Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Week 12: Mini Lamb Meatballs with Pilaf

I know how hard it is to come up with a quick meal that can be fixed in 30 minutes or less. Having had 3 children with various school, work, and activity schedules on top of my own work schedule made it difficult for us all to sit down together every night, but I made it work utilizing two methods. One, I shopped every Sunday morning then settled into the kitchen for 2-3 hours cooking meals for the week. Soups, stews, roasted chicken, meatloaf, whatever I could make that could be cooked or reheated quickly once we were all at home. Two, finding recipes that were easy to make and quick to cook for weekday meals.

One of those quick recipes is a lamb pilaf. I wrote a post about it back in 2006, which caused me to be somewhat nostalgic when I read it. The gist of the post was that I felt it necessary that my children be able to cook once they lived on their own. Brilliant Daughter is an excellent cook, trying new recipes, modifying old ones, devising new ones, while Electrician Son relies primarily on a few standards and lots of grilling. At the time of the post, Butcher Son, my youngest, was just embarking on his career as a butcher and was only adept at breakfast foods. The post was an attempt to teach him how to cook something new and easy, so he wouldn’t have to rely on eggs and toast.

Eight years later, he has far surpassed my expectations. In fact, he has gotten together with friends every Monday night for the past two or three years to prepare feasts to share. One person decides the menu and they all pitch in on the cooking end of things. And we are not talking burgers and fries here; they make meals centered around Steak Diane, horseradish-crusted beef tenderloin, and stuffed chicken breasts, among other things. Ahhh, but I digress.

That original lamb pilaf recipe, which takes about 30 minutes start to finish, pays homage to my husband’s family, half of which are Lebanese. Lamb and rice were a part of his childhood and became part of our repertoire. But cooking lamb takes hours, and even shish kebab requires marinating to impart flavors into the meat. So the lamb pilaf recipe was a way to get the flavor we loved without the long preparation or cooking time. And while we still cook the pilaf at least once a month, I thought it needed an update, a new twist. So I took the basic ingredients and changed them up a bit. What I came up with is mini lamb meatballs served on top of the pilaf with a lemon-mint yogurt sauce. The preparation time is still around the half-hour mark, easy enough for anyone to do (in fact, you can get the kids involved in rolling the meatballs), and it’s just as tasty as the original version.

Oh, and for the record, I am very proud of my children, not just for their culinary prowess but also for the very special people they have become. I am one lucky mama!

Recipe after the jump....

Mini Lamb Meatballs with Pilaf
1 box Near East rice pilaf
1 pound ground lamb
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil, for frying

2 cups plain yogurt
4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoning salt, or to taste

Start by combining all the ingredients for the yogurt sauce in a small bowl. The longer it sits, the more the flavors meld. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Next, cook your pilaf according to the package directions. While this simmers on the stove, mix up your meatball ingredients. I find that using my hand works best for getting the meat and seasonings to combine thoroughly.

Heat a fry pan on medium-high with a tablespoon or two of olive oil and begin rolling your meatballs. I like to make smaller meatballs, as they cook quickly. The easiest way is to use a small ice cream scoop, so portions remain the same. If you don’t like the flat bottom created by using a scoop, you can finish the meatball by hand to make a round.

Fry meatballs in hot oil, turning as they brown. For a small meatball, this should take about 10-15 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

To serve, plate rice on a platter, place meatballs in the center and top with a dollop of yogurt sauce. Pass additional sauce for your hungry diners to add to their plate.

Note: While I have pan-fried the meatballs in a small amount of oil, you can also place them on an oiled cookie sheet and bake them, if you want to avoid standing over the stove and turning the meatballs.

Yield: 4 servings

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