Saturday, August 15, 2009

We Want Food - Oh little lamb who made thee?

I've been so busy eating my way through NY that I never got around to posting about the lamb and eggplant dish that I made while in SC to accompany the lahukh that I wrote about last week.

Before I arrived in old Cola, SC, my mother informed me that she had purchased some beautiful ground lamb from the local greenmarket (from the same guy who made the goat sausage that we so enjoyed last Christmas) and that I needed to figure out what to do with it. I contemplated a couple of Indian dishes and a lamb ragu, but when I stumbled across a recipe for Albondigas (spicy meatballs on pureed roasted eggplant), I knew I'd found a winner.

The recipe, which I adapted from The Food of Israel: Authentic Recipes from the Land of Milk and Honey, calls for ground beef. But, let's face it, anything beef can do lamb can do better, so we gave it a try.

Albondigas are small meatballs that are present in lots of Spanish-speaking cultures, but they enter Israeli cuisine through Sephardic Jews who spoke Ladino in around the 15th century. These little guys turn up in a lot of Sephardic/Ladino dishes, often in soups, because using these bits of less-expensive ground beef et. al was a good way of making precious meat last longer, while giving dishes the benefit of the flavor that just a few orbs of good fatty flesh can offer.

In this version, the ground meat is combined with onion, bread crumbs, an egg, and a bunch of salt and pepper. You simply combine said ingredients, fry 'em up, and then set them aside.

Then, using the same pan, you add three chopped up roasted eggplants, some crushed garlic, a little sugar, salt and pepper, and mush it up real good.

When you have a nice mushy puree, you throw the puree into an ovenproof dish, lay your crispy (thatsa spicy) meatballs on top and bake the whole thing at 400 degrees for about a half hour.

The results?

Truly delicious! Moistly succulent lamb, with its hint of satisfying gaminess. The slight bitterness of the eggplant, made more subtle with the sweetness of the sugar and the caramelized bits of pan juices. And of course the textures here of the smooth puree with the crispy bits of the charred meatballs.

To give it a bit more bite and character, we added some mango chutney and a little spicy Lebanese zhoug, which I had whipped up from some jalapenos...

The whole thing, when scooped up with bits of the savory flat lahukhs was a big hit, and we all scarfed in silence before sitting back in our chairs and marveling at the intense flavor that comes so easily when a little lamb is used.

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