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.

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