Having travelled last week, I was very interested in humble home cooking, and a slow weekend, by the time I arrived home. I was yearning for comfortable, fully flavoured food and kitchen puttering. Most good Middle Eastern food writing includes a recipe for Mejadra, a pilaf of basmati and lentils. Hearty pulses, such as lentils, and fragrant spices are an excellent choice after eating too many restaurant meals.
To lift the earth tones of the Mejadra, I made a chicken kofta, coloured magenta from grating in a beetroot, and bulked by the addition of bulgur. The red-pink meatballs resting on the savoury and comforting pilaf were suitably unlike restaurant food, but interesting enough to make the meal feel special.
The recipe for Mejadra is from Yotam Ottelenghi and can be found here.
There are countless recipes for kofta, a Middle Eastern staple written about extensively in Jerusalem. I often use ground chicken in place of other ground meat options and always add a huge amount of chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, mint, coriander or dill. I change the spice palate each time, but rely heavily on cumin, coriander, cinnamon, clove and allspice. In the summertime I normally add a grateed zucchini. The autumn season makes beetroot an obvious choice, but whatever the season and the vegetable, grating in something fresh and crunchy creates a much more interesting end product than meat alone.
The idea for beetroot actually comes from Nigel Slater’s Tender, and his full recipe can be found here. Of course I didn’t follow his recommendation of lamb (but only because we didn’t have any in the house), and instead of fresh dill I used dill seed left in the garden after the delicate fronds have wilted from frost, and quite a lot of parsley. I otherwise followed his proportions and added finely diced preserved lemon to bring levity to otherwise rich flavours.
For ease, rather than frying the kofta, I roasted them in a cast iron pan at 375F, and turned them half way through.
The dish would have been excellent with the yoghurt and cucumber Nigel Slater recommends, but we instead made a crunchy carrot salad with preserved lemon, roughly chopped parsley, and a healthy glug of olive oil.
It goes without saying that there were other world events that led us to seek comfort this week. Distressing as American polictics have been, and what this may mean for the rest of us in North America (and beyond), let our kitchen, at least, be an inclusive and stable space of security and reason.