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A man who knows meatballs

My friend Doron might lust for a more well-endowed kitchen, but he can make a mean meatball.

I should have guessed as much. After all, last summer Doron, Elizabeth, and I happened to find ourselves together in Paris for five weeks—quelle coïncidence, non?—and there was much, much meat. The man knows his stuff.

Doron and Liz were sharing a sixth-floor walk-up in the tangled heart of the Marais, and I was a mere ten-minute walk to the east, in a studio on the edge of the artsy 11th arrondissement. As luck and geography would have it, halfway between our apartments was boulevard Richard Lenoir, where each Thursday and Sunday row upon row of covered stands would magically sprout from the pavement, blossoming into the city’s largest outdoor market. From the Place de la Bastille to the Bréguet-Sabin Métro station, tables unfurled to offer crates of (cheap!) fruits and vegetables, some still splotched with dirt and smelling appealingly of damp, minerally soil. And that wasn’t all: other booths proffered neatly arranged bottles of olive and nut oils; display cases full of meat, sausages, terrines, and sauerkraut; straw mats covered with cheese in various stages of ooze; troughs mounded with nuts, dried fruits, and olives; baskets of stacked bread; and trays of hummus, halvah, or kofta.

On a previous Paris stay from 2001 to 2002, I’d managed to become a market insider, working for several months for an oil vendor called Mille et Une Huiles. Under the wise and only occasionally short-tempered tutelage of Monsieur Francis Dijos, I learned to distinguish various olive oils by nuances in their flavor: “like tomatoes on the vine,” “like artichokes,” “like freshly mown grass,” we’d chant. I also had my first taste of sweet argan oil, wooed customers with my exotic American accent, and even managed to drip some of our products down the front of my pricey and punk-chic Michael Kors coat. That market experience, however, would pale in comparison to what I’d find with Doron and Liz in July 2004. They brought me to the meat.

Each Sunday, they’d traipse over to the market around noon and collect for the week ahead: ingredients for a spinach soup, apricots for drippy afternoon binges, and bleu d’Auvergne or an aged chèvre for the daily cheese plate. And then, one fateful afternoon, there was the sopressata. The Italian specialties vendor was one of the more expensive ones in the market, and its cured meats were beyond compare: long cylinders of every diameter, rosy meat flecked with translucent white fat. The sopressata was clearly the vedette of the display, its impressively fatty cross-section bared for onlookers. Doron and Liz, ever gourmands, couldn’t resist ordering a few slices. Little did they know, the stuff must have been encrusted with gold leaf: their dozen slices would weigh in at a heart-stopping 18 euros. That Sunday would forever be remembered as the Day of Very Expensive Charcuterie. There was nothing to do but go home, open a bottle of cheap (to offset the meat expense, of course) Champagne, and feast. They would talk about that sopressata for days, their eyes glazing over in ecstasy. They were haunted. Sure, there would be other meat feasts—chopped liver with caramelized onions from nearby Chez Marianne, juicy and aromatic roasted chickens from the butcher on rue Oberkampf, or Bastille Day’s fancy terrines from La Grande Épicerie—but always, they’d moan nostalgically for that sopressata. Wanting a piece of the action, I decided to pay a visit to the Italian vendor myself, seeking preparations for a picnic shortly before my return to the States. Liz and Doron were right: the spicy, salty, deeply grassy cured meat couldn’t possibly have been improved upon—not even by the late-evening sunlight over the Place des Vosges, the soft blanket strewn with crumbs, or the wine in yogurt-jar glasses.

So I wasn’t surprised when Doron e-mailed recently from the East Coast with a tale of meatballs. “It was one of my finer moments,” he said, describing his concoction of ground turkey, cumin, cilantro, toasted pine nuts, and golden raisins. Knowing better than to take this lightly, I immediately set to work.

As one would expect, Doron’s meatballs are delicious—mildly spiced ground turkey brightened with the unexpected sweet-tartness of raisins and the toasty crunch of pine nuts. Dolloped with a spoonful of lemon-and-cumin yogurt sauce, they’re quite nearly moan-worthy. They’d make a great hors d’oeuvre—preferably not with cheap Champagne, although I could easily be talked into it—and they’re surprisingly good cold, an important detail for those who, like myself, often stand in front of the fridge with a fork in hand.

They’ll tide me over until I can get some more of that sopressata.

Doron’s Turkey Meatballs with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts
Adapted from the man himself

½ pound ground white-meat turkey
½ pound ground dark-meat turkey
1 small yellow onion, minced
1 egg
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
½ cup toasted pine nuts
½ cup golden raisins (chopped if they’re large)
½ cup fine bread crumbs
A few pinches ground cumin
½ tsp salt
A few pinches freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
Lemon-and-cumin yogurt sauce (see below)

Mix all ingredients except olive oil and yogurt sauce together in a bowl, preferably using your hands. You don’t want to overwork the meat—that would make your final product tough—but you do want all ingredients to be evenly mixed. Form the mixture into balls of whatever size you like (mine were about 1 inch to 1 ½ inches). Heat a thin film of olive oil in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, and sauté the meatballs in batches, so as not to crowd them. As they begin to color, turn them regularly so that they are golden on all sides. They should be done when they are evenly browned and feel medium firm—but not hard—to the touch. Place on a paper towel to catch excess oil. Serve hot, warm, or cold with yogurt sauce.

