Ground beef isn’t the sexiest ingredient, but it is inexpensive and the extra lean variety can be a good source of protein. Lately, I prefer to grind my own beef in the food processor, but I’ll admit that I do buy extra lean (96/4) ground beef from the grocery store because it is convenient to have it on hand.
On a recent night, the convenience paid off. I wasn’t in the mood for the traditional spaghetti and meatballs, but I had some ground beef on hand. I stumbled on this recipe for North African Meatballs by Melissa d’Arabian and decided to give it a shot. I served this with couscous with golden raisins. Instead of ground oats, I used a piece of wheat bread for the meatballs. I also omitted the brown sugar from d’Arabian’s recipe. Because I did not have any cilantro on hand, I substituted fresh flat leaf parsley. I also happened to be out of tomato paste so I used two tablespoons of the canned tomatoes from the sauce. Do not omit the ginger, it gives the meatballs an unexpected freshness and it is a trick I’ll try again in other meatball recipes. I made the meatballs and the sauce in a dutch oven, leaving me (or in truth, my husbanders) only one pot to clean rather than cooking the sauce and meatballs separately.
The couscous is easy peasy. I used plain couscous and threw in some fresh herbs and golden raisins. You can easily use quinoa for the couscous as well. The sweetness from the raisin gives a really nice contrast to the meatballs. This makes for great leftovers too!
NORTH AFRICAN MEATBALLS WITH GOLDEN RAISIN COUSCOUS
For the Meatballs:
2 tablespoons of the canned tomatoes you are using for the sauce
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch ground cinnamon
1 pound lean ground beef
1 slice of bread, torn into small pieces (I used whole wheat bread)
2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, for browning the meatballs
For the Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup pitted and chopped olives
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken stock or broth
1 (approx. 15 oz) can whole tomatoes – reserve 2 tablespoons for the meatballs (preferably crushed by hand in a bowl, but crushed or diced canned tomatoes will work too)
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
Pinch ground cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Golden Raisin Couscous
1 cup of water
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup couscous
¼ cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
1 teaspoon fresh mint (optional)
For the meatballs:
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients, except the olive oil. Do not over mix, instead, start by mixing gently with a wooden spoon, then make sure all of the ingredients are well combined by using COLD hands to incorporate. Take care not to over work the mixture with your hands and keep your hands cold by running them under cold water. Form the meat into meatballs, about 1 inch in size. In a large heavy bottom pan to dutch oven, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat, and brown the meatballs in batches until golden on all sides. Try to not rush this step, make sure all of the meatballs have space between them and are not touching.
Resist the urge to move the meatballs around. Once you place them in the pan give them a good 3-5 minutes before giving them a nudge. If they don’t come away from the pan easily, let them cook for another minute or two before nudging them to turn them. Make sure the meatballs are browned on all sides, adding more oil as needed. Transfer the meatballs to a separate plate.
For the sauce:
Using the same pan or dutch oven, (don’t clean it, those burnt bits add depth and flavor!), heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until soft but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add the lemon zest and olives and cook for 1 more minute. Add the white wine, deglaze the pan, and let it reduce for another 2 minutes. Stir in the stock, canned tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and cinnamon, and simmer to blend flavors, about 5 minutes. Transfer the meatballs into the sauce and simmer for another 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle with fresh parsley before serving.
For the Golden Raisin Couscous:
Bring the water, stock, and oil to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once it comes to a boil, add the couscous, stir quickly. Turn off the heat, cover the pan tightly with a lid, remove from the heat, and allow the couscous to stand for 5-10 minutes. Add the golden raisins, parsley and mint, if using. Mix together and fluff with a fork.