January 10, 2015
A Taste of the Past
I love revisiting the cookbooks I used growing up. They shaped me as much as any novel, and flipping through the sauce-splotched pages takes me back, makes me remember long-forgotten dishes.
But dusting off the Time-Life Foods of the World books is an entirely different experience. These 27 books, with their accompanying spiral-bound recipe books, opened up whole words to me. They were beautifully produced and written by some of the greats: Julia Child, James Beard, MFK Fisher, Richard Olney….. Today, as I was looking at the recipes in Middle Eastern Cooking I was struck by how radically things have changed. So many of these once-exotic foods are now available in your average supermarket. Hummus, dolmas, tabouli…..
Then I came upon this recipe for keftedakia. When I first got the book I was enchanted by the idea of meatballs laced with ouzo and mint, and I immediately gathered the ingredients. My friends were equally excited. Making them again, after all this time, I was struck by one anachronism in the recipe. After you mix your ground raw beef, you're supposed to taste it for seasoning. In this age of e-coli and ground beef recalls, no mainstream publication would dare make that suggestion. On the other hand, if you buy your meat from a whole animal butcher, or grind your beef yourself ….
Keftedakia (Adapted from Time-Life Middle Eastern Cooking)
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer or first course (about 40 meatballs)
2 slices white bread, trimmed of crusts and torn into little pieces
1/4 cup ouzo
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon finely-cut fresh mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt (or less)
1/2 cup flour
Soak the bread in the ouzo for five minutes. Meanwhile, sauté onions in a few tablespoons of olive oil until wilted, about five minutes. Be careful not to brown them. Set aside in a large bowl.
Squeeze the bread dry and discard the ouzo. Add the bread, ground beef, egg, mint, garlic, oregano, salt and a few grindings of pepper to the onions. Knead vigorously with both hands, then beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. (Taste for seasoning.)
Moistening your hands periodically with cold water, shape the beef mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Then roll the balls in flour to coat them lightly. Refrigerate balls for one hour.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Add 3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the skillet and bring to medium-high heat. Drop 10 or so meatballs into the pan at a time, shaking the pan from time to time to brown them evenly. Cook for about 6 minutes, or until cooked through. Transfer the meatballs to the oven to keep warm. Serve with fresh mint as garnish.
It's not in the Time-Life recipe, but I like a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over the top.
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