I fancy myself as a divine dinner party hostess. I fancy myself as someone who embodies the total coolitude of Guarnaschelli’s professional kitchen-wizardry, set on Martha’s pristine estate filled with ponies, and accompanied with Beyonce’s crowd. Someone who could present a seemingly-casual-and-approachable but truthfully-intended-to-shock-and-stun dinner display with nothing but an elegant breeze in and out of the kitchen, in a spotless oh-so-nothing white dress that belongs in Diane Kruger’s closet. I fancy.
But the reality is… dinner party freaks me out. The idea of constructing a crowd-worthy feast in front of people whom I AM definitely going to meet AGAIN, while struggling to distinguish compliments from kindness, is frankly quite exhausting. And then there’s the worst kind… the UNEXPECTED kind that happens on the day when my husband decided was a good time to shatter my fancy. That day when I was still in my PJ minus my eyebrows, comfortably at ease preparing this platter of Turkish meatballs with white bean puree for this harmless little post, Jason called and ask if he could invite a friend over for dinner…. UUH!!
“You have the lamb-thing, right?”
Yes, but OOOONLY the lamb-thing. It was too late in the day for more dishes but I had to say OK because I have long ago decided that this guy who was coming over, is the closest saint-like person we know for letting us ruthlessly ROB his cab after dinner in a freezing night on the deserted streets of Beijing. THAT’S nobility. And he deserves nothing less than a big THANK YOU and… yes, just the lamb-thing.
Oh but THANK GOD that this “lamb-thing” turned out to be… well… rather sublime if I could say so myself. If there HAS TO BE a day in my life where I have to face the SHAME of presenting nothing but only a SINGLE plate of food when another person is visiting… let it be this plate. Me and Jason had fallen in love with Turkish foods on our enchanted trip to Istanbul a couple years ago, where we discovered flavors and senses that were strange, and magical at the same time. Ever since I’ve been whipping up adaptations of dishes we enjoyed and missed dearly. In this case, a well spiced kofta (meatballs) in little round-shape rather than the traditional oval-shape, accompanied with sweet and nutty pine nuts, fresh mints and chili flakes, on a big plate of tangy cannellini (instead of chickpeas because NO PEELING required!) + Greek yogurt puree.
I managed to finish the cooking before I could literally run to change into a wrinkly T-shirt dress and put on my eyebrows, so our guest wouldn’t be greeted with my PJ stained with meat juice and “where’s your eyebrows?”. It’s safe to say that the divine dinner hostess didn’t attend the party that day… but her alter ego, me, really really loved these meatballs.
If you are not a lamb person, you could substitute the lamb with a combination of beef and pork.
- Cannellini puree:
- 2 cans of cannellini beans
- 1/2 cup of thick Greek yogurt
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 tbsp of tahini/sesame paste
- 1/4 tsp of ground cumin
- 1/4~1/2 tsp of salt
- 1/4 tsp of ground black pepper
- Lamb meatballs:
- 500 g of ground lamb, or beef/pork
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1 shallot, finely minced
- 1 tsp of ginger, grated
- 1 small egg, or 1/2 large egg
- 1 1/2 tbsp of corn starch
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- 1/2 tsp of ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp of ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp of ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1/8 tsp of ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp of water to drizzle in
- 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, plus more to drizzle
- 2 tbsp of pine nuts
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 bunch of fresh mint, chopped
- 1~2 tsp of chili flakes
Drain the cannellini beans of any excess water (the dryer the better). Add beans, Greek yogurt, garlic, tahini/sesame paste and cumin in the food processor. Run until a very smooth puree forms. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. You could cook the puree in a pot for a few minutes to get rid of the “can”-taste, but it doesn’t really bother me so I wouldn’t stress it. Set it aside until needed.
Clean the food processor bowl and towel-dry it really well. Add ground lamb, garlic, shallots, ginger, corn starch, olive oil, allspice, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, salt and black pepper. Pulse until all the ingredients are evenly combined, then keep the machine running on low and start drizzling in 2 tbsp of water. Keep the food processor running for a few seconds until the mixture become “paste-like”. You could also do this on a stand-mixer with a pedal-attachment. This process “beats” the water and the protein together to achieve an “emulsion” if you will. It gives the meatball a silky texture.
Preheat the oven on 430ºF/220ºC.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the lamb mixture into tiny meatballs, approx 1 1/2 tsp each and lay them evenly on the baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven until the meatballs start to brown and are set in shape. I find this much easier than doing it in the frying pan because I can do it all in one batch and the round shape retains much better in the oven… and… NO SPLATTER! Once the meatballs are set, take them out of the oven. Heat up 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil in a large non-stick pan on medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and brown them nicely all over. Add the pine nuts and let them toast until golden brown (this would happen relatively quick!). Then add the minced garlic, fresh mint and chili flakes. Cook only for another few seconds. Re-season it with salt’n pepper.
You may now notice that there are seemingly more than enough meatballs for the amount of beans… did that bother my stealthy munching fingers? Not one bit…
Pour the cannellini puree on a big platter and do some pretty swirls. Add the meatballs and pine nuts on top (whatever’s left of it…) and drizzle more extra virgin olive oil and pretty chili flakes on top.
Serve with hot pitas.