Persian-Style Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Serves 8 as an appetizer or tapas-style course
1/2 cup basmati rice, soaked in cold water for at least one hour
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
3 tablespoons dried mint, or 1 cup loosely packed fresh mint (you can substitute 1 tablespoon dried basil, or 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves)
1 small onion, cut in pieces
1 pound lean ground beef (90%), or a mixture of ground beef and ground lamb
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil (for browning)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, minced
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 cups cooked tomato sauce (use your favorite brand from a jar, preferably one with less herbs. If it’s very thick, add 3 tablespoons of water to it)
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Make the meatball mixture: Drain the rice well and shake off as much excess water as you can. Put the rice in a food processor with the garlic, mint or basil, and onion. Pulse until it’s ground up — there should be no large pieces of rice. Put the mixture into a large bowl and combine with the meat, egg, salt, and pepper. At this point you can cover the meatball mixture and refrigerate it for 24 hours if you’d like to do it ahead.
Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onion until it’s lightly browned, about 10 minutes or so. Add the cinnamon and turmeric and cook for a minute. Stir in the tomato sauce and some black pepper. Bring to the simmer and taste for salt.
Brown the meatballs: While the onion is browning for the sauce, form the meatballs using one heaping tablespoon for each one. Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet and lightly brown the meatballs on all sides. You’ll have to do this in batches, remove the browned meatballs and put them on a plate while you do the rest of them.
Finishing: When all the meatballs are browned, pour off any fat in the skillet and add the sauce. Scrape the bottom to mix in any browned bits. Add the meatballs back to the skillet and stir gently to coat them in sauce. Cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice — the sauce should be lightly acidic but not too much (it will depend on how acidic your tomato sauce is). Add another tablespoon of lemon juice if you think it needs it. Serve warm.