Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Nar eksili patlicanli kofte: Turkish meatballs with roasted eggplant and pomegranate-tomato sauce

By now it is apparent even to me that my taste for pomegranate is not going to be contained to the Christmas season. Then again, if you've got a bottle of pom molasses (also known as pomegranate syrup or paste, but never grenadine), why not flaunt it, eh? (Although it will live happily in the fridge for a year or more so there really isn't any hurry...)

I was always going to fall for this recipe, really. Not only does it showcase my current fruity favourite, it also gives me a great excuse to try out those "hot spices" that my Turkish friend gave me. Aside from the molasses, there is nothing particularly exotic here, but the combination is definitely not your everyday meatballs (kofte), that's for sure.

The tender and juicy kofte are richly savoury by themselves, but the sweet-sour sauce really takes them to another plane. Most of the recipes I have for kofte/kufteh/kofta (and all the other variant spellings) call for de-crusted bread steeped in water and squeezed out. This technique really does make the meat extra succulent, and should not be reserved just for Middle Eastern-style meatballs and patties. For the spices, I substituted 2 tsp of "hot spices", and it provided just the right heat for me. (I'll definitely be trying to hunt down a recipe for this spice blend.)

This recipe comes from Classical Turkish Cooking: Traditional Turkish Food for the American Kitchen by Ayla Esen Algar. As you will see from one of the reviews on Amazon, this book may not please those that need pictures of the food to entice them into giving something a go. All things being equal, I have to say that I'd rather have more prose on the historical and cultural background of a country's cuisine than a few colour plates, and in Classical Turkish Cooking, Ayla hanim more than makes up for the lack of photos with her fascinating and poetic insights into the food of her homeland. It is erudite stuff, and in that, she's right up there with Claudia Roden in my book. And that is praise, indeed.

Although it is a relatively slim volume, there are many more recipes I want to have a go at sometime. One being the stuffed mussels that my dear friend U insisted I try in Kadikoy just half an hour or so after we'd stuffed ourselves silly with grilled kofte, white bean salad and 2 huge glasses of homemade ayran (the Turkish take on lassi). She said they were her absolute favourites, but I have to admit I did pause to consider whether, sitting so pretty and gleaming all tucked up in their shells in the hot Turkish sun, they might not trigger some unpleasant tummy situation I would live to regret. As it happened, these lemony and allspicy dolmas of the sea ended up being one of my very favourite things to eat in Turkey. How lucky will I be if I can find mussels in Japan big enough to permit the stuffing. But I digress...

Nar eksili patlicanli kofte: Turkish meatballs with roast eggplant simmered in a pomegranate-tomato sauce

If pomegranate syrup is not available, use pomegranate juice sharpened with lemon juice, or a fruity vinegar.

Kofte mixture

2 slices of bread, crust removed
450 g twice-ground lamb (beef can be substituted) [Saffron: I used chicken and it was lovely]
1/2 onion, grated
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 to 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tender long green peppers, Hungarian peppers, or 2 poblanos [S: these are not readily available here, so I left them out]

4 or 5 Japanese eggplants [S: I think she means regular nasu around 8 cm long, not naganasu, although I used naganasu and didn't come to grief]

Pomegranate-tomato sauce
4 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
5 scallions [spring onions], white and green parts, chopped
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp pomegranate syrup
Chopped flat-leaf parsley

To make the kofte, put bread in small bowl with water and let soak until soft. Squeeze dry by hand and put in bowl with lamb, onion, spices, olive oil and parsley. Shape into small kofte [S: I made mine balls about the size of walnuts] and pan grill them in a hot cast iron skillet brushed with oil. Place the kofte in a heavy shallow pan in one layer, and set aside. Roast the peppers directly over a gas burner until brown blisters appear on their surface. If you are using the poblanos, they will take a little longer to become soft and you will need to peel and halve them.

Roast the eggplants directly on the gas burner until black and charred. Cool, peel, and cut off the stems. Then cut them into 1/3-inch-thick [S: I did them into 1.5 cm] rounds and place them over the kofte in the pan.

To make the sauce, cook the tomatoes in olive oil, mashing down with a fork for 4 or 5 minutes. Stir in the scallions and pepper flakes and cook until the mixture forms a watery sauce. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the pomegranate syrup or whatever substitute you have. Stir in half the parsley and pour the sauce over the kofte. Cover and simmer, adding 1/4 cup water [S: I didn't think the sauce needed it], over low heat about 20 minutes, until the eggplant is soft and the kofte are hot. Serve sprinkled with parsley.


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