Lemon-and-Cumin Yogurt Sauce

Nonfat plain yogurt
1 lemon, juiced
Garlic, finely chopped
Ground cumin
Ground chili

Mix ingredients to taste in a bowl, and keep chilled until serving.


Blogger Pusekatt said...

Mmmm raisins in meat dishes are delicious. This was something I discovered the first time I ate Chilean Empanadas. These are little pastries that are filled with minced beef cooked in tomato paste, chopped boiled egg, fetta cheese and raisins! Simply delicious :-) I also love Cuban Picadillo which also has raisins mixed in minced beef nd heaps of other veggies...I will however be giving these turkey meatballs a go in the very near future though...yum!

2:52 PM, February 13, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Pusekatt, those empanadas sound wonderful! It's funny--my uncle Arnold just e-mailed to sing the praises of raisins in spaghetti sauce. Looks like raisins, meat, and tomatoes find a way to come together no matter what country they're in...

4:59 PM, February 13, 2005  
Blogger Pusekatt said...

Raisins in spag sauce? Now I have GOT to try that! And yes, I agree, seems as though raisins, meat and tomatoes go very well together...in any language.

4:41 PM, February 14, 2005  
Anonymous Rose said...

I made the meatballs last night. I don't like meatballs. Oh, but these were so good! There was no turkey at the store, so I used veal, which I was thinking was sheep, but is actually cow, and it was very good. And yogurt sauce is always good. I could pretty much eat it straight, as I often do with cucumber raita. There were no leftovers. I also used your salad dressing recipe, which honestly was not my favorite (either my red wine vinegar is bad or I just don't like the rwv) but everyone else loved it. So thanks for the inspiration and recipes.

11:33 AM, February 16, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Rose, thanks for reporting back on your recipe-trying adventures! I'm so glad to hear that the meatballs were a success! I've got a few in my freezer, and they're sounding awfully good right now. As for the salad dressing, keep in mind that vinegar varies in strength, so one red wine vinegar could be very different from another. I've been using Beaufor brand, which is relatively cheap but still decent. You could also try the dressing formula with Champagne vinegar or Sherry vinegar, both delicious as well.

6:27 PM, February 16, 2005  
Anonymous julie said...

Molly -- thanks so much for sharing this recipe -- and thanks to Doron as well. I made it last night with minor modifications -- extra cilantro, onions sauteed first since someone else in the household won't eat anything that has a hint of raw onion flavor -- but for the most part I was pretty faithful to the recipe. They were delectable. And as Rose commented, the yogurt sauce is so good that I could simply put my face down in the bowl and...well, we'll draw a tasteful veil over that scenario. Thanks again!

7:36 AM, March 13, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Julie, I'm so glad to hear about your success! I'm sure Doron is blushing with pride. Your sauteed-onion variation sounds very promising...I'll have to try it next time. Mmmm, next time...

10:34 PM, March 14, 2005  
Blogger Su-Lin said...

Just had to pop in to say that I made Doron's meatballs last night and they were a hit! Loved the cold yogurt with it too...garlicky breath be damned! Reminded me a bit of tzatziki. Thank you!

8:10 AM, March 20, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Great news, Su-Lin! I'm so glad you liked them! I had dinner recently with some friends who had also just tried Doron's yummy meatballs, and it got me thinking...meatballs might be the next big thing! Perhaps we should form some sort of club, with Doron as our fearless leader.

9:53 AM, March 20, 2005  
Anonymous Karla said...

Hi Molly,

I love your blog! Just discovered it while flipping thru the 'net looking for pictures of people firing out of canons... I enjoy strange photographs, what can I say, ... and I googled up your picture of Mike in the tree. Voila, there you were.

Your last post was back in February, and your last comment was in March. Are you still around? Is everything alright?

Wondering, and looking forward to more from you,


10:33 AM, June 29, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Thanks for coming to visit, Karla! You'll be pleased to know that Orangette is still going strong, and my last post was actually only a couple of days ago! Perhaps you got the misleading information about my last post and comment from my Blogger profile, which the Blogger system updates with maddening infrequency. At any rate, have no fear! Go here for the home page of my site, and for my most recent posts...

10:45 AM, June 29, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also really like a yogurt sauce with chutney and sliced green onions! Though I make my turkey meatballs with curry in them...

8:57 AM, June 12, 2008  
Blogger Piper P. said...

Oh...my...goodness. These turkey meatballs put other meatballs to shame! The sweetness of the raisins, the added texture of the pinenuts, mmm...mmm...mmm! I was a little weary about the lemon yogurt sauce at first because the amount of each ingredient wasn't listed, and the sauce by itself was pretty potent. So I drizzled just a tiny bit on top of one meatball, took a bite, and chastised myself for ever doubting the sauce! "The more the better" we said! Thanks so much Molly for sharing this recipe, and making this Sunday night a smashing way to end the week!

