Middle Easterners love meatballs. They eat them grilled on kebabs, baked in the oven and simmered in fragrant tomato sauce. You'll see a lot of meatball recipes on this blog. There are endless ways to prepare these succulent little treasures. This happens to be one of my healthy and incredibly satisfying favorites.
Whenever I make this recipe, I travel back in time to my grandmother's tiny, yellow, Brooklyn apartment kitchen. She lovingly prepared many delectable Lebanese meals there. Lots of rice pilafs, stuffed chickens, triangle-shaped vegetable pies and meatballs came out of her galley kitchen. The faint aroma of cinnamon and allspice always wafting through the air.
Middle Eastern Chicken or Turkey Meatballs In A Light Tomato Sauce Recipe
Some Notes: They key to making this dish taste both authentic and fresh is using restraint with the spices and using the best tomato products you can find. I turn to Muir Glen Organic tomato products for all my recipes. They're fresh tasting and full of flavor.
The spices in this dish are common to Lebanese cooking and lend very soft warm notes against the freshness of the tomato sauce. The spices should be subtle, not over powering. If you're not sure what a pinch or dash is, I've seen measuring spoon sets that have these tiny measurements. But I think you can manage to add a pinch of spice to the sauce by using your finger tips. A dash is a little bigger than a pinch. This kind of cooking will have you thinking intuitively. Make this recipe your own, adding more spice or less to your liking.
Also, resist the urge to overcook the meatballs. They're very small and light. They cook quickly.
You can use ground chicken, ground turkey or lean ground beef in this recipe.
I like using a jalapeno in the meatballs because it adds a bit of heat and a fresh chili flavor. It also works well against the subtle warmness of cinnamon and allspice in the sauce.
You can sprinkle some toasted pine nuts over the dish or even include some in the meatball mixture if you so desire.
I like to serve this with freshly steamed rice pilaf, Persian salad and/or soft pita bread. Recipe link for the Persian salad and rice pilaf with toasted orzo provided after The Rundown.
***Some people like to add eggs to their meatball mixture. I think it's a great idea and would probably make them even lighter in texture. If you decide to add two eggs then adjust the breadcrumbs, adding more to hold the mixture together.***
Makes a large pot full. Reheats well.
- 2 16 ounce packages of ground chicken, ground turkey or lean ground beef. I used one package of extra lean ground chicken and one package of regular ground chicken.
- 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered.
- 1 jalapeno chili (optional, see notes)
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/4 cup of chopped Italian flat leaf parsley for the meatballs, plus more for serving
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 2 28 ounce cans of whole peeled tomatoes I used Muir Glen Organic (see notes).
- 3 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 3 tablespoon of plain breadcrumbs (see notes)
- couple of drizzles of honey or pinches of sugar to balance the acid in the tomatoes
- 2 dried bay leaves (remember to remove the bay leaves before serving)
- a couple of good pinches of dried oregano and marjoram, about a 1/2 teaspoon or so of each. You can use just dried oregano. But the addition of marjoram is wonderful in this sauce.
- a few small dashes of ground cinnamon in the sauce and in the meatballs. I use Penzeys Spices Extra Fancy Vietnamese Cinnamon because I think it's the best. Strong, bold and fragrant, a little goes a long way.
- a teeny pinch of ground allspice in the sauce and in the meatballs
- sea salt or kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- 1/3 cup of water
- some toasted pine nuts (optional, see notes)
Place the onion, garlic and chili in a food processor and whiz until it becomes a soft paste. Place this chili, garlic and onion paste into a large bowl.
Place the tomatoes into the bowl of a food processor and whiz until they're pureed. Place this tomato puree into a large dutch oven or oven-safe pot. Add the tomato paste, water, a drizzle of olive oil, a few drizzles of honey or sugar, some salt, pepper, the dried bay leaves, oregano/marjoram, two dashes of cinnamon and a small pinch of allspice. Stir everything to combine. Heat on medium low. Cover the pot, bring to a gentle boil. Simmer gently on low heat. Keep an eye on it and stir on occasion.
While the sauce is simmering, prepare the meatballs. Place the ground chicken in the bowl with the chili-garlic-onion paste prepared earlier. Add some salt, the chopped fresh parsley, breadcrumbs, a dash of cinnamon and a small pinch of allspice. Mix to combine.
Line two baking sheets with tinfoil. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place some olive oil on a small plate or shallow bowl and dip your hands into the oil. Roll the meat mixture into meatballs the size of large marbles or small walnuts, putting them on the tinfoil-lined baking trays. Bake in the preheated oven for about 6 minutes, until they just start to color. Take them out of the oven and place them in the simmering tomato sauce. Turn the oven down to 350. Put the pot with the meatballs and sauce into the oven and continue cooking for 10 minutes. The meatballs should be cooked through, tender and juicy. Be careful not to overcook or they'll become dry. Remove the bay leaves. Serve the meatballs and sauce with lots of chopped parsley and/or toasted pine nuts. Some fresh pita bread, rice pilaf with toasted orzo and a Persian salad complete the meal. Recipe links provided below.
My Persian Salad ~ An Easy, Refreshing Chopped Salad with a Twist of Lime: http://jillyinspired.blogspot.com/2012/10/persian-salad.html
Middle Eastern Rice Pilaf with Toasted Orzo: