Stewed Meatballs with Eggplant and Fruit

Stewed meatballs with eggplant and fruit, served with maftoul.
Stewed meatballs with eggplant and fruit, served with maftoul. The maftoul is covering the biggest piece of eggplant from the pot! Photo mine, May 2016.

Here is a recipe I made for my mother on Mother’s Day. It is similar to the Beef with Eggplant, Dates, and Apricots I made last month for the Pesach of Colors series, but recalls two other dishes from separate Sephardic traditions: the Balkan albondigas, or meatballs with eggplant, and lamb tagine with prunes, a traditional Moroccan-Sephardic meal for Jewish holidays. I kind of made up this recipe on the spot, but will almost certainly make it again. This dish is somewhat complex in terms of ingredients and preparation, so save it for special occasions – like Mother’s Day.

I served the stew with maftoul or moghrabiyyeh, commonly called Pearled Couscous, or ptitim in Israel. Though the preparation method common in Israel differs slightly from maftoul (it is a paste that is molded in Israel, and a coated couscous elsewhere), the product is essentially identical, despite some Israeli efforts to say otherwise. Maftoul/ptitim are delicious and will be the topic of an upcoming blog post.

Stewed Meatballs with Eggplants and Dried Fruit
Serves 6-8
 
Stew
2 medium eggplants, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
salt, for preparing eggplant
Two medium onions, diced
Two cloves garlic, finely diced
1 1/2 tbsp table salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsps white pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp ground oregano
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/4 cups chopped dried dates
1 1/4 cups dried prunes, pitted and chopped
2 cups sweet red wine (yes, I used Manischewitz), split into 1/2 cup and 1 1/2 cup amounts
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
4 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
water
2-3 tbsp olive oil
Meatballs
2 lbs ground beef
3 eggs
3/4 cup matzah meal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1. Place the eggplant pieces into a colander and salt heavily. Set aside for 30 minutes, during which time the eggplant will “sweat.” (This is oxalic acid escaping the eggplant, which means the pieces will be less bitter in the final product.) Afterwards, rinse the eggplant pieces and set aside.
2. Heat a wide, deep pan or Dutch oven. Add olive oil when the pan is hot – the amount should be enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
3. Add the onions and garlic and saute.
4. When the onions begin to soften, add the salt, sugar, paprika, pepper, turmeric, thyme, oregano, and nutmeg, and mix in thoroughly. Saute for another minute.
5. Add the dried dates and prunes and mix in thoroughly. Then, add 1/2 cup wine.
6. Saute until the dates have slightly softened, about three minutes.
7. Add the eggplant pieces, bay leaves, and honey, and mix in thoroughly. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of wine. Then, add enough water to cover the entire mixture by about 1.5cm/1/2 an inch – this should be between four and six cups of water.
8. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30-45 minutes.
9. Now is the time to make the meatballs. Mix all the ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl, until the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
10. With your hands, use the mixture to make walnut sized balls (about 4-5cm/1 1/2 inches). You should be able to make 20-25 meatballs.
11. When the eggplant has softened somewhat, add the meatballs and submerge in the mixture. Bring back to a boil, then simmer for another 30-45 minutes.
12. The eggplant will be very soft and the fruit completely mushy when the stew is done. Serve with your favorite carbohydrate.

Pesach of Colors: Beyond Brisket – Beef with Eggplant, Apricots, and Dates (Orange)

Today, in our series for Passover, the color is orange – from the sharp brightness of apricots in a rich and hearty stew. And though many American Jews (well, American Ashkenazim) want the sweet and dark taste of gedempte fleysh – roasted-braised brisket – this Passover, I am sure that this recipe can satisfy even the most brisket-addled tongue – and is certainly easier to make! (Worry not – I’ll make brisket at some point.)

Dried fruit and the combination of fruit and meat have a long history in various Jewish culinary traditions, especially for Passover. Ashkenazi readers may be most familiar with tzimmes – a stew, traditional to Rosh HaShanah and Passover, that is made with carrots or sweet potatoes, dried fruit such as prunes or raisins, and oftentimes beef flank or the aforementioned brisket. Moroccan Jews, meanwhile, make a series of tagines that combine dried fruits – especially prunes, apricots, lemons, and dates – with meat. A lamb tagine with prunes is, in fact, a traditional dish (link in French) for the first night of Passover in some communities. Meanwhile, the Bukharan Jews, originally from Bukhara in Uzbekistan, add raisins to the meat-and-rice plovs that are frequent on Shabbat tables in that community. The sweetness of the fruit, like the sweetness of liberation, provides a nice balance to the savory, fatty depths of good stew meat – and sometimes, depending on the fruit, provides an amazing color to plates.

Beef stew with eggplant, apricots, and dates
The final product. Photo mine, March 2016.

This recipe is a merger of two recipes from different parts of the Jewish world. A tagine with lamb, apricots, and eggplants is traditional in parts of Morocco, and Shabbat fare for many of the Jewish communities there. The addition of dates, however, comes from Vered Guttman’s recipe for an eggplant, apricot, and date pilaf that was published for Purim in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. This recipe is not exactly “authentic” and I won’t try to market it as such, but is rather a festive idea based on Jewish traditions from a variety of places.

Beef with Eggplant, Apricots, and Dates

Serves 8

Based on a pilaf recipe by Vered Guttman and a tagine recipe by Laurense Regale (in French)

1 large or 2 small-medium Mediterranean eggplants

1 large onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, chopped finely

1-2 pounds chuck beef, chopped into small pieces (depends on your taste)

1 cup dried apricots, chopped

1 cup dried dates, pitted and chopped

2 tbsp salt

1 tbsp black pepper

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1.5 tsp ground turmeric

1.5 tsp ground nutmeg

1.5 tsp dried thyme

1.5 tsp ground cumin

4 dried cloves

1/2 tsp dried nutmeg

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock* (you can also just use water)

~6-8 cups water

2 tbsp honey

 

Olive oil or sunflower seed oil

Salt for preparing eggplant

 

  1. Wash the eggplant, and chop the ends off. Cut the eggplants into four wedges, and slice these wedges into triangle-pieces about an inch at the base/peel and an inch thick. Place the eggplants into a colander and salt heavily. Set aside for 30 minutes, during which time the eggplant will “sweat.” (This is oxalic acid escaping the eggplant, which means the pieces will be less bitter in the final product.)
  2. Afterwards, rinse the pieces of eggplant and set aside.
  3. Heat a stock or stew pot, and add oil when the pot is hot. Then, add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions soften.
  4. Add the meat and sauté, stirring constantly, until the meat is browned on all sides.
  5. Add the apricots, dates, and spices and stir into the meat-onion mixture. Sauté for one minute.
Cooking the stew
Mid-process – I’ve just added the dates and apricots to the meat. Photo mine, March 2016.

6. Add the eggplant pieces and mix into the fruit-meat-onion mixture thoroughly.

7. Add the stock to the pot, and then add water until the meat and eggplant are covered with water by at least 1/3 of an inch/1 cm. Bring to a boil.

8. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to low, and stir in the honey.

9. Simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours, or until the liquid has reduced significantly and the eggplant is very soft. Serve with your carbohydrate of choice.