Meatballs in Pomegranate and Cumin BBQ Sauce

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Do you remember when you were a kid and spaghetti with meatballs seemed like the very peak of gourmet Italian cuisine? Ooh, or the first time you were at an “Adult Party” and the host was passing around a platter of mini sausages in a grape jelly glaze, or meatballs smothered in what can really only be described as ketchup mixed with pineapple chunks?  Then you grow up, I know, and all of a sudden meatballs just seem so very pedestrian.  Yawn.  Oh great, another plate of meatballs, right?  Except that….well, except that I never reached that point.  I STILL think that meatballs are an essential ingredient to any holiday soiree, and even if they’re gloomily swimming in a pool of rapidly congealing Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom, you’ll know where to find me.

Mama likes her meat.

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There’s a reason that meatballs are seen, in one iteration or another, throughout so many diverse cultural cuisines.  Italian meatballs, Swedish meatballs, kofta, keftedes, Japanese braised beef balls…the list goes on.  After all, it’s a great way to stretch your meat budget and it used to be a way for cooks to mix sub-prime cuts with herbs and spices that would render otherwise unappetizing scraps into supreme delights.  Now, however, meatballs have become an iconic symbol of both the heartfelt home cook and the misguided 70’s debutante housewife.  Personally, I am not at all disgruntled about being compared to either group. The home cook feeds body and mind with nourishing family favorites.  The 70’s debutante housewife has some pretty awesome platform shoes.   Now go toss your keys in that bowl over there, and we can talk after I pull my crab dip out of the oven.

It’s fair to say that there’s nothing inherently new about meatballs, but I think that they speak to a value worth their weight in gold because of these three factors:

1) Sauce them, spice them, and flavor them however you want.  Meatballs are amazingly versatile and no matter what style of cuisine you have on the table, you can find a way to make sure that they’re sitting perfectly at home.

2) I went to a New Year’s party a few years ago, where the hostess lifted the cover off her crock pot and the sweet smell of barbecue sauce came wafting through.  Everybody stopped what they were doing, stood up, and hurled themselves into the kitchen.  As we jostled and jammed our cocktail picks into the pot like a pack of jackals, to pick, somebody said, “JEEZ, these are good!  How did you make them?”  She replied, “Uh…frozen meatballs from M&M’s and two bottles of Diana sauce?”  The pot was licked clean.

3) Ground beef = cheap.  Tina = poor.  Meatballs = awesome.

Meatballs in Pomegranate and Cumin BBQ Sauce

Makes about 20-24 meatballs

Meatballs

  • 1 lb (450 g) lean ground veal *
  • 1 lb (450 g) extra lean ground beef
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • handful fresh parsley (1/2 cup finely chopped)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pomegranate and Cumin BBQ Sauce

  • 1 small can (16 oz) crushed tomato
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses **
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder ***
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • salt and pepper to taste

* Mixing lean ground beef with veal will yield a more tender and flavorful meatball.  If you don’t want to use veal, pork is a good substitute.  You can also use ground lamb which is more expensive but provides a lush richness to the flavor.

** Pomegranate molasses is a tangy sweet and sour condiment made from condensed pomegranate juice.  You can usually find pomegranate molasses in a Middle Eastern grocery store, or if you’re feeling ambitious you can always make your own.

*** A savory but not too spicy chili powder will be your best bet.  Chipotle or ancho powder could be too spicy and strong, but a red chili powder or chili blend works excellently.

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Preheat your oven to 350ºF.

Put your meats into a large mixing bowl.  Finely mince the garlic (or grate it using a rasp if you’re lazy like me) and add it to the mix along with your egg, breadcrumbs, and very finely chopped parsley.  Season the mixture with salt and pepper.

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Work the meat with your hands until all of the add-ins are evenly dispersed.  When you’re making balls the meat should be cold to help them retain their shape.  If your meat is at room temperature, tuck it in the fridge for a half hour to firm up.

Pinch off about a generous golf-ball sized portion of meat and roll it between your palms until it forms a fairly smooth ball.  Arrange the balls on a baking sheet with a lip (there will be fatty leakage that you want to contain) which you have either sprayed with a non-stick like PAM, or brushed lightly with oil.  Make sure that your balls o’ meat aren’t touching or they won’t cook evenly.

