…then what’s up with veggie balls?
My kitchen is a disaster right now. It looks like an atom bomb filled with spices exploded. I want to say that I’m horrified with myself, but I can’t. I want to say that I’ll dread cleaning it up, but I won’t. Sometimes you just have to make a big mess to find your way.
January is no-man’s land for caterers and private chefs like me. Most caterers take the month off and go on vacation – I had surgery on my hip.
Same ol, same ol?
But I don’t want to indulge myself in any more self-pity. I’ve been trying to find ways to keep my juices flowing, (halfway through a few books, have seen all the Academy screeners I can get my hands on, have fabric and a dress pattern scattered across my dining room table) but nothing has been lighting me up. Then yesterday, Epicurious sent me an email with some suggestions for Superbowl party eats. We always bring homemade fried chicken to a good friend’s place for the game so the Superbowl chow is spoken for, but we are having an Oscar party. It sounded like the perfect excuse to play in the kitchen.
This recipe for veggie balls is from “The Meatball Shop Cookbook” and has been pimped on every TV program and publication with any interest in food that I can name. And when I made them, I understood why. They’re very good. But they tasted predictable to me. They left me clamoring for something more. So back to the lab I went.
There’s no question that the easiest way to make a ball more appealing is to find something yummy to lick off of it (I’m having fun now, can you tell?). I made the spinach basil pesto, which is what they serve the veggie balls with at “The Meatball Shop” restaurant. It’s delicious, but didn’t hit them out of the park for me. I had a bit of leftover red pepper
rouille in the freezer; which is a stunning dip made with roasted red peppers, saffron, cayenne pepper, red wine vinegar, and olive oil- which was closer to what I craved on my ball, but still not exactly perfect.
Next, I became obsessed with getting more gusto into the ball than simply creating something flavorful to dip it in.
First, I injected the rouille into the ball – which didn’t work because the balls are too delicate to maintain their shape after being filled. They were fantastic tasting though.
Then, I added pesto to ball. I found this to make a very comforting ball. Nice, if you’re into comforting balls.
Next, I took a ball and added Sambal Oelek, my favorite chili paste. It was delicious but probably a little too spicy for some people.
I seasoned the next ball with curry powder, sweet paprika and a bit of honey. I wanted another one right away. It was truly delicious and would play very nicely with a yogurt based dip.
I chopped up arugula and some pickled pepperoncinos and smushed them into the next ball. The fresh flavors got lost in the mix though.
I stirred in cayenne pepper, garam masala, turmeric, cumin, coriander and drop of agave. I loved the taste combination, but the ball got a bit dry with all the extra spices. This one would play very nicely with a sweet, spicy Indian sauce, like a tikka masala or makhani.
I tried Chinese 5 spice powder. I think 5 spice powder is often underused. It brought a very nice, surprising sweet-without-actually-being-sweet taste to the ball.
I used some lemongrass powder and a squeeze of fresh lemon. This one just didn’t work. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any fresh lemongrass on hand, though I look forward to playing with it the next time.
And last, but not least, cayenne powder, cinnamon, ground ginger, cumin and sugar. This one had a lot going on. I really liked it and know I could have eaten about 40 of them if they were served with a raita.
So there you go. Not the worst way to spend an afternoon. Here is the basic recipe for you to play with as you desire.
The Meatball Shop’s Veggie Balls
- 2 cups lentils
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 8 ounces Button Mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
- Combine the lentils and 2 quarts water in a medium stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are soft (but not falling apart), about 25 minutes. Drain the lentils and allow to cool.
- Add 1/4 cup of the olive oil to a large frying pan and sauté the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and salt over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and just beginning to brown. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 more minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. When cool, add the lentils to the vegetable mixture.
- Add the eggs, Parmesan, bread crumbs, parsley, and walnuts to the cooled vegetable mixture and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated. Place in the refrigerator for 25 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil into a 9×13-inch baking dish and use your hand to evenly coat the entire surface. Set aside.
- Roll the mixture into round, golf ball-size meatballs (about 1 1/2 inches), making sure to pack the vegetable mixture firmly. Place the balls in the prepared baking dish, allowing 1/4-inch of space between the balls and place them in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid.
- Roast for 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through.
- Allow the meatballs to cool for 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving.