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Monday, April 18, 2011

Maghreb Meatballs and Garlic-Sumac Sauce

I think I've mentioned the Phoenix Café before; it's a local art and gathering space that hosts a monthly steampunk gathering, small but enjoyable, that centers on music controlled by a gentleman called Tommy Toony. He's a DJ with many years of experience, who's somewhat new to the Steampunk scene. Therefore, the music is often a mix of typical steampunk music, strange things from Vaudeville and other historical music sources, and modern dance music that our crowd enjoys. (The Time Warp makes frequent appearances.)

The proprietors of the establishment have been kind enough to let me prepare food for these gatherings, so I take the opportunity to make simple but delicious items. The baozi made their premiere there, and last month (the night after the Irish Feast) I served a very quickly made (but delicious) beef stew. Last Friday, the 15th, we celebrated Tax Day by drinking, carousing, and staying out late... and I made food, of course.

Maghreb Meatballs
3 lbs (1.36 kilos) ground beef (2 parts ground round, 1 part ground sirloin)

black pepper
cayenne pepper
crushed red pepper
dried parsley

Mix ground beef with seasonings; you will note that I have not listed amounts here as I do not have a good handle on how much I have used. The trick here is to season well with each spice in roughly equal proportions, with the cayenne, parsley, and crushed red pepper used in smaller amounts. My method works thus:

I place the meat in a large mixing bowl and flatten it down to about an inch thick, give or take. I then punch holes in the meat with my fingertips, creating more surface area. Each spice, in turn, gets sprinkled evenly over the surface. Then, I knead the ground meat like bread dough to evenly disperse the seasonings. I repeat once or twice (for a total of two or three seasonings) and then make a small patty of meat, which I then sauté and taste. I continue to adjust the seasonings and taste as needed until I get the desired result.

What is the desired result, you ask? The cinnamon and coriander flavors should be most prominent, with a slight heat and adequate salt content. If you mostly taste beef, you need more seasonings. This will take a fair bit of time to get completely right, so you may want to buy some extra ground beef.

Regardless, once you have achieved ideal seasoning, create small meatballs (about 1 inch in diameter, slightly smaller than a golf or table tennis ball) and sauté over medium heat until cooked through, somewhere around 5-10 minutes. Stick with a skewer and serve with garlic-sumac sauce.

Cooked, mashed potatoes make an excellent thickening agent,
especially when you can't cook the dish you're thickening.
Garlic-Sumac Sauce
1/3 cup (79 ml) olive oil
1/3 cup (79 ml) vegetable oil
1/3 cup (79 ml) lemon juice
2 heads' worth garlic cloves
1/3 cup (79 ml) cooked potato, mashed
1 tsp (5 ml) ground sumac
pinch salt

1. Purée garlic, oils, and lemon juice together in a container just wide enough to accommodate an immersion blender.

2. Add mashed potato to thicken to desired thickness; purée.

3. Add sumac and salt, purée quickly to combine, and store. This will keep for a couple weeks, and gets stronger with storage.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

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