Meatballs for a New Year


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

olive oil

vegetable oil

1/2 cup finely chopped onions

1 pound ground beef

1 egg

1 tablespoon finely-cut fresh mint leaves

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt (or less)

black pepper

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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These Time-Life books are treasures! I've learned how to make so many new things when they came out! I remember "wowing" my friends with a dinner out of the China book!

My mom passed away in April and I spent some time recently going through mountains of cookbooks..including a complete set of these gems. I love the German one. The sauerbraten, spatzle and Black Forest cherry cake made for a delicious, if calorie-laden, birthday dinner one year. Fond memories!

Bad olive oil will ruin anything it touches! Not a good place to economize.

Just made these the other day; they're delicious, but it seems they should be made with high quality olive oil.

Lovely, thank you. This brings back good memories of cooking with my grandmother, and her inimitable meatballs. Will give this a try this weekend!

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Where am I eating? What's for dinner tonight? And what books have I been reading? For a look at what's going on in my life lately, take a look at this journal, which I try to update on a regular basis.