Since it’s been so long between posts here, I figured I’d give you all a two for one. So this is a restaurant review and a recipe all rolled into one.
So recently while dining with a dear friend in Subiaco we ventured into Meeka. It’s a relatively new restaurant, having been around for a year or so now, down the not so business end of Subiaco’s Rokeby Road. The menu is middle eastern in appearance, with a hat tip towards Morocco, serving a number of classic Morrocan dishes and a series of tagines.
Unfortunately the names of the dishes on the menu were about as close as Meeka got to ever giving us a North African experience. We ordered a chicken pastilla (bastilla, bisteeya, b’stilla – take your pick), and a meatball tagine. Some Israeli couscous as a side dish and a bottle of wine.
Sadly the chicken in the pastilla was dry to the point inedibility. We picked at it like disinterested vultures might at 3 week old roadkill. Hoping to find at least one juicy morsel worth eating. Sadly, there was none. The meatballs on the other hand, were a whole different story. Simultaneously raw on the inside, and completely devoid of moisture, is not something i thought was actually possible. They came presented in a tagine with a tomato sauce of nondescript origins, and defied all attempts to be enjoyed.
The couscous however was tasty and refreshingly edible. A small bowl of hope in an otherwise desert of a meal.
Somewhat incensed by how something that should have been so good, wasn’t. I went home and started looking up meatball tagine recipes. I love cooking with a tagine and I love Moroccan flavours. The combination of sweet and savoury elements coming together to confuse the palate and build layers of complexity is always rewarding when done well. So I was glad to be able to find this dish that completely restored my faith that it was indeed just a miraculously bad experience.
For the meatballs
Minced beef or lamb (I used beef, but a combination might be good)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 onion chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 egg to bind
salt and pepper to season
sprinkling of finely chopped parsley
ghee for frying
For the sauce
1 onion, finely sliced
2 cans chopped tomatoes (or equivalent passata)
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp hot paprika
1 tablespoon honey
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
4 eggs (or more)
How I made mine
Combine the meatball ingredients together in a bowl. Mix the meat and spices through thoroughly with your hands, add the onion, garlic, and parsley and crack the egg in. Mix the egg throughout the mixture well so that it binds together well.
Then start to form small balls by taking a palm full of the mixture, flattening it out to remove air pockets, and then rolling between your hands to make golf ball sized meatballs. Obviously you can make them as big or as small as you want, and at this point I often start playing around with the seasoning to add more of a particular spice if I think it needs it.
Now get your tagine (you can just use a regular frying pan with a lid if you don’t have a tagine, but then you have to call it meatball frypan dish, which is infinitely less sexy) and add a little ghee to the bottom, then fry the sliced onion til it’s mostly cooked through.
Add the meatballs on top of the onion and fry them til just browned all over. Turning them over every few minutes to make sure they’re cooking evenly.
Once the meatballs are browned, add the tomatoes (or passata) over the top til it’s mostly covered. At that point sprinkle in the other spices and drizzle over the honey. Give the whole dish a gentle stir mix the spices through. Now put the lid of the tagine on, and turn the heat down to quite low to let the flavours infuse and the sauce to soak into the meatballs. If the level of liquid in the dish is a bit low, then add some more tomato passata.
Now give this ten minutes or so to simmer and for the meatballs to cook through, and then the master stroke of this dish is ready to happen. Take the lid off and crack the eggs into the sauce (in between gaps in the meatballs). Add a sprinkling of fresh parsley and perhaps some coriander over the top, and another good seasoning with salt and pepper, and then put the lid back on the tagine. Now basically you’re poaching the eggs in the sauce until they’re cooked to your liking. I left mine in for a few minutes til they were just soft and still runny inside.
To serve, either get authentic and make up some couscous, or just do what I did and gingerly spoon the meatballs into a bowl while trying not to break the eggs, and then devour with thick slices of crusty bread.