Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Beet Stew with Lamb Meatballs

Happy Groundhog Day! If you can brave the midwestern snow-pocalypse enough to get to the supermarket, consider making this unique and utterly fantastic stew. It's an Iraqi-Jewish recipe I saw in Saveur ages ago, and finally got around to making one recent Saturday. It's great. I tweaked the version in the magazine, adding more meatballs, beet greens and spices. It makes enough for 6 average servings, which was 3 delicious dinners for my small family of two. And we never got tired of eating it!

I recommend using ground lamb, although substituting turkey or beef wouldn't hurt. I love the flavor of lamb, and the meat I bought was rather lean. On the day I made the stew, it wasn't greasy or fatty, but after chilling overnight, there was a thin layer of fat that was easily removed. So, if you want to keep this ultra-healthy, you can either make it ahead, so the fat can separate and harden, or put the broth through a handy fat separator after you simmer the meatballs. When I make this again, I'll probably do it exactly the same way, just skimming the fat off the chilled leftovers.

I can't think of another way to say how GREAT this dish is. Especially if you love both beets and Middle Eastern flavors as much as I do. This dish unites them beautifully. It's also worth noting that the basmati rice is soaked for 20 minutes before cooking. I followed the directions in Saveur precisely, and their method resulted in perfect rice. Although the stew requires multiple steps and isn't exactly a streamlined, "weeknight" meal, it's not complicated or fussy. And it's quite the show-stopper dish, in my opinion.

Beet Stew with Lamb Meatballs
Adapted from Saveur magazine.

According to Saveur, “Test kitchen assistant Yael Coty learned to make this dish from her grandparents, who left Iraq for Israel in 1950.” I changed the proportions of the original recipe to make more of the delicious lamb meatballs. I also included beet greens and increased some of the spices. Finally, I freshly ground the cumin and coriander, which is a worthwhile step if you have the means to do so. If your beets are not attached to some lovely, fresh greens, use Swiss chard or spinach. The addition of greens really completes the meal nutritionally and looks pretty too.

Serves 4 to 6

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 1/4 lb. ground lamb
1/4 cup dried currants
3 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tbsp. pine nuts or chopped pistachios
1 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 egg
1 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 1⁄2 cups basmati rice, soaked in water for 20 minutes
2 cups water
1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. turmeric

8 small to medium red beets (preferably with their greens, see below), peeled and cut into sixths or eighths
7 cups water
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbs coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 Tbs cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 Tbs curry powder
2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp mild chile powder (such as ancho)
1 tsp. ground ginger
1⁄8 tsp cayenne, or to taste
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1⁄4 cup tomato paste
1 Tbs sugar
1 bunch beet greens, thick stems trimmed, chopped (Swiss chard or spinach may be substituted)
4 Tbs fresh lemon juice
Chopped parsley for serving
Chopped fresh mint for serving (optional)

1. Make the meatballs: Heat oil in an medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool slightly. Add onions to a medium bowl along with lamb, currants, parsley, pine nuts, paprika, cayenne and egg and combine with your hands. Roll into 1 1⁄2-inch meatballs (you’ll get 26 to 30) and transfer to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Cover meatballs with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 45 minutes.

2. Prepare the rice: Strain and rinse rice and transfer to a 2-qt. saucepan along with the water, salt, turmeric. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat and keep covered in a warm place.

3. Meanwhile, make the stew: Bring beets and 7 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until beets are tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove pot from heat and, using a slotted spoon, transfer beets to a bowl; reserve beet juice.

4. Put garlic on a work surface and sprinkle with a little salt; finely chop. Scrape the garlic into a paste with the side of the chef's knife. In a small bowl, combine garlic paste, 2 Tbs of the oil, coriander, cumin, curry powder, turmeric, chile powder, ginger, and cayenne; set spice paste aside. Heat remaining olive oil in a Dutch oven or 6-qt. pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Add reserved spice paste and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the reserved beet juice and scrape any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add remaining beet juice and sugar; simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper (I used about 1/2 tsp). Place reserved meatballs in the simmering stew. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 minutes. Add beet greens if using, cover and simmer 2 minutes more, or until meatballs are cooked through. Add beets and cook 2 minutes more. Skim surface of stew, and stir in lemon juice. Check seasoning. To serve, fluff rice with a fork and spoon it into serving bowls along with ladlefuls of the stew and meatballs; garnish with parsley and mint, if using

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