In Israel the “Holidays” or Hagim as they are locally known, arrived very early this year, smack after summer vacation. Almost as soon as the school year started, the kids were shuffled out again to the great consternation of everyone but the teachers. Many families, without much choice, take this opportunity to travel in Israel and abroad, creating traffic jams in their wake and filling the national parks to over capacity
It is also a time of national procrastination; the answer to almost every question is “after the holidays”. Many businesses and shops are closed or are open only part time so that any work oriented plans are usually postponed. The best thing to do is to stay home and avoid the crowds, spending time with family and friends.
That’s exactly what we did. Here is a recipe I made for a dinner party I hosted.
Syrian Style Meatballs with Cherries
Cherries are way out of season now so I used dried cherries instead. Traditionally, St. Lucie (Prunus mahaleb L.) is used to make this dish, a small sour cherry that grows in Syria. It is the same variety used to produce the aromatic spice, mahlab.
These meatballs are a little bit different since instead of leaving the pinenuts whole I ground them up by accident. I must have been reading several recipes at once and wasn’t paying much attention. In any case this gives the meatballs an interesting flavor and texture.
Inspired by Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck
500 grams (1 pound) ground meat
1/2 cup ground pinenuts
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 onions, cut in half and sliced thinly
1 cup dried cherries, soaked in 1 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon tamarind concentrate or juice of half a lemon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
A few tablespoons of green onions for garnish
Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs and knead well. Form small meatballs the size of a walnut. Brown on all sides, preferably in a cast iron pan. A well seasoned iron pan is nonstick and needs very little oil. The meatballs will continue cooking in the sauce so it is not necessary to cook until done.
For the sauce sauté the onions in olive oil until golden brown. Add the dried cherries, the soaking liquid, tamarind concentrate and allspice. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Add the meatballs and simmer for 30 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through and tender. Add more water if the sauce dries out. Serve on toasted halves of pita bread or with white rice.