Dendrites and Meatballs

I must confess that I am a lapsed vegetarian.  My fall from grace came about during a period of great stress and upheaval.  Archetypal story, really.  Starving student leaps at the opportunity of a free meal at an honest-to-goodness, proper restaurant, orders far too much food with an eye to taking home the leftover spoils of war, (yes, I know, it was rather mercenary of me, but I paid the karmic price!), and then, following a hilarious bait-and-switch worthy of a Benny Hill sketch, takes home the wrong parcel.  Factor in sleeplessness and a heavy workload –  did I mention that I was starving? – and the stage was set for the tragicomedy.  I had managed to plough my way through half of the takeaway carton when the telephone rang.  “NIN!!” shouted a voice down the line.  “You’ve got the wrong boxes!!  I’m staring at your tofu here, so you must have my chicken.  You…haven’t eaten any of it, have you?”

Damn.

I did marvel at the taste of the supposed tofu cubes in between mouthfuls.  Anguished, I waited for my body to reject the food, willing my stomach to clench itself into a angry fist to punish me for my vile transgression.  Surely I’d stopped producing the enzymes necessary to digest animal tissue long, long ago?  In the end, alas, my body betrayed me by running smoothly and effortlessly, without so much as a hiccup to acknowledge that anything out of the ordinary had happened.  The wracking pain and internal flagellation that would burn away my sins never came, and from that moment on, it was a just a long, slippery slope to resuming the ways of the filthy omnivore.  You know how it is – a slice of turkey at Christmas here, a suicide wing at the pub there, a bowl of chicken noodle soup in between.  It probably didn’t help matters that Him Indoors wandered, grinning, onto the scene, as well.  Like a cat, he’s an obligate carnivore, with the biggest set of canines I’ve ever seen on a biped, and I fear that, if deprived of his meatstuffs, he might wither away from a lysine deficiency a la the dinos from Jurassic Park or I might awaken in the night to find him gnawing at my extremities in his sleep.  Neither prospect being particularly appealing, I drew the line at poultry and cautiously re-embraced the carnal.  (Any and all takeaway boxes are now dissected thoroughly for bits of beef or pork that might be lurking in disguise.)

Since I have eschewed all meat save for poultry, I’m always on the look-out for new ways to translate beef and pork recipes into poultry ones, purely for the sake of variety.  There just seems to be a dearth of things one can do with minced turkey and chicken beyond the usual rogue’s gallery of chilis, bolognese sauces, and turkeyherder’s pies.  So, you can imagine my excitement as I watched Simon King prepare a mouthwateringly lovely dish with minced beef on Saturday Kitchen one morning.  Here, I thought, was a worthy dish that would readily adapt to the turkeyflesh.  The meat, once spiced and gently fried, was fragrant with promise.  The sauce, whilst very simple, was vibrant and bright.  It all started going wrong when I parachuted the eggs in.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but, once dropped into the stew, the eggs took on an amoebic appearance.  Maybe it was more like the Crab Nebula, home of Spectra and the evil Zoltar.  No, I know what it looked it – it was the stylised representations of nerve cells, complete with dendrites and nucleus, that we had to draw in biology class.  You’ll pardon me for the expression, but I thought it looked like a dog’s breakfast.  Simon’s looked nothing like this:

Dendritic eggs simmering amongst the meatballs.

H.I. assured me that the meatballs themselves were quite tasty, but I wasn’t convinced.  To my palate, they suffered from the curse of the minced poultry dish in that they were quite dry, and the spicing just wasn’t aggressive enough to lift the meat into the spotlight.  I knew that the sauce was never supposed to be the star of the show, so it’d be churlish of me to find fault in it, but in the face of the bland meatballs, a heavier hand with the spices in the sauce might have tipped the balance in the dish’s favour.  Perhaps I shall just resign myself to the fact that this is just one of those beef dishes that doesn’t translate well to the poultry realm.

Kefta Mkawra Tagine (Meatballs with Eggs on Top) with couscous.

Kefta Mkawra Tagine (Meatballs with Eggs on Top)
Adapted from a recipe by Simon King, one half of the Hairy Bikers, presented on Saturday Kitchen.

Ingredients:

Meatballs
1 lb turkey mince
1 onion, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp chilli powder
1 tsp paprika
1/4 cup fresh coriander, chopped
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato purée
400g/14oz tin of chopped tomatoes, drained  (I used 5 small, fresh tomatoes)
2 tsp honey
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
2 – 4 eggs, dependent on the mouths  you need to feed!

Method

1. In a large bowl, place the turkey mince, onion, garlic, spices,fresh coriander, egg and some salt and pepper and prepare to get your hands mucky.  Mix all of these ingredients together until they’re well combined and then pinch them off into balls the size of walnuts and set aside.

2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan.  Add the onion and cook slowly over low heat until they’re translucent.  At this point, increase the heat to medium-high, add the meatballs and brown them lightly. Remove the balls and set aside while you prepare the sauce.

3. Stir the tomato purée, chopped tomatoes and honey into the meatball pan, combine well, and bring to a simmer.  Return the meatballs to the pan, cover and simmer for 10 minutes longer.

4.  Add the peas, then break the eggs on top of the stew.  Turn the heat right down to low and cook covered for about ten minutes, or until the eggs are done to your liking.  (NB!  The 10 minute method produces egg yolks that are as hard as little bullets.  This was NOT to my liking.)  Serve with flatbread and steamed couscous.

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