One of the risks of digging around the freezer for leftovers to recycle is that sometimes you think you’re getting one thing when actually you’re getting quite another. This risk increases significantly if the packets of frozen food aren’t labeled. As is sometimes the case in our freezer.
One morning last week, before leaving for the office, I rummaged around the plastic tubs in the reach in looking for something I could recycle quickly in the evening. Our recent eatdown has been fairly successful – we’ve used up most of the scrap short rib and had some terrific pork belly earlier in the week – and pickings are getting slimmer. The problem is that many frozen, vacuum packed, unlabeled packets of leftover meat look the same, and when we returned home that evening, I puzzled about the lumpy brown contents before deciding to make something else. What were they?
The answer came the next night when, after a bad commute back from DC, I decided it was time to use the mystery meat. Whatever it was, I’d work something out. Sealed within thick plastic, it looked like giant soy crumbles, but it couldn’t have been, since we don’t eat that stuff. I sliced the packet open, and the contents rolled free. Koftes! Of course. I made the koftes – among other things – for my mother in law’s 75th birthday party after someone facetiously suggested I buy a couple of bags of Swedish meatballs from IKEA and heat them in a crockpot with some Kraft barbecue sauce. Well, I wasn’t going to do that. But I liked the idea of a meatball – something easy to prepare for 50-60 people, easy to eat while sipping a glass of wine. And I really liked the idea of these meatballs – spiced with cumin and coriander, and dressed with both sweet-tart pomegranate molasses and a savory, garlic-spiked yoghurt sauce, and a little different from the conventional meatball. I like them hot, but my husband likes the cold. It’s up to you.
Perhaps you only eat half of the koftes one night. Recycle the remainder as I did, by tossing them with pasta and yoghurt to emphasize their Levantine flavors.
Rigatoni, koftes, beet greens, coriander
Unlike me, you probably won’t just find these koftes in your freezer, so start from the beginning. For a lighter, less fatty meatball, use ground bison instead of some of the lamb or beef. Because these contain no filler, do not use preground beef and do not overwork the meat. Preground beef tends to be overemulsified and will form hard, tough meatballs. If you plan to serve these as a hors d’oeuvre rather than as part of this dish, garnish with yoghurt-garlic sauce and pomegranate molasses.
Sumac powder is an essential in Middle Eastern cooking and comes from the drupe fruits of the Rhus genus. It lends a slightly tart, almost smoked-fruit flavor. Although some describe the taste as “lemony,” I disagree.
1 lb lamb shoulder or beef chuck, ground
1 large onion, minced
4 cloves garlic confit
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 c minced parsley
2 tbsp mint, chiffonade
Saute the onion and garlic confit in a small quantity of olive oil, until soft and translucent, and lightly golden. Add the spices and saute a minute more. Combine in a bowl with the ground meat, parsley, and mint, and add the salt. Make a test meatball, cook it, and taste – adjust seasoning if necessary.
Form meatballs – 1 inch more or less – by pinching off a small amount and rolling until it just holds. Do not overwork. Place a large skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add olive oil. Fry the meatballs, in batches, on all sides until cooked through.
If making the pasta dish, prepare koftes and:
1/2 lb rigatoni
greens from a bunch of beets, both leaves and stems (omit the stems if using red beets as the result is quite lurid), sliced thinly. If not using beet root for another purpose, you may substitute chard
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp Aleppo pepper, or 1/2 tsp hot paprika
1/2 c greek yoghurt, or 4 tbsp each plain yoghurt and sour cream, plus a little extra if necessary
salt and pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the pasta.
While the rigatoni cooks, place a large skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add olive oil. Add the garlic and, when fragrant, add the shredded beet greens and stems, the Aleppo pepper, and the coriander. Saute until tender and add the koftes. You might not use them all – my husband believes they make an excellent cold snack, so bear that in mind (and consider the yoghurt-garlic sauce below).
Drain the cooked pasta and reserve a little cooking water. Add the pasta to the greens-kofte mixture over low heat. Add the yoghurt (or yoghurt-sour cream mixture) and salt to taste. Toss well to coat, adding a little pasta water if necessary to keep the mixture moist.
Plate and season with sumac powder.
If serving with yoghurt-garlic sauce:
1 cup greek yoghurt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
Combine the yoghurt, garlic, and salt to taste. Set aside in the refrigerator, covered, until you have cooked the koftes and are ready to serve.
Drizzle the koftes with pomegranate molasses. Serve with the yoghurt-garlic sauce.