Fresh From the Farm – Katie Malich

“Looking for AWESOME meatball recipe,” a twenty-something Facebook friend posted last week.

“What type of meatball?” I wondered. You could make meatballs every day for the next ten years and never repeat a recipe. Italian meatballs, Swedish meatballs, Middle-Eastern meatballs, even vegetarian and gluten-free vegetarian meatballs. The possibilities are literally endless. I sent her a standard spaghetti-and-meatball recipe. I wasn’t sure if she was looking for a dinner or an appetizer recipe, so I also sent a 50’s and 60’s era cocktail appetizer Swedish meatball recipe.

The culinary SOS post was sent last Thursday. Too bad, because ground lamb can make an awesome meatball. It’s hard to find ground lamb at the neighborhood supermarket these days, but you can find it at Cali Farms at the Tuesday afternoon downtown Culver City Farmers Market. Lamb meatballs made with fresh mint instead of parsley are truly awesome. Freshly picked mint is essential for an “awesome” taste. Thanks to Peter’s vegetable starts at the northeast corner of the Tuesday market, even apartment dwellers can grow their own to harvest as needed. Not into gardening? If you’d rather pick up fresh-picked and ready to use mint, stop by the Living Lettuce stand.  You’ll find a wide variety of hydroponically grown greens and herbs, carefully washed and placed in individual plastic bags.

I’ve simplified a Mark Bittman lamb meatball recipe to save a little time. Bittman’s original recipe called for the meatballs to be wrapped in collard leaves, much like stuffed grape leaves (dolmas). If you want to take this extra step, by all means go ahead. You’ll need to cook the collards first, just a minute or two in boiling water, so that they are pliable. Cut or tear the leaves in half, removing the stems. Place a cooked meatball in the middle of the leaf. The bottom of the leaf should be facing you. Fold the edges toward the middle, like you would if making a burrito, then roll to seal. and continue rolling. The leaf package should stay sealed, but you can use a toothpick if desired.

The lamb meatball recipe calls for bulgur, a Middle-Eastern staple made from wheat. Nearly all the meatball recipes I’m familiar with include bread as an ingredient. But if you’re a vegetarian or sensitive to wheat, never fear. There are many wonderful “meat” ball recipes. I’ve included a gluten-free “meat” ball recipe which I adopted from a recent post from Small Boston Kitchen.

Middle-Eastern Lamb Meatballs

(serves 4 as main dish, 6-8 as appetizer)

hot water

1/4 c. bulgur

1 lb. ground lamb

1 small onion, chopped, about ¾ – 1cup

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 T. cumin

¼ c. chopped fresh mint

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 T. extra virgin olive oil

optional: instead of salt and pepper, substitute ¼ – ½ t. finely minced preserved lemon and freshly ground pepper to taste

Soak bulgur in hot water to cover until tender, about 15 to 30 minutes. Drain bulgur, squeezing out as much water as possible. Combine bulgur with the remaining ingredients. Shape into 1-inch meatballs, handling mixture as little as possible.

Put extra virgin olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Bittman prefers a cast iron skillet. When hot, add the meatballs and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, turning every couple of minutes. Remove from skillet. If you are going to prepare meatball dolmas, let them cool before you begin to make the dolmas.

Gluten-free Vegan Quinoa “Meatballs”

(serves 2 – 4 as main dish; 6-8 as appetizer)

1/2 c. quinoa

1 c. water

5-6 large button mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced

1 T. extra virgin olive oil

3 or 4 large handfuls of fresh baby spinach, chopped

1/2 red pepper, finely diced

1/4 c. onions, diced

2 T. pine nuts

2 T. applesauce*

A couple generous pinches of crushed red pepper

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp dried rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste

(you can substitute 1 egg for the applesauce if you are cooking for vegetarians, not vegans)

Cook quinoa according to package directions. Set aside to cool. Place a skillet over medium heat, add olive oil. When oil is warm, add onions and mushrooms and saute until onions have softened and mushrooms have browned. Remove onions and mushrooms and set them aside. Add spinach to pan and heat, stirring occasionally, until wilted. In large bowl, combine the fried mushrooms, wilted spinach, red pepper and onions. Add the oregano, rosemary and crushed red pepper. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the pine nuts and combine mixture. Add the cooled quinoa and mix in the applesauce. Shape the mixture into balls, and place on foil lined baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees until they are cooked through, browned and slightly crispy.

Katie Malich is looking forward to enjoying some meatballs with organically grown spaghetti-squash.

The downtown Culver City Farmers Market is held on Tuesdays from 2 to 7 pm on Main Street between Venice and Culver Blvds. The Culver South Farmers Market is held on Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. At the northeast corner of the Westfield Culver City parking lot, at Slauson and Hannum Blvds. The market will continue for the next three Saturdays (Nov. 5, 12, and 19), and then take a break during the winter holiday shopping season. It will resume again in 2012.

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