bible-thumping roots on my mom's. Growing up, my family observed the major Jewish holidays more or less, including what traditional foods the Harris Teeter in our small town could supply ingredients for; but we also ate more than our share of spicy-vinegary pork BBQ. So why do these ancient Middle Eastern recipes speak to me? I was 16 years old the first time I tasted hummus, and I thought "I could eat this stuff every day". Nineteen years later, I feel the same way. I don't know if these flavors (lemon, garlic, mint, olive oil) are encoded on my DNA or if I was Lebanese in a past life, but this is my favorite type of food.

So (finally getting back to the recipe!) here is an offering I would like to think is from my (far, far, removed) ancestors in the ancient Iraqi Jewish community:

1 1/2 lbs ground meat (the traditionally lamb, I used turkey)
1/2 finely chopped Italian parsley
salt & pepper

3 T vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped (I used good-quality canned)
juice of 1 1/2 small lemons
1 T sugar
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

Brown the meatballs in the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are soft. Add the tomatoes, a little salt & pepper, and water just to almost cover. Simmer, uncovered, about 25 minutes until the meatballs are very tender and the sauce is reduced. Add the lemon juice, sugar, and mint and simmer another 10 to 15 minutes. Serve over rice.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Grilled Portobellos

After a long, hard day of corporate nonsense, I found myself very hungry and looking for an excuse to change the course of the day. My avenue of escape was the local Harris Teeter. For Christmas, I received The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques by Steven Raichlen and had been looking for an excuse to grill something new and tasty. The 5 frisbee-sized portobellos on sale for $4 were a perfect option. I picked up the 'shrooms, some broccoli to grill, and some funky green bamboo rice and went to work. I used the following recipe for the mushrooms --

4 large portobello mushrooms (8-10 oz each)
2 cloves of garlic cut into slivers
1 oz Romano or comparable firm cheese cut into slivers
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/3 cups extra virgin olive oil

Trim the stems off the mushrooms so they are flush with the caps. Poke holes into the gill side of the mushrooms inserting the slivers of garlic, cheese, rosemary, and pine nuts into the holes. Mix the balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper (add basil if desired). Place the mushrooms in a baking dish gill side up and pour the marinade on top of the shrooms making sure to coat the bottoms as well. Marinate for somewhere between 30 mins and 3 hrs to maximize the flavor sensation.

When it's grilling time - hit them for about 3 mins face side down on high and flip them on their backs for another 4-6 mins. If you're feeling like a grilling superstar - you can turn at a 45 degree angle after about 2 mins to work some grill marks.

I was extremely pleased at how well these turned out and will definitely make this a regular in the dinner rotation. Plugging the ingredients into the 'shrooms takes a little bit of time but pays off big in flavor points. I'll give this one 5 stars.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Biscuits for 2007

3 c flour (I used 2 c all-purpose and 1 c "white whole wheat" with excellent results)
1 T + 1 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
3/4 cup chilled unsalted butter
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425°F. Mix flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Using fingertips, rub 3/4 cup chilled butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk and stir until evenly moistened. Roll dough to 1/2 inch thickness and cut out biscuits. Bake until biscuits are golden brown on top, about 15-18 minutes.

For a hungry horde on the first morning of the year, I doubled the recipe, added about 2 cups of shredded cheese, and cut out about 50 mini-biscuits (about 1 1/2 inch diameter). Yum.

Here's to many more delicious meals with friends and family in 2007!