You know the kind of food that takes you right back to school. A dish that literally transports you back into the 4th form canteen, standing in line between snotty Joe and cut-knees Jamie, slurping on a capri sun and waiting for a spoonful to be piled onto your plate and served with the greyest-green veggies you could ever hope to see…. well this is meatballs for me.
Humble and honest in rich tomato sauce, piled on top of anaemic white mash, with the option of a very questionable looking gravy (which was always politely declined). As a little un, this was my favourite of all school dinners, in between my bouts of morally righteous vegetarianism and hapless pack lunches (which occurred intermittently throughout my school career), I awaited meatballs wednesdays with baited breath.
The meatballs, as I recall were about the size of croquet balls, but are sure as likely to have been closer to the size of ping pong balls. I think my littler proportions at the time might have thrown me off. They were always overcooked on top, but somehow remained soft and meting underneath, their oily fat making pools in the tomato sauce, which was promptly sucked up into the greedy white mash. I am convinced, to this day, that they are the only meal we didn’t have that was poured out of a can. These are a rather different variation, made with lamb and heavily flecked with spices.
As we are now in September and that back to school time, it struck me that it would be nice to take a trip down memory lane and share with you a recreated version of my beloved meatballs. Made with a new profile of flavours, accompanied by a smoked chilli tomato sauce. It is a remarkably simple dish, not to mention cheap and filling. It is also to raise awareness about a campaign currently being held by the department of education, relating to children’s school meals. You can find out more about it here
The simplicity and gorgeousness of the slow cooked lamb balls is enhanced with the aromatic tastes of fresh herbs and earthy spices. The sauce, is best left to simmer briefly to tease out the flavours of the spices and enhance the sweetness of the shallots.
For the Meatballs – Serves 4
- 500g minced lean lamb
- 1 onion, very finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, mashed
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 small egg
- 1 tbs coconut oil, for frying
- 1 tsp salt and a good grinding of pepper
For the Broth
- 200 g Israeli couscous
- 4 tbs tomato paste
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 2 shallots, minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 ltr chicken broth
- a handful of chopped mint
Add all the ingredients for the meatballs to a large bowl and mix well. Set aside to let the spices and meat marinade for 30 minutes to an hour.
Shape the minced lamb in into 16 meatballs and set aside. Heat 1 tbs coconut oil in a large frying pan over a high heat. When hot, add half the meatballs. Cook them for 10 minutes, or until golden brown on all sides. Remove the cooked meatballs from the pan and set aside whilst you repeat the process for the remaining ones.*
To cook the cous cous, add 150ml ml water to a small saucepan. Bring to the boil over high heat. Add the couscous, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until all the liquid is absorbed. This should take approximately 8-10 minutes.
To make the broth, add the oil to a large saucepan and place over a medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic and sweat slowly for 5 minutes. Add the spices and continue cooking for a further 2 minutes. Add the tomato puree and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, reduce the heat to low and add the meatballs and couscous and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the mint, season with salt and pepper, and serve.
*cooking the meatballs in batches ensure they fry properly and get a good golden outside.
Please do let me know about your #schoolmealmemories by leaving a comment below.