I have a deep and abiding love of Mediterranean food. This is not a passing crush, this is the real deal. I’m thrilled that hummus is now on every menu and Ottolenghi cookbooks are all the rage (I ate at ALL of his restaurants during a trip to London last year – swoon!). I can trace this romance with really good olive oil, fresh lemons and exotic spices back to when I was 14 years old and got my first restaurant job.
It was a small café on Main Street of my small town. The Lebanese owner had built a solid reputation on the backs of crispy, light and airy falafel, silky smooth hummus and traditional boreks – pastries filled with cheese, mint and spinach. During my first day on the job I got schooled in “real” tabouleh, which is most certainly not a GRAIN salad with a bit of herbs and vegetables but rather an HERB AND VEGETABLE salad with a bit of grain. This was among the important lessons I learned about Mediterranean food that have stuck with me over the years. Another: hummus without tahini is merely bean dip…and clearly inferior.
My favorite item on the menu was the kofte kabobs – a mix of ground lamb and beef flecked with parsley and seasoned with plenty of fragrant spices and garlic. To this day, when I walk into a shwarma joint, I’m immediately transported back to that little café, the scent of cumin heavy in the air and the sizzle of those kabobs hitting the hot griddle. Heaven.
Nowadays, when I’m craving a walk down memory lane, I make these Mediterranean Spiced Meatball — a version of those ground meat skewers that are a bit easier to make at home. They cook up quickly in the oven and are particularly good with my favorite tahini-yogurt spread and my version of tabouleh made with smashed chickpeas. I don’t know if my old boss would approve of all my modern twists to his family recipes, but what can I say? I’ve never been one to follow the rules.
I hope you enjoy these tasty little meatballs, jam-packed with the fragrance and flavor of my youth. Tuck them in some pita bread, eat them on a salad or serve them on toothpicks at your next dinner party. While not everyone grew up eating these, I’ve found over the years that they are always a hit.
- 1 pound ground beef
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
- ½ teaspoon grated garlic
- 3 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika (hot variety if you can find it)
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- very small pinch cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 egg
- olive oil, as needed
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a small baking sheet with foil.
- Combine all of the ingredients, except the olive oil oil, in a mixing bowl and mix together with a fork. (The trick to tender meatballs is to avoid over-working the meat. I find the best method is to use a fork to incorporate the ingredients and then your hands or a small scoop to form the balls.)
- Moisten your hands with a bit of olive oil to avoid sticking and roll approximately 20 walnut-sized balls. OR use a small ice-cream scoop. Place onto the baking sheet.
- Roast the meatballs for 15-18 minutes or until cooked through. Serve hot with Yogurt-Tahini Spread or hummus for dipping or spreading.