So I seem to be featuring quite a few Pakistani recipes. I’m proud to be learning to cook this cuisine as it represents my new family, and it feels like an accomplishment. At the beginning I put my dishes together with uncertainty – I thought they tasted good, but did they taste like Amma used to make? – and waited with trepidation as they were sampled by a tableful of Pakistanis. However, after a few positive responses (and believe me, Shan is not one to be polite – if he doesn’t like it, he’s not going to choke it down for my sake) my confidence is growing, and I feel good enough to put my own spin on dishes.
But I’m an American girl. I can’t hear the name of this dish without thinking about The Metamorphosis, and to tell the truth, although I think Pakistani food is delicious, it’s often just too heavy, especially during these hot summer days. However, I find sometimes you are pleasantly surprised by the fresh elements in an otherwise heavy dish, and these flavors save it from being completely overpowering. I remember when we were in Pakistan, and took a day trip to Murree, a beautiful mountain town. I was feeling ill from days of heavy food and from the winding mountain roads, and when we went to eat at a local restaurant, I dreaded the chicken karahi that was brought to our table. It looked like another oily, stewy dish, but when I tasted it I was thrilled to discover how lemony and light-tasting it was. I try to remember this and recreate that feeling when I’m cooking Pakistani food, and so for these meatballs I make sure to include lots of fresh flavor – ginger, cilantro, parsley – to help counter the deeper flavors of the beef, cinnamon, and other spices.
My meatballs, which I’ve talked about before, are kind of a hybrid between Huma Siddiqi’s recipe in Jasmine in Her Hair and Alton Brown’s Swedish meatballs from the meatball episode of Good Eats. Kind of like Huma’s flavor profiles with Alton’s technique. I add quite a few ingredients to Huma’s recipe, and brown the meatballs for some nice carmelization before adding the sauce.
One thinly sliced onion
Three or four cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
Small knob of ginger, peeled and grated
whole spices: 3 whole cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks, 4 small cardamoms crushed, 1 large cardamom, and 2 bay leaves
Salt, pepper, and some cayenne (starting with a tsp, you can add more to taste)
a can of diced tomatoes (you can use fresh, but I’m really picky and they have to be very red and tomatoey, so usually I end up using canned)
a nice spoonful of tomato paste
1 peeled, chopped carrot
2 cups of water
1 lb ground beef
Salt (plenty) and pepper
A tsp each of tumeric and cayenne
a good size knob of ginger, peeled and grated
handful of chopped parsley
a couple big spoonfuls of diced garlic*
a couple big spoonfuls of coriander chutney**
a couple big spoonfuls of yogurt
Breadcrumbs. About a half cup, and add a little more at a time until your meatballs reach the right consistency
* On the diced garlic that comes in a jar – I would normally never buy this crap, but Shan likes to cook with it, and I must confess it’s convenient for things like this
** I make a good homemade cilantro chutney, but since it doesn’t last long I don’t usually have it on hand. You can get it store-bought at an Indian market. Swad brand is delicious and I could eat it with a spoon, but I accidentally bought Laxmi brand one time and discovered it to be poisonously disgusting.
Saute the onion, garlic, ginger, whole spices, salt, pepper and cayenne in olive oil. After the onion softens, add tomatoes, tomato paste, carrot, and water. Cover and simmer until the carrot softens. In the meatime, prepare your meatballs!
I’ve mixed the meatballs in the food processor before, but really it’s fine to just mix them to death with your hands, not to mention less cleanup. They’ll still come out nice and tender, with kind of a pleasantly spongy texture. Roll into balls and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Miraculously, this time I came up with 24 evenly-sized, evenly-spaced balls. Brilliant.
So now, put the baking sheet with the meatballs in the freezer (this helps them not fall apart when you start to cook them) while you finish your sauce. Fish out the whole spices, and carefully pour it into a blender and puree. You could leave it chunky if you like, but I like the sauce velvety and smooth, plus how else am I going to hide the carrots from my husband? Return to the pot and keep warm.
Now you can brown your meatballs. Do half the meatballs, in a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil. Let them brown for a minute or two (when they are ready, they won’t stick to the bottom), then use 2 spoons to roll them over to brown the other side. Remove the first batch to a plate, and brown the second batch.
When the second batch is browned, add the first batch back to the pot. Adjust the seasoning to your sauce and add a spoonful of yogurt and a spoonful of the cilantro chutney, stir it up, and pour it over your meatballs. Cover and simmer until the meatballs are cooked. Transfer to a serving platter, and sprinkle with some chopped cilantro.
Serve with warm naan for a Pakistani feast!