Monday, November 28, 2011

In Praise of Libraries, Part 1: Mediterranean Meatballs

One of my favorite food bloggers is Dana from Dana Treat. I like her not only because I have a special fondness for most Danas but also because her recipes are all manageable and delicious, she is prolific - seriously, when nobody else is blogging with appropriate frequency, Dana is - and, while I haven't yet had the nerve to tell her this myself, I totally think we are kindred spirits. We are both West Coasters. We were both drama majors in college. We both lived in London. We both have two children. We both are passionate about food and yoga and writing and we both are addicted to cookbooks. As of last month, we both teach cooking classes (woo-hoo!). Incidentally, and significantly in the food blogosphere, we differ in that she became a vegetarian while traveling in Europe in her early twenties, while I started eating meat while traveling in Europe in my early twenties. Nonetheless, I've been meaning to send her an email to tell her all the things we have in common, ask her for some guidance in a few areas (she's ahead of me in figuring stuff out and accomplishments and life generally), and invite her over for dinner next time she happens to be in the Twin Cities. But I don't do even a fraction of the things I mean to do most days, so that email is as of yet unwritten. If and when I do end up writing that email, I will have to specifically thank her for featuring on more than one recent occasion recipes from Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume, a beautiful, unique, and super inspiring cookbook by Bulgarian-born London chef Silvena Rowe. The recipes are Eastern Mediterranean (wow, I spelled that word wrong three times before getting it right) and they are both (a) absolutely delectable (despite the fact that they use several ingredients to which I am averse (lamb) or allergic (pistachios, cashews, walnuts)), and (b) vastly adaptable (important considering (a)).

Speaking of beautiful, unique, and inspiring: Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea and Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies. These are not new books. These are books that remind me why we should read old books. These are books that humble me deeply but also make me laugh. I digress.

Because of Dana's unwitting influence and a family compromise that involves no more cookbook purchases, I checked out Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume from the library a few weeks ago. It was doubly revelatory: (1) the book is, as mentioned above, fantastic, one I definitely want in my cookbook library at some point; (2) I am going to always check out cookbooks from the library now because it's a wonderful filtration device! I've since checked out three other cookbooks that would have been on my Amazon wishlist had I not skimmed them and learnt they are not worthy of my shelves. This is a wonderful way to dabble. And I'm kind of embarrassed about all that I'm writing right now because it's such a freaking given. You are all probably like, "yeah, I check out cookbooks from the library all the time." Well, I didn't until late October. Don't judge me. I've always been a slow developer.

When my mom visited recently, we put together a Mediterranean feast one Friday night. It was so so so so good. And so different, which was extra cool. I'm posting the "entree" recipe today, then two more recipes we made tomorrow, and the fourth one - which my mom made with no help from yours truly - deserves a post of its own, in which I will include some commentary on my mom's way of cooking versus my own and how the former really wins where aesthetics are concerned. Sometimes aesthetics are really important.

Anyway - recipe number one is below. My adaptations were of the sort I discuss in my Cooking Local Through Winter class: using preserved vegetables (the tomatoes) and herbs (the oregano) in place of fresh ones when they are not in season. (I also omitted olive oil from the sauce and used more meat than Ms. Rowe calls for.) These are so heavenly that I made them two nights in a row and ate the leftovers for lunch two days in a row. Enjoy!

And I don't care what Parks & Recreation says, libraries are the best!

Mediterranean Meatballs

Mediterranean Meatballs
Yield: 4 good-sized servings

For meatballs
1.5 oz bread (one slice)
1/3 cup milk
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
1 onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley (I used curly)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt and pepper
Flour, for dusting meatballs
Olive oil, for browning meatballs

For tomato sauce
1 15-oz can whole tomatoes, with juice (or about 1.5-2 cups of tomatoes and juice from a larger can or jar)
1 tablespoon tomato paste*
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Soak the bread in the milk for a few minutes. Squeeze the excess milk from the bread and crumble it into a large bowl. Add the ground beef, ground pork, onion, garlic, parsley, egg, cumin, chili flakes, paprika, and oregano. Combine well (I just used my hands) and season with salt and pepper. Split the mixture into 12 equal amounts and form into balls. Dust each ball with a bit of flour.

Heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a nonstick pan or cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Cook the meatballs for about 5 minutes, rotating them periodically so that all sides brown. Transfer them into a small baking dish.

To make the sauce, mix together tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, paprika, and oregano. Season and cook over low heat, breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon, stirring constantly. Once the juice has reduced a bit (about 5-7 minutes), pour the sauce over the meatballs.

Bake for 20 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling. Serve hot.
* Not critical. I ran out on day 2 and didn't notice a difference in the finished product.


  1. Cake and Edith: I have loved libraries for a loooong time. When I decided to go vegetarian in 10th grade (1982) my mother rightly insisted that I research this idea and get educated. So I did, spending hours at my library reading all about meatless cookery, and it's had a profound affect on my life. Vegetarianism for me lasted ten years, but the food education just keeps on giving, into my 5th decade. I really enjoy your blog!

  2. Thanks, Martha! I'm glad you enjoy my blog. I enjoy working on it and my hope is always that others are benefiting from it as well!