I shared a recipe for my favorite, herbaceous Persian Seasoning last week as part of my Seasoning Series and today I’m going to show you how to use it to make downright delicious Persian Meatballs! Don’t be intimidated: these are super easy and especially delicious because I decided to throw bright chunks of dried apricots into the mix, which end up studded throughout each bite. You might think that the sweetness of the fruit would be overwhelming, but it’s actually a gorgeous counterpoint to the meaty richness of the lamb or beef used as a base.
I’ve written a little about all the things I love about Persian cuisine and its beautifully woven layers of flavors, textures and ingredients here, but today I’m sharing with you guys the meat handling method that distinguishes Middle Eastern style meatballs from their western counterparts. To be blunt, there’s probably not a meatball I’ve met that I didn’t like. Which is weird, since I didn’t grow up eating them much at all, that I can remember. But these Persian Meatballs use a traditional technique that couldn’t be further from your typical American “ohmygod, don’t even look at the meat, you’ll overwork it!” approach.
I’ve called these Persian Meatballs, but their traditional name is koofteh, rooted in the verb koftan, meaning “to pummel”. Here in the US, we’re used to treating our meatball mixtures gingerly, lest we inadvertently “overwork” the meat and somehow curse ourselves with dried out meaty balls. Yet the most common Middle Eastern technique goes the other way, working the meat – squeezing, pressing, punching and otherwise abusing it with abandon – until it begins to gain an almost-sticky texture as the proteins begin to break down.
It’s a little different to what I was used to doing, but it’s a) strangely satisfying and b) yields a silky smooth meat mixture that can be shaped, rolled and molded with ease. The end result is less crumbly than a standard grain free meatball and it doesn’t require any additions as filler for bulking. You can see in the photo above that it’s time to stop working the meat when it will all hold together as one and has an almost glossy sheen on the surface. The end result is a Persian meatball with a simultaneously dense-yet-light texture. It’s both packed more firmly together than the average meatball, yet still manages to be almost airy at the same time. I don’t pretend to understand how that works: I just go with it.
A few Persian Meatball making tips for you
- You can save some meat mashing time if you have a meat grinder and run your ground meat through it a second time for a finer grind. I honestly don’t bother with this unless I’m making at least a double batch, because that thing is a PITA to clean. (Our meat grinder is amazing, but we bought it back when it was impossible to find pre ground grass fed beef in stores; these days it doesn’t get half the action it used to). Honestly, as someone who used to love the contemplative, zen-through-food process of kneading bread, I actually enjoy working the meat mixture through by hand.
- You’ll want to mince the onion. Yes, I said mince. Not roughly chop, not dice… mince that sucker. You want it to be the same size and texture as you’re used to mincing garlic. This is to avoid any raw onion chunks ruining the mood and taking over the flavor-gasm that should be going on otherwise. It also helps to get moisture worked evenly into the mixture; always a good thing.
- You can bake these (375F for about 20 minutes) as opposed to frying them up on the stovetop, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Normally, I abhor stovetop frying. I’m lazy, it’s messy and plenty of meatyball recipes work out just fine in the oven. In fact, oven baked is first cooking method I tested using this recipe. But it’s not worth it, for a couple of reasons:
- They don’t hold their shape as well and tend to pop a little, producing weird little ragged edges that make them look like deranged hedgehogs.
- CRUST IS KIIIIIIIING. Seriously. I cannot overemphasize how much better these are fried up in a bigass cast iron skillet, producing a beautiful umami-packed crust. It’s the perfect contrast to the sweetness of the fruit and, without it, the end result is a strangely one note meatball, despite the plentiful seasoning in the recipe.
- Or is it caramelization? Either way, the caramelized natural sugars from the apricots hitting the sizzling cast iron adds so much goodness, it’s pretty criminal to miss out on that.
- These suckers cook up really fast because they’re the perfect mouthful-size. They’re actually done in half the time on the stovetop than it takes to bake them. They won’t splatter everywhere and make a mess if you stick to the lower side of medium heat and use just enough oil to cover the bottom of the skillet, so don’t be scared about making a mess, either.
These Persian Meatballs are great hot or cold and don’t need any jazzing up… unless you want to! They’re great served with my Garlic & Artichoke Hummus, whipped coconut cream (I like to add chopped mint or cilantro), or drizzled with coconut yogurt dressing or pomegranate molasses.
- 1 lb / 454 g ground lamb or ground beef
- ½ cup / 70 g finely minced onion
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- ½ packed cup / 125 g dried apricots
- 2½ tbsp / 6 g Persian Seasoning (see notes)
- 1 tsp / 5 g fine sea salt
- Optional: 1 tbsp / 15 ml avocado oil, beef tallow or lamb tallow if your meat is very lean
- PREP: Add the beef or lamb to a mixing bowl. Mince your onion and garlic: you want the onion to be about the same size as the garlic, so that you don't get any raw chunks or larger pieces that will overwhelm the other flavors. Roughly chop the apricots. Add the onion, garlic, apricots and all other ingredients to the bowl along with the meat, including the additional oil or tallow, if using.
- MIX: Here's where things get a little different. Put aside all your fears about "overworking" meat when prepping meatballs. You're going to want to work all the ingredients into the meat evenly and then you'll be tempted to stop when all the ingredients are evenly combined. But don't stop there! These Persian inspired meatballs borrow the traditional technique of kneading or pummeling the meat mixture until the protein begins to break down and you get a silky smooth texture. So you'll want to work the mixture for at least five minutes: I like to knead the mixture between my fingers into my palms, then alternate with punching the mixture down into the bottom of the bowl. You'll know when you're done when the mixture starts to get a little sticky and it will easily hold together as one smooth ball. Look at the photo in the post to see what I mean!
- ROLL: I use a 2 tbsp / 30 ml scoop or measuring cup to get even sized little meatballs here. Roll each meatball until it is smooth, flatten it slightly with the heel of your hand and place it on a plate; repeat until you have used up all the mixture. You should have 16 - 17 meatballs.
- COOK: Heat a large cast iron skillet over low to medium heat. You don't want to crank the burner too high because the cast iron will retain the heat, so on my stovetop I have my burner set no higher than 4 out of 10 (with 10 being the highest heat setting). Add enough avocado oil, beef tallow or lamb tallow to the skillet to lightly and evenly coat the bottom. When the oil is hot but nowhere near smoking, add the meatballs. Cook, flipping once, until the meatballs are cooked, about 5 - 6 minutes per side. I like to use cast iron because it gives a lovely crust, but if you're using a different cooking surface, you may need to increase the cooking time for them to brown evenly and cook through.
- SERVE: These Persian Meatballs pair perfectly with my Garlic & Artichoke Hummus, a scoop of coconut cream / coconut yogurt or a drizzle of pomegranate molasses. Just as good cold as they are hot, they will keep in the fridge for about three days.
Did you miss my earlier AIP Seasoning Series posts?
This post was included in the AIP Recipe Roundtable.
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