Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spicy Moroccan Meatballs with Sweet Carrot Salad

I love spicy food, just not the super hot variety. My dad was from Texas and I grew up eating fantastic TexMex food. His recipes were carefully crafted; he’d blend spices and a touch of heat to create a dish that was full-bodied yet subtle. No burning mouths in our household. While he used traditional TexMex ingredients such as hot peppers, he also incorporated other spices including ginger, nutmeg and paprika. His TexMex meals opened my eyes, and mouth, to a world of ethnic foods. I’ve learned to love Asian, Indonesian, and Middle-Eastern foods with all their unusual spice notes.

I was craving something spicy recently and decided to try out Rick Bayless’ recipe for Moroccan meatballs and tomato sauce. My father would have loved Bayless' recipes, which are sophisticated interpretations of traditional Mexican and other ethnic cuisines. I’ve modified this recipe for Moroccan meatballs a bit, adding more spices to mimic the complex dishes my father used to make. I’ve paired the meatballs with carrot salad and orange vinaigrette--the fresh, slightly sweet salad is a perfect compliment to the spicy meatballs.  I also had some Feta cheese in the fridge, so I sprinkled a bit on top of the meatballs, which added a tangy finish to the dish.
Moroccan Meatballs Over White Rice with Carrot Salad

Serves 4
1 lb. ground lamb
1 tbls. paprika
½ tsp. hot paprika (or generous pinch of cayenne)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. powdered or granulated onion
1 tsp. powdered or granulated garlic
½ tsp. ground ginger
3 tbls. fresh parsley, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 (15 oz.) can diced, herbed tomatoes, drained
2 tbls. olive oil
3 tbls. tomato paste
½ onion, cut into 8 segments
¼ cup crumbled Feta cheese, optional
2-3 cups white rice, cooked and kept hot

Place ground lamb in large bowl, spreading out as much as possible. Scatter the spices as evening over the meat as possible.  Add 1 ½ tsp. paprika, ½ tsp. cumin, the powdered onion, garlic and ginger, half of the parsley and ½ tsp salt. Knead the mixture together and roll into 1-inch meatballs. Lay the meatballs on a slightly moistened plate.

Chop garlic in food processor. Add tomatoes, olive oil, tomato paste, onion, and remaining paprika (add hot paprika here if including it), cumin and parsley. Season with ½ tsp salt. Process until smooth. Scrape into 10-inch pan and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.

Remove pan from heat. Nestle meatballs into sauce in a single layer and carefully spoon sauce over the meatballs. Cover and cook over medium heat for 8 minutes. Remove cover and cook for 4 more minutes.  Do not overcook meatballs as they will get tough. If sauce is too thick, remove meatballs and add a bit of chicken stock or water to get to the consistency you like. Return meatballs to sauce and serve over rice.

Shredded Carrot Salad
Serves 4
4 large carrots, shredded
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup golden raisons

1 cup orange juice
½ cup cilantro leaves
1 tsp. mint leaves
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. paprika
1 pinch cayenne
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. honey
¼ cup olive oil

In a medium bowl, combine shredded carrots, diced cucmber and raisons. In a small mixing bowl, combine lemon juice, cilantro, spices, and honey. Slowly whisk in olive oil to make the dressing. Toss together.

Tips and Tidbits
You can substitute ground beef if you don’t care for lamb. If you don’t want the meal to be hot spicy, omit the hot paprika. 

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