beef meatball, olive and lemon “tajine” with tehineh sauce

September 28th, 2011

Jewish new year is forever marked in my mind with the thick, heady sweetness of honey. Everything is drenched in it—-the raisin-studded challah bread, the tart apples ushering in the autumn season and a sweet new year, the overwhelmingly sweet concoction that is tzimmes: carrots, prunes, raisins and honey stewed to a soft consistency just beyond a reasonable compote. Even the sabbath and holiday tradition of sprinkling bread with salt at the beginning of the meal flies right out the window, along with anything deemed too sharp or spicy on the palate, such as hot sauce (Mizrachis) or garlic (Ashkenazis).

Most children love the idea of a holiday meal based entirely on sweetness, but I bristled at the thought. My beloved challah was defiled by raisins, which I would carefully remove before sinking my teeth into the rich, eggy bread. I would dot the chastened slice with the tiniest bit of honey, so as not to spoil the flavor of the bread (which, to my salty palate, was plenty sweet on its own). Next was the carrot, raisin and pineapple salad which my mother made every year. I would avoid the raisins and try to eat mostly carrots with the occasional bite of pineapple. Tzimmes was completely impossible to eat, full as it was of the dreaded dried fruit and honey. I would skip it completely and focus on the chicken and rice. “Macht nicht kein tzimmes!” my father would joke. “Don’t make a fuss.” But a bite or two was really all I could manage.

The end of the meal brought “lekakh” or honey cake, and with it a “glezele tey” with its contrasting bitter tannins. I loved the spicy earthiness of the cake, its moist crumb and (comparatively) subtle sweetness. Hot tea was the perfect accompaniment.

For those of you who–like me–could do with a little less sweetness in your holiday meal, here is a recipe for a meatball olive and lemon tajine type dish with tehineh sauce (inspired by siniyeh). Save the honey for the honey cake. Happy new year!

beef meatball, olive and lemon “tajine” with tehineh sauce

I used clarified butter to fry the meatballs as it is a very stable and tasty fat that does not oxidize when heated. If you keep kosher or prefer other fats, feel free to substitute schmaltz or the oil of your choice.

1 lb ground beef
1/2 TBS baharat spice mixture
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste (both black and white pepper, if available)
1/2 TBS dried mint
2 TBS finely ground burghul
2 TBS clarified butter, schmaltz or oil
olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup good quality olives, pitted
1 fresh lemon, thinly sliced and seeded, the slices cut into quarters
1/2 cup chopped celery leaves
3/4 cup stock
8 stalks celery, chopped into large bite-sized pieces

2 TBSP tahini
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup water
salt and white pepper to taste

  1. Combine the beef with the spices, herbs and burghul. Mix well and form into small meatballs.
  2. Place a large, heavy skillet on medium heat. Melt the fat in the skillet and add a little olive oil.
  3. Fry the meatballs in the pan, turning to brown on all sides. When browned, remove meatballs to a plate and set aside.
  4. Pour or wipe off some of the oil in the pan and fry the onions. When the onions are translucent, place the meatballs back in the pan.
  5. Pour in the stock, then add the olives and lemons. Stir to distribute.
  6. Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 15 minutes.
  7. Add the celery and continue cooking another 10 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, prepare the tehineh sauce. Combine the tahini and lemon juice, then slowly add half the water. Mix, and add more water until the sauce is light beige and slightly runny. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  9. Serve the meatballs over rice, burghul or couscous. Drizzle the tehineh sauce on top and garnish with lemon zest.
Serves 2-4.

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