Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Turkey meatballs for salinophiles, Tunisian style

Salinophiles are bacteria that thrive in salty environments.  The term is generally not used for primates but is an apt description of my immediate family.  If she ate sauerkraut, my wife Amy would salt it, before tasting.  Maya uses incredible amounts of salt.  When she was young and on the white diet, she put so much salt on her pasta (nothing else could go on it other than air) that it was inedible to anyone else, except her mother.  Harry and I are somewhat more moderate, but can still salt with the best of them.  We take our salt really seriously.  We consider our discovery of Maldon salt a number of years ago to be a life changing event.  There was a box left in the kitchen of our Cape Cod rental by the previous occupants, and it opened our eyes and our palates.  If you have never tried Maldon, it is worth every penny -- the pyramidal structure of the salt flakes gives an incomparable texture and flavor to food, and it has become our table salt of choice. 

I really increased my salt consumption when I lost weight about eight years ago.  I found that I needed to increase the salt and spicing of my foods to compensate for the decrease in fat.  This had some unforeseen consequences. Depending on what I ate the night before, I would sometimes wake up in the morning feeling like a schmaltz herring or a piece of belly lox (not nova).  This led me to occasionally put sugar in my coffee to counter the lingering salinity.

As much as I like salt, that is how much I dislike turkey.  I of course eat it on Thanksgiving, and when I am served it on other peoples' homes, and I will even prepare a turkey dish once in a blue moon for reasons of economy and health.  As much as I dislike turkey, I dislike turkey burgers even more.  Dried ground-up bird on a bun?  What could be less appetizing?  I also prefer textured vegetable protein to turkey in chili.  However, as I increased my observance of kashrut,  I found that ground turkey was just about the most economical meat available. I started to turn around when we were once served it in fesenjean, a Persian sauce based on walnuts and pomegranate juice, and found that it was not bad at all.  I experimented a bit and found that if you seasoned the ground turkey well (do not use the ground white meat, it is far too dry), and if the occasion called for it put in some egg, parsley and bread crumb, and then browned it before stewing, the results were edible.  More than. Best of all is a newer variation (from March 2012) to which I add some grated tofu.   I have some other turkey meat ball recipes that I will share in the future, but wanted to post this one first, since it is a dish that I have been meaning to try for over 30 years and finally got around to it last night.

This recipe is adapted from a Tunisian spiced ground beef with pickled vegetables that appears in both the 1977 and 1994 editions of Paula Wolfert's Mediterranean Cooking, which otherwise differ substantially. The later edition includes more recipes, especially from Tunisia and Turkey, but the earlier one is noticeably less fussy.  I substituted ground turkey for the beef (you can use beef in my version as well as lamb), browned it before stewing and changed the sauce.  This dish is cheap, fast and easy (by my standards), and tasty, but given the pickled vegetables, olives and capers, you need to like you food salty to enjoy it:

Turkey meatballs, Tunisian style

  1. Take one pound of ground turkey (I use Empire) and put it in a bowl.  Add 3 cloves garlic smashed to a puree with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 15 turns of the pepper mill, and 1 teaspoon each of powdered spearmint,  ground coriander, ground caraway and Aleppo pepper. (The caraway, coriander and mint are a surprisingly winning combo.)  Mix the seasonings in by hand.  It may be gross, but it is the only way to do it.  Did I say wet your hands?  Wet your hands, otherwise most of the turkey will be between your fingers rather than in the bowl.
  2. Cleaning and wetting your hands again, form into small meatballs, about 16-20, and brown in a 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil on high in a large nonstick skillet, turning the meatballs every few minutes to brown on several sides.  
  3. Leave the meatballs in the skillet, but push them over to the cooler side, and add 1 finely chopped medium onion, about five or six sliced scallions, the white with some green, and saute until soft on medium.  Add 3-5 cloves sliced garlic and saute for another two minutes.
  4. Add a 14 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, 1 tablespoon rinsed capers, 1/2 cup pitted olives (green, black or a mix,  just don't use canned ripe olives), and a cup of mixed pickled Mediterranean vegetables. (I used Galil, which sells enormous tubs of the stuff for $3.  It is mostly cauliflower, carrots and peppers, but has a nice kick and a coriander flavor that complements the meatball seasoning.  Other brands are also available, usually with Greek or Italian foods.) It also wouldn't hurt to throw in half a preserved lemon rind, rinsed and shredded. Add a tablespoon of sweet paprika, 15-20 more turns of the pepper mill, a small handful of chopped parsley and a cup of boiling water.
  5. Bring to the boil, turn heat down to medium, and simmer vigorously uncovered for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.   Most of the water should evaporate and the sauce will thicken.  Add some more parsley when it is done.
  6. Serves 4 for dinner with rice, couscous of pasta. For a nice couscous recipe, see end of my chicken tagine posting.
Variation with tofu: You can stretch the turkey by adding some tofu to the meat mixture.   This comes from a Japanese trick -- tofu and chicken patties.  The tofu not only counters the birdiness of the mixture, it also makes the meatballs much moister.  Take 1/2 pound extra firm tofu, wrap it in paper towl, put it on a board or dish and weight it down.  A pot filled with water works great.  Since it will give off a lot of liquid, it is a good idea to put the dish with the tofu in a larger pan.  Grate the tofu on the large holes of a box grater and mix it into the turkey.  this way the recipe will serve 4 or 6 people, or just leave you leftovers for lunch.

1 comment:

  1. Alan, I am with you on both the love of salt (I deny that accusation that I once salted my bacon) and the disdain for turkey. I make capon for Thanksgiving. But this sounds great. I'll let you know how it turns out. Would you consider posting the fesenjean recipe?

    On another note, do you remember this recipe you once gave me for tilapia? It also involves salty, pickled ingredients: chop green olives, capers, garlic and parley together then sautee it in olive oil and press the tilapia down onto the mixture. Gingerly flip to cook the other side and voila. A good variation would be some preserved lemon.