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‘Covenant Kitchen’ Spiced Lamb Meatballs

Photograph by Ed Anderson

Filled with the flavors of the Middle Eastern shouk, or marketplace, these fragrant meatballs have just a hint of heat. They are bathed in a bright tomato sauce and served over smoky freekeh, a wonderful wheat cereal found all over Israel and now becoming popular in the United States. You can substitute brown rice for freekeh, if you can’t find it. Remember, though, that freekeh takes a little longer to cook than rice and requires more water. Whether you use freekeh or rice, start by cooking it first. When it’s done, just keep it warm and covered, until you are ready to serve.

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Don’t be afraid of the long list of ingredients. Most are simply spices. And the tomato sauce is a snap to prepare. (We don’t recommend seeding or peeling the tomatoes. It’s not worth the effort.) However, because there are three steps here, the best way to keep it simple is to lay out the ingredients for all steps prior to cooking. You’ll breeze through the rest!

And from your wine cellar, look for a rich, spicy California Zinfandel or an earthy Syrah.

Makes about 16 meatballs (serves 4)

For the freekeh:
4 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1½ cups freekeh

For the meatballs:
1 pound ground lamb
½ onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup panko or other breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Spanish hot paprika (pimentón picante)
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

For the tomato sauce:
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, chopped, or 1 can (28 ounces) whole Italian plum tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick

For the garnish:
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Freshly ground pepper

1) Make the freekeh: In a medium saucepan, combine the water, salt and olive oil. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the freekehand let the water come to a boil again. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and let simmer until all the water has been absorbed, about 45 minutes. Set the pot aside, covered, until ready to use. Prior to serving, fluff the freekehwith a fork.

2) Make the meatballs: In a large bowl, use your hands to thoroughly blend the lamb, onion, garlic, salt, panko, egg, cumin, coriander, paprika, carda¬mom, cilantro and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Shape the mixture into balls the size of golf balls and set aside on a platter.

In a large, heavy-duty skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat until it starts to shimmer. Gently set the meatballs in the pan and brown them on all sides, turning them now and then to brown them evenly and keep them from sticking to the pan, about 5 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a platter. Leave the oil and any bits of meat remaining in the pan (you will be cooking the tomato sauce in this pan).

3) Make the tomato sauce: Reduce the heat under the pan to medium. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the wine, increase the heat to high, and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits of meat or other solids sticking to the pan. Let the wine reduce by half, about 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, oregano, cumin, salt, cayenne, bay leaf and cinnamon. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are soft and the sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick.

Add the meatballs to the sauce, cover the pan, and let simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, another 20 minutes. To serve, place a mound of freekeh in the middle of each dinner plate. Then top the freekeh with 3 or 4 meatballs and the sauce. Garnish with the cilantro and pepper to taste.

Excerpted from “The Covenant Kitchen” by Jeff Morgan and Jodie Morgan. Copyright © 2015 by Jeff Morgan and Jodie Morgan. Excerpted by permission of Schocken, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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