When you cook in a certain cuisine for a long time, as I have with Middle Eastern food, you become comfortable enough with the repertoire of ingredients to sort of wing it in the kitchen. Which is why I come up with a lot of pseudo-Middle Eastern based on what I have in my pantry and a little bit of inspiration. The problem you confront then is the authenticity police. You know them- the ones that tell you your beans have to be cooked in a clay pot made by Berbers in the southeast corner of Morocco? They come after you in the night with their AOC labels and argan oils and recipes on papyrus?
Me, I think if it tastes good I'm all for it. I'm all about putting the proper labels on things (please don't call it hummus if it's not made with chickpeas), but really, experimentation in the pursuit of good food is what makes cooking fun. I am however, a little trepidatious when sharing recipes here that are of the pseudo-variety. I don't want to confront the authenticity police.
But then there are recipes so good that (1) it would be a shame not share them and (2) if they're that good, someone's probably done this before, which means it must be traditional somewhere. Like these lamb meatballs stewed in a prune apricot sauce (inspired by many a Moroccan tagine recipe)- it's so good I really shouldn't be keeping it from you. The lamb meatballs are richly flavorful and light at the same time and the sauce, with cinnamon and pepper and fruit, is a smoky-sweet-tart delight. Which means you should be writing down these ingredients and heading out to the store right now. Now, before the authenticity police come my way.
Lamb Meatballs in Prune and Apricot Sauce
For the vinegar I used white wine vinegar but I think any vinegar could work here- from apple cider to balsamic, you could even try white wine, lemon juice, or diluted tamarind paste to get different riffs on that tart effect. To soften the dried apricots I put them in a bowl and add very hot tap water over them to cover, prunes are usually very soft and moist already, but if yours are hard you can soften them along with the apricots. Drain before adding to the sauce.
for the lamb meatballs:
1 lb ground lamb
1/4 cups breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon, cumin, and salt
1/8 teaspoon each allspice and Aleppo pepper
1/4 cup minced parsley
for the sauce:
2 medium-size onions, finely diced
2 tomatoes, diced
3 tablespoons vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
10 dried apricots, cut into quarters and softened in hot water for 15-30 mins
about 16 prunes, halved or quartered
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon each cumin, cloves, and allspice
1. For the meatballs: Preheat oven to 350 F. Knead together ll the ingredients until just combined. Don't overwork the mixture- you want the meatballs to stay light. Using damp hands, form into balls and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in the oven until cooked through and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
2. For the sauce: Heat a splash of oil in a wide skillet. Add the onions and saute over medium heat until they begin to soften and caramelize slowly and turn golden in color, about 20 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the vinegar, stirring up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes, honey, and season with the spices and salt to taste. Allow the mixture the simmer until the tomatoes are broken down and most of their liquid is evaporated. Add the apricots and prunes and simmer for another five minutes or so, until everything is soft and combined. Taste for seasoning.
3. Add the meatballs to the sauce and allow to warm through. Serve, perhaps over rice or with good crusty bread.