Tuck the meatballs into your hot oven for 18-20 minutes (you don’t need to roll them over if you don’t want to) until they’re cooked through or just barely pinkish in the middle.  Don’t worry, they’ll simmer again in the sauce.

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Now then, as the meatballs cook it’s time to make the tomato rich pomegranate and cumin sauce.  This really couldn’t be easier.  Put all of your ingredients in a medium sized pot.  Put the pot on medium low heat.  Yup, that’s it.

Let the sauce simmer away, covered, for at least 30-45 minutes.  The color should be a deep cinnamon red and when you taste the sauce you should get hit by spicy-tangy-sweet tomato, but not a condensed raw-tomato flavor.  Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

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Okay, so we have meatballs and we have sauce.  What next?  Well, you want to simmer the meatballs in the sauce.  There are two ways of doing this.

1) Put the meatballs into a large pot and pour the sauce over top.  Put the pot on medium low heat and let it simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the sauce does not burn.  OR;

2) Put the meatballs into your slow cooker/crock pot and pour the sauce overtop.  Set the heat to low for about 4 hours, or high for 1 hour.  The benefit of this method is that you can go take care of other things before your guests arrive.  When they do, you’ll have a simmering crock pot full of spicy meatballs to greet them….whenever they arrive.

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Because I really am just about as lazy as they come, I’m quite happy to put a bowl of toothpicks out beside the slow cooker and let people help themselves from it’s simmering depths.  If you’re going to plate the meatballs for people, like a good hostess probably would, be sure to do it right before they’re served.  Nobody likes cold meatballs.  Well, that’s not quite true.  I like cold meat balls, of course.  But I also eat DinoSours with creamy dill dip, so sometimes my tastes are a bit suspect.

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Maybe cocktail snacks just aren’t your bag?  I really shouldn’t write that when discussing meatballs, should I… sigh.  But back to the beef, if you wanted to do something a bit heartier with these saucy balls they’re quite delicious dolloped on top of plain steamed white rice.  Sure, you’ll feel a bit trashy when you try to tell somebody, “Oh, these?  They’re Middle Eastern spiced meatballs in a tangy sweet but smoky pomegranate cumin sauce!”  Because really, what you’re eating is rice with meatballs in barbecue sauce.  They’ll know.  Call it what you want, but they’ll know. To hell with it though, because leftover lunches just won’t make themselves.

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I love these Middle East meets suburban South West types of dishes.  They’re approachable enough that people aren’t afraid to give them a try, but with just enough oomph and flair that you can really make them your own.  Also?  Meatballs.  That’s all I have to say.

  • http://thespitefulchef.blogspot.com Kristie

    I would eat an entire pot of these, unchecked, and then cry myself to sleep for doing so. But given the chance? I’d totally do it again the next day.

  • http://www.eatingindallas.wordpress.com Margie

    I want that! After Thanksgiving on Thursday, it’s only Saturday and I’m already sick of the thought of Thanksgiving food!

  • http://kopiaste.org Ivy

    Your meatballs sound amazing and love your presentation as well. I only find pomegranate molasses in a couple of Middle Eastern shops in the centre of Athens and it’s been a long time I haven’t had any.

  • Sandra

    These look delicious!!! Another recipe for me to use the pomegranate molasses in my fridge!!!

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Kristie – It’s the meatball thing. Anything small and bite sized just cries out, “EAT me! EAT my brother too! And the rest of my village!!” Just because the thought of a double quarter pounder at McD’s is enough to make me queasy, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t eat 20 oz of beef in the form of meatballs.

    Margie – variety IS the spice of holiday life, right? Compromise: meatballs and leftover mashed potatoes.

    Ivy – too bad that it’s so hard to find! I love pomegranate molasses….judge me if you will, but I’ve even stirred it into a glass of milk before. Mooooolicious!

    Sandra – the bottle that lasts FOREVER. I’ve been there, girl. There are a few random Asian condiment bottles in my fridge that I don’t think I’m ever going to see the bottom of.

  • Hellcat13

    Hey! How did your friend learn my secret family recipe of M&M meatballs and Diana sauce (maple style)? It’s my potluck fallback meal when I realize it’s 6pm and I forgot to make something. And it never ceases to get rave reviews. Heh.

    If I’m ever NOT in a rush before one of those things, though…I’ll make these. YUM.