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Let the Cooking Begin

As the weather has only just now cooled and kitchen cooking seems more bearable, I have finally gotten around to trying some new recipes.  One of my primary goals during our six months here was to absorb the Mediterranean flavors of the region and incorporate them into my cooking, as well as to learn how to make a few of the classic dishes that I was eating as I travel throughout the country.

So after a perusal through some of the great new Israeli cookbooks I have recently acquired (Israeli food written about in English) and a similarly fun but determined search online, I settled on two recipes from the blog The Hummus Recipes Kitchen, a site that is quickly becoming a favorite go-to source for Mediterranean recipes,  For a main dish, I choose Moroccan Lamb Meatballs served with a spicy Harissa sauce and also a great Chickpea and Olive Dip that worked beautifully as part of first course of salatim that I served at a recent Shabbat lunch.

First, the shopping.  As Steve and I were walking through Mahane Yehuda, on one of the less trafficked side streets (HaCharon), we came across a really great butcher. Yaron owns the Avochatzirah Butcher shop and his stall had a beautiful selection of meat and he was happy to discuss options and cuts.  After I told him that I was looking for ground lamb, we promptly choose a beautiful looking leg.  And while it seemed almost criminal not to roast it whole, Yaron promptly cut the meat off the bone and ground it on the spot, handing me the bones separately with the instruction to save them for soup.

The meatballs require fresh spices, in particular cumin and coriander seeds, easily accessible in the market.  One note about the fresh spices.  While fresh spices really make a difference in the flavor of the dish, the recipe asks you to grind them with a mortar and pestle.  Since I didn’t have one in my rented kitchen, after 10 minutes of trying with the back of a meat mallet, I surrendered and gave them a quick whirl in the Cuisinart, leaving them not too fine which worked great.

These meatballs are easy to make.  Once you’ve prepped the ingredients it takes almost no time at all to mix and roll into balls.  Since space is at a premium in my Jerusalem kitchen and I was already using the stovetop, I decided to roast the meatballs and I’m glad that I did.  About 12-15 minutes in the oven and they came out beautifully.  I was also easily able to drain the excess fat.  The meatballs easily reheated the next day.
As a first course, I served a variety of salads and dips, including a truly addictive chickpea and olive dip.  This recipe takes 10 minutes in the Cuisinart – maybe less if you buy pitted olives – and was a total crowd pleaser.  I happily ate the remainder for lunch the next day, with some bread and a green salad.

As they say in Israel – B’tayavon.

Moroccan Lamb Meatballs
(Recipe adapted from The Hummus Recipes Kitchen post on 9-18-10, original source Good Food Magazine, September 2009)

2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp coriander seeds
½ cup breadcrumbs
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 pound lamb ground
juice 1 lemon
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup packed mint , most leaves chopped
2-3 tbsp sunflower oil

To Prepare:
1. Heat a heavy-based pan over a low heat. Add the spices to the pan then toast for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Crush using a pestle and mortar or place in a spice grinder until coarse. Set aside.

2. Mix the breadcrumbs with 2 tbsp water and the garlic and stir well. Add the lamb, lemon juice, crushed spices, egg and most of the mint. Season well. Mix well then shape into 16 balls. Chill for a good 30 mins.

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Roast the meatballs for 12-15 minutes until brown.  Serve immediately or cool and either refrigerate or freeze. Serve with harissa tehina sauce.

Harissa-Tehina Sauce
The original recipe calls for a yogurt based harissa sauce.  Since we keep kosher, I replaced the yogurt with a simple mixture of tehina and harissa.  Prepared tehina is fairly accessible in most middle eastern and kosher stores today, and even places such as Whole Foods.  Mix 1 cup tehina with about 2 teaspoons harissa (more or less depending on your tolerance for spiciness).  Add a tiny bit of water if the whole thing is too thick or some lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a handful of chopped parsley, cilantro, and/or mint and you’re good to go.  I loved the sauce and think it really enhanced the flavor of the food.  My husband, who is a fan of heat, warns to use the sauce sparingly as to not overpower the amazing lamb.

Chickpea & Olive Dip
(Recipe from The Hummus Recipes Kitchen,, original source Good Taste Magazine, March 2006 by Michelle Noerianto)

1 16oz can chickpeas, rinsed, drained
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 garlic clove
1 1/2 tsp mild ground paprika
1/4 cup olive oil
Olive oil, extra, to serve

To Prepare:
1. Place the chickpeas, olives, garlic, paprika and oil in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl.

2. Make a small hollow in the top of the dip and drizzle with a little extra olive oil, if desired. Serve with warm pita, bread or crackers as desired.