These post and everything in it is an hommage to the spice traders who brought chiles back from the New World to North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco). I traveled to Morocco in my late teens, mesmerized by the rustic, yet modern outdoor markets, beautiful colors and the scent of spice and adventure in the air. These days I travel to the country via the Internet. And these meatballs.
I didn't purchase much while I was there, but I did manage to bring back a small tube of the ubiquitous spicy rival to ketchup: harissa. Flavored by chilis, spices and olive oil, it beats ketchup, salsa and cult-favorite sriracha. Although harissa in the tube is good, it's hard to beat homemade. Dried chiles are readily available as are food processors, so there's no reason to squeeze harissa out of a tube.
As much as I enjoy spice (I put a pinch of cayenne in EVERYTHING), I use roasted red peppers instead of chilis to be sure to accommodate everyone's palate in the house.
Dinner--Lamb merguez meatballs, tomato-feta bread pudding, lemon-scented asparagus
Merguez is a traditional lamb or beef sausage from North Africa.
Traditionally, harissa is made from Guajillo and New Mexico chiles. Those are the closest to the native peppers of Tunisia.
Makes 1 cup
4 roasted red peppers, whole
1 tablespoon coriander seed, ground
1 tablespoon cumin seed, ground
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons turmeric
5 cloves garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Note: When making this for people who enjoy heat with their spice, substitute traditional peppers such as dried New Mexico, chile de arbol, guajillo, or chipotle chilis soaked in hot water to soften them up, instead of roasted red peppers.
In the bowl of the food processor, add all of the ingredients. Process on high until it forms a smooth paté and all the ingredients are incorporated.
Lamb Merguez Meatballs
Makes 20 meatballs
1 pound fresh ground lamb shoulder
2 garlic cloves, minced fine
1 cup harissa
1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon Salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, add lamb, garlic, harissa, tomato paste (if using) and mix ingredients by hand. You may need to use gloves OR to run your hands under cold water repeatedly to keep the mixture from sticking to you. Place the bowl in the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes to allow the meat to rest and chill; that will make meatball rolling so much easier. To develop flavors, chill meat mixture overnight.
Test a small portion of the meat mixture to taste your spice levels.
When ready to make meatballs, moisten your hands and a 1 tablespoon measuring spoon with cold water and shake to remove excess. Measure a level tablespoon of lamb and roll into a ball between your palms. Alternatively, use a #40 ice cream scoop to make uniform meatballs. Line up the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet, about 1/2 inch apart. Slide the meatballs into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.
Note: to make your lamb last longer and to achieve softer meatballs, add fillers such as fresh breadcrumbs, heavy cream, and eggs.