17 January 2008

Olive-and-Walnut Stuffed Potato Bites

On Tuesday, after a doctor's appointment, trip to the pharmacy, and an Arabic lesson, I had precisely 1 1/2 hours before I had to go hop a bus to yoga and then scoot myself all the way across town to pick up a piece for my computer and then be home to administer a complex set of medications to our puppy. Of course, I decided this would be the perfect time to make, shape, stuff, and fry potato balls. Behold my brilliance.

I actually made it, literally running out the door with my scarf flying behind me and half the potato balls still sitting on the counter, but as I sat down on the bus I realized I smelled like a giant French fry. It stayed with me all through yoga, too, wafting among the incense like a McDonald's franchise. But by the time I made it back home after a long day and reheated those potato bites and made myself a green salad, it was totally worth it. So worth it.

The recipe is for olive and walnut stuffed potato bites, and is very loosely inspired by a Saudi recipe I found in Maria Khalife's The Middle Eastern Cookbook (a new little book written by the founder of the Arab version of the Food Network). I ended up baking the potato balls because sometimes, especially in January, deep-frying just isn't in the cards. Though I'm sure they'd be amazing fried, I really can't imagine anything better than a warm ball of mashed potato with a bright burst of olive in the middle. I think I'd forgotten how marvelous potatoes are, just the smell of them cooking was intoxicating, and that filling: slightly sweet with raisins, the finely ground walnuts are almost unnoticeable except for the hint of nutty flavor, and finally the big salty olive pop. If I were to do this again I would fry not bake them, a few of them got a bit melty when baked.

These would be perfect appetizers, but they make a great end to a long day, slowly popping one after another into your mouth, savoring each and every bite. I guarantee that no matter how many you make, they'll be gone before you know it. Although, if you find people on the bus wondering what that French fry smell is, don't say I didn't warn you.

Olive-Walnut Stuffed Potato Bites
Makes about 24 potato balls.

2 lbs russet potatoes (about 3 large)
3/4 cup flour
salt and pepper
1/3 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 cup green olives (pimento-stuffed ones work nicely), rinsed
1/2 teaspoon sumac or substitute lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, optional

1. Put a large pot of water to boil. Peel the potatoes and roughly chop. Cook the potatoes in bloiling salted water until tender. Drain the potatoes and place in a large bowl. Shake the bowl to allow some of the steam to escape from the potatoes so that they dry out slightly. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes until very smooth. Sprinkle in the flour and season with salt and pepper. Mash the mixture to form a smooth combined dough. Set aside.
2. Place the walnuts and raisins in a food processor or spice grinder. Pulse the mixture until it forms a coarse meal (some chunks are fine). Add the olives and sumac and spices and pulse just so the olives are chopped and you have a chunky mixture.
3. Working with damp hands, take a golf-ball sized piece of potato, flatten in your palm, fill with a small spoonful of olive mixture, then close up and roll into a ball. Continue forming balls, placing them on a baking sheet, until mixture is used up. Refrigerate potato balls 1/2 hour before frying (if you have the time).
4. To fry: Heat a pot of oil to very hot. Fry balls in batches until golden brown, remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve hot.
To bake: preheat oven to 450 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and add a generous amount of olive oil to the pan. Roll potato balls around to coat with oil, then space evenly on the baking sheet. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown (the balls will flatten slightly). Flip over and bake another 5-10 minutes, so that the second side is browned. Keep an eye on the balls so that they don't melt or brown too much. Let cool at least ten minutes before serving (this helps firm the balls so that they don't fall apart). Can be done ahead and reheated.


Hillary said...

I have never had or seen anything like this before - how interesting. I'm not sure about the walnuts but the potato-olive combination sounds superb!

Merav said...

These look AMAZING! I can't wait to make them!!

Mallow said...

Hilarious! But they certainly look worth it...

kateza'atar said...

I have truckloads of Lebanese olives, which I've never tried to use in a recipe [they're my favorite snack!].Do you think they would work or would they be too intense?

Cakespy said...

How delicious looking--and adorable!!

Hilda said...

Mercedes! I have had these in their original form and they are so good. I'm sorry I've been absent from commenting on your posts so I only just saw that you have a keeshund! She's adorable, we have two of them, a 12 yr-old and a nearly 3 yr-old. They keep life interesting. Potato is a primary food group around here, I think I'll make these asap.

Mercedes said...

Hillary- the walnuts are finely ground so you barely notice them. You could do a plain olive filling also and it would still be great.

Merav- oh, do let me know if you like them!

Mallow- yes, it was one of those days!

Wild Thyme Kitchen- Lebanese olives would work very nicely, I think. They do tend to be a bit stronger/more astringent, but if they're good enough to eat out of hand I'm sure they'd be great. Just rinse them off to remove some of the brine.

Cakespy- thanks.

Hilda- welcome back. Hooray for keeshonds, they have such personality, right? This is our second, she's a little handful at the moment. Enjoy the potato bites!

Bri said...

Mercedes, these look so wonderful! Potatoes are always good, but to take them in the tangy/sweet/nutty direction with your filling sounds divine. What great party food! I think I wouldn't be able to hold myself back from using a little dollop of sour cream on top. Yum!

Mansi said...

awesome! that's a great filling and I love it! why don't you send it to my Game Night Party blog event??

details here:



Anonymous said...

potato balls?!?! hmmm... sounds great i'll have to try them Latin style!


Aixa Kay said...

I have already mixed the potatoes with flour, but a bit worried.
I used 3 large potatoes, and added just a bit over 3/4 flour, but the dough seems loose and sticky. I don't know if it is supposed to be like that. I don't even know if wet hands are going to be enough to handle it.
It is unlikely that you'd response right away, but if.. just tell me if I should use more flour or not..
I'm using different stuffing though.

the potatoes weren't too moist. I boiled them whole.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

These look superb. Like hillary, I'm not sure I've seen anything quite like them before. I'm glad I have now - for here are some of my favourite foods all rolled into one - deep joy! What a great little starter or snack...

Mercedes said...

Aysha- oh dear, I wish I could have answered you sooner. This is one of those recipes like gnocchi where it often relies on slight differences in the size of potato, type of flour, etc. The one thing I will say is that I mashed the potatoes very well with the masher, until they were completely cohesive, before adding the flour.
But my first piece of advice would be to yes, add more flour! Just a tiny bit at a time until it comes together. The dough will not be super-firm, but it should stay together. It will be sticky, but that's why you use damp hands. Hope that helps?
Please let me know how it came out!

Anonymous said...

This is the first time I've commented here, but I made these yesterday and I have to say that they were very, very good. :)

I added an egg to the dough, which helped it stick together. I also used thyme instead of oregano, and added some cumin. So tasty! Unfortunately, though, I hadn't realized that the only olives we had were Kalamatas with the pits still in them, so I spent a good 20 minutes pitting olives by hand. Oh well! I think it was worth it! Ha ha. :P

Anonymous said...

My goodness, I have just found you, your blog. Every recipe I see looks amazing. For some reason the Potato recipe pulled me to read every word. Yum! Thank you for your generosity of recipes, thoughts and images.
My 50th birthday is the 20th and I am thinking you will inspire my dinner party!
I am part of a blog give away that is going on. Feel free to visit and sign up for my gifting! http://miztlee.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

How interesting -- I came across this idea from watching Maria Khalife on TV, and also tried it, but with not-so-good results.

My mom refuses to fry things so she asked me to put them in the oven instead. It wasn't a good idea. But, I think it just needed some tweaking. Yours turned out very pretty!