This week at I Heart Cooking Clubs we are traveling to "Exotic Destinations" for our theme. I am combining two delicious Nigella recipes for a journey to the mysterious Middle East; her Aromatic Lamb Meatballs from "Feast" and the Couscous (with cardamom and nuts), from "Nigella Bites." Of course I wouldn't be me if I didn't make a few small changes to the recipes--so I baked the little meatballs instead of frying them (easier, faster, healthier and less messy) and made them a bit bigger for dinner rather than the teeny appetizer ones Nigella gives directions for. For the couscous, I used whole wheat for a little extra fiber, added some golden raisins and subbed in some pumpkin seeds for the pistachios (I had a bunch in the freezer I needed to use!) Also, Nigella's recipe has the couscous cooked and then steamed--I am sure it is wonderful that way, but it is too much bother for me. My simpler way of making it and other changes are in red below.
Nigella says about the meatballs: "I find a tremendous amount of use for these: to pick at over drinks..., much as they are here, lowered into a vat of sweet vegetable stew with couscous, piled into warm pita with salad and hummus, or just piled over plain steamed rice and sprinkled with tasted pine nuts and freshly chopped cilantro."
Aromatic Lamb Meatballs
"Feast" by Nigella Lawson
(Yields Approximately 78 Meatballs) (I made mine larger and got 40)
1 pound ground lamb
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons semolina
Vegetable oil, for frying
Put the lamb into a bowl and add the scallions. Sprinkle over the spices, salt, and semolina, and then beat the egg adding to the bowl. Work everything together thoroughly with your hands, and then cover with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator for half an hour.
Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap and scoop out a scant teaspoon of the mixture. Roll in your hands to form the meatball and place on the lined baking sheet. Have a bowl of cold water beside you to dampen your hands with; this helps them not get too sticky for rolling the meatballs.
When you are ready to cook them, heat about 1/2-inch of oil in a frying pan. Line another baking sheet with kitchen towel, and when the oil is hot, fry the meatballs in batches without overcrowding the pan. Cook them for about a minute a side, or until golden brown all over. (I made my meatballs roughly the size of cherry tomatoes and baked them on a foil-lined cookie sheet at 400 degrees F. for about 15 minutes).
"Nigella Bites" by Nigella Lawson
2 3/4 cups (18 ounces) couscous (Used whole wheat couscous)
2 tsp salt
4 cardamom pods
approx. 2 Tbsp unsalted butter in two slices
2 Tbsp sliced almonds
scant 1/4 cup pine nuts
2 Tbsp pistachios (subbed 2 Tbsp raw pumpkin seeds)
(added 1/2 cup golden raisins)
Fill the bottom of a steamer, or base of a couscoussier should you possess one, with water and bring to the boil. When it looks like it's almost ready to boil, fill the kettle and put it on, then empty the couscous into a glass bowl, add the salt, crush in the cardamom and mix with your fingers, then pour over a litre of boiling water from the kettle and place a plate on top of the bowl. Leave to stand for 5 minutes, then drain and empty into the steamer or couscoussier top and sit this on top of the boiling water beneath. Add the slices of butter on top of the couscous then clamp on the lid and let steam for 7-10 minutes, by which time the couscous should be tenderly cooked and the butter melting. (You can do this a simpler way, if you prefer, by just steeping the couscous in the boiling water for 10-15 minutes, but the grains will be more dense and more likely to clump. It's not disastrous, however, and you must decide what you're prepared to do.) Meanwhile, toast the almonds by frying them in a dry pan till fragrant and golden, remove them to a plate then do the same to the pine nuts. Chop the pistachios. Once the couscous is cooked, tip into a bowl, fork through (and always use a fork for mixing or fluffing up couscous; a spoon will crush it and turn it stodgy), sprinkling in the almonds and pine nuts as you do so (and taste for seasoning at the same time, too). Now fork in most of the pistachios, and sprinkle those that remain lightly on top.
Easy & Not Clumpy ;-) Couscous Directions: Heat 3 cups water or stock to a rolling boil. Place couscous in a large glass bowl. Add salt, golden raisins and crushed cardamom pods and mix in with your fingers. Pour boiling water over couscous and stir with a fork. Cover bowl with a dinner plate and let sit for 5 minutes until all water is absorbed. Add butter and fluff couscous with a fork. Mix in most of the toasted nuts, sprinkling the rest on top to serve.
Notes/Results: Delicious! The lamb meatballs are nicely flavored with the cinnamon, cumin and allspice. Baking them instead of frying in oil still gives them a light crunch on the outside and they are tender within. By rolling them larger than Nigella instructs, I got about 40 small meatballs and served them on small skewers on top of the couscous, which along with a simple green salad made a nice light dinner. The leftover meatballs I am going to make into a sort of Middle Eastern-inspired spaghetti and meatballs later this week. The couscous turned out fluffy and not clumpy at all--a little butter or oil helps with that, and it is subtly flavored with the cardamom, so the toasted nuts and sweet golden raisins really stand out. The raisins plump up nicely in the couscous and are a nice compliment to the crunchy nuts. It's a wonderful and very fast side dish. Both recipes are easy and go together quickly once the meatballs are rolled. I would make both recipes again with my changes.
Cooks Notes: Not sure what a "couscoussier" is? It is basically a Moroccan pot with a large base for stewing meat or vegetables with a steamer basket on top for steaming couscous or rice. Here is Nigella with one.
You can see the "exotic destinations" the other IHCC participants journeyed to by visiting the IHCC site (here) and following the links.