Over the past months, I have been tidying up the blog as part of the transition to my own self hosted site. Correcting typos, re-sizing photos, updating links etc. In doing this, it’s come to my attention that I am a little bit obsessed with Yotam Ottolenghi. He came into my consciousness slowly in the UK, via recipes in the Weekend Guardian. By the time I returned to Australia, I had a small pile of clippings of his recipes I wanted to make. Many of the recipes turned out to be testers or early versions of those that ended up in Jerusalem. By publishing them individually, he could gauge reader interest via comments and interactions. He could also note feedback from those who tried out the recipes. The Pumpkin & Tahini Spread has been a winner time and again at parties and get togethers. It’s also one of my most pinned recipes on Pinterest.
As I had already unintentionally made some of the recipes in Jerusalem, it was time to try out some different recipes from the book itself. The picture of the Lamb Meatballs looked appealing and that was a good enough reason for me to have a go. They contain barberries/berberries/berberis, a small dried berry that is essential to Iranian cuisine, which is where these meatballs travelled from to arrive in Jerusalem.
A barberry by any other name
Barberries are a glowing red berry with a sweet and sour flavour. They make you squint your eyes if you pop one in your mouth but you can’t help going back for another. Barberries are used in many celebration dishes at wedding feasts due to their jewel like presence, studded in amongst the almond and herb laden dishes. It is suggested that if you can’t obtain barberries that you used dried cranberries however the ones in Australia are often overly sweetened so try to find a Middle Eastern grocer if you can. They are versatile and worth hunting out. I recently made a Scandinavian recipe that called for fresh cranberries – something that is unavailable in Australia so I modified the recipe and soaked some barberries to add as a replacement.
You also need to give a fig!
The other very Iranian ingredient is tiny whole dried figs. These are also available from Middle Eastern grocers however, if you want to support Australian producers, Willabrand also do small dried figs. These are often available in delis so keep a look out for them. Ottolenghi uses a lot of allspice in his recipes so you may as well grab a packet of that too, rather than trying to adapt.
The strangely sour yet savoury sauce with sweet onions is thin and full of flavour. A good Afghan or Turkish flatbread is a must to mop up the juices.
Lamb Meatballs w Barberries Yoghurt & Herbs
(adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi)
- 740g minced lamb
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 20g parsley, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3/4 tsp ground allspice
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 60g barberries
- 1 medium egg, lightly beaten
- 100ml oil, for frying
- 500g shallots peeled, or onions peeled and sliced
- 200ml white wine
- 500ml chicken stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 thyme sprigs
- 2 tsp sugar
- 150g dried figs
- 200g Greek or natural yoghurt
- 3 tbsp of fresh herbs such as mint, coriander, dill, parsley torn roughly
- salt and pepper to season
- Place the lamb, onions, parsley, garlic, allspice, cinnamon, barberries, egg, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper into a large bowl. Mix the ingredients well with your hands and roll into balls about the size of a golf ball. (Some of the berberries will escape the meatballs but there will still be plenty inside)
- Heat approximately 1/3 of the oil in a large, heavy based pot or saucepan with a tight fitting lid on a mdeium-high heat. Place a few lamb meatballs in at a time, turning and cooking for a few minutes until they are browned all over.
- Remove them from the pan and set aside on some kitchen towel to drain whilst you repeat with remaining lamb meatballs. You may need to wipe out the pan halfway through to remove stray pieces of onion or barberries that have browned too much. It is better to remove these and add some new oil as the excess browned onions and barberries can burn and turn bitter.
- When all the meatballs are browned, wipe the pan clean and add the remaining oil. Add the shallots or sliced onions and cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently until golden brown.
- Add wine, leave to bubble for a few minutes then add chicken stock, bay leaves, thyme, sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange figs and meatballs in amongst and on top of the shallots. The meatballs need to be almost covered in the liquid.
- Bring to the boil, cover with the lid and reduce the heat to a very low simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another hour, until the sauce has reduced and intensified, Gently turn the meatballs occasionally during this time.
- Transfer to the lamb meatballs to a large serving dish. Whisk and then dollop the yoghurt on top and scatter with fresh herbs.
Makes around 25 – 30 meatballs. Serves 6
- Ottolenghi suggests removing the figs towards the end of the cooking time as they get quite soggy. I found there was no need and that for the most part they remained intact. If you can’t get small, whole dried figs, normal dried figs are fine however only add them for the last hour of cooking so they don’t completely disappear into the sauce.
- I couldn’t find shallots (of course) so I substituted with sliced onions and it seemed to work.
- You can freeze this dish and successfully reheat. Just don’t add the yoghurt or herbs before freezing. Add them once you have reheated the meal.