12:01 AM, November 24, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where did you get ground dark-meat turkey?

8:14 PM, January 23, 2009  
Blogger Molly said...

Anonymous, if you have a Whole Foods near you, they often carry it. That's where I've bought mine.

12:06 PM, January 24, 2009  
Anonymous Lisa said...

Hello, lovely Molly. We're eating these tonight, years after I tried them for the first time at my family's house in Pennsylvania on a weekend visit from New York. An entire lifetime seems to have passed since then! But I suspect they will be just as moan-worthy after all this time.

Rereading the post was such a sweet treat too. I'm going to find myself with one or two solo days in Paris on a trip next month, and you've got me musing and sighing over how I'll choose to spend them.

Hope all is fantastic in your lovely city.

4:28 PM, April 30, 2009  
Blogger Elizabeth B said...

Hello, Molly! I just made these last night for the first time. I'm not much of a cilantro fan, so I chopped up some fresh basil instead. They're divine! I think i underworked the meat, actually, because I kept losing pine nuts in the pan and having to fish them out before they burned. (Mmm, pine nuts.) I'm considering whether it would work to slide them into the oven on a baking sheet. What do you think?

Either way, thank you for another fabulous recipe!

4:31 PM, May 02, 2009  
Blogger Jo said...

I am so excited to make these! Our book club is reading your book and as an added twist of fun - we are each making a recipe you've featured in your book. :)

We are local if you'd like to join us tomorrow evening! We are all huge fans, so no negative press or heat from our kitchen. ;-)

1:55 PM, July 15, 2009  
Blogger Jo said...

Ok, I know I posted on here just a week ago, but I wanted to tell you that I made this in "meatloaf" form tonight and it was equally as delicious as meatball form. I was just too tired to roll and rotate of heat - it's WARM in Seattle right now, I hope you guys have a good shore breeze or A/C - whew we are warm here in Mill Creek. Sooo I mixed it all together and tossed it in a bread pan and cooked it at 350' for 50 minutes, moist and delicious and was soo yummy with that sauce!

11:38 PM, July 22, 2009  
Blogger Cait said...

Hi Molly, I just finished your books, and this was the first recipe that I tried. I. Love. These. Meatballs. Since my housemate is out of town and I have noone to feed them to, I had to call my parents between the first and second batch to tell them how great they are.

Normally I share books with friends, but I am reluctant to give yours up since I want to keep all the recipes!

3:41 PM, September 06, 2009  
Blogger MsJess said...

Well I have been meaning to try this recipe but I kept putting it off. Maybe it was because I have bad mental associations with the name Doron. Maybe it was because I had a bad reaction to pine nuts once (i had this weird reaction were I ate some iffy pine nuts and then everything I ate for the next week had some sort of bitter metalic after taste) anyway I finally made the meatballs the other night and they were Awesome. They were so tasty! They were light, full of flavor, sweet and delicious.

4:56 PM, January 20, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have an intolerance to garlic and onions, but these meatballs seem to involve a lot of other flavors. Do you think they would still be good without onions? Maybe if I added some Dijon mustard? I'd just like the opinion of someone who has already made them before I get the ingredients and go to the trouble of making them.


11:12 PM, April 21, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG. I had wanted to make this recipe for ages but never got around to it. I finally made it after reading your book (which was fab). These are DELICIOUS. I didn't and wouldn't change a thing. YUM!

1:47 PM, May 07, 2010  
Anonymous Adrienne said...

Aaaaand...I am definitely making these this week. YUM

1:12 PM, July 18, 2010  
Anonymous PugFan said...

These meatballs were wonderful. I sauteed the first batch and was too impatient to stand over the stove browning another- I baked them on cookie sheets filmed with olive oil- about 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes on Convection, and they were great!

8:43 AM, December 09, 2010  
OpenID frugalfoodiefamily.com said...

molly, I made these this week (admittedly a little skeptical...I'm not a huge meatball fan) and they were to die for! Reposted the recipe on my blog...many thanks!

1:39 PM, July 15, 2011  
Anonymous Ena said...

Could I use almonds instead of pine nuts? Pine nuts are unbelievably expensive in my country (they're never cheap, of course, but here the expensiveness is on a totally different level)..

3:54 AM, October 02, 2011  
Blogger Dirty Mistress said...

For a frugal grad student take on this dish, I used sunflower seeds from my store's snack ideal. That is now my go-to replacement for pine nuts in many recipes (except pesto where walnuts, almonds, etc work better).

3:54 PM, September 18, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So good I had to write...years & years after you've posted the recipe...but these stand the test of time! I've made them with turkey and with lamb...and even the "I only eat beef/pork meatballs" people are won over! I can't convert those same people to cilantro & cumin, though, so I go the spinach and cinnamon (it works!), route...and these are delicious (and obviously forgiving, for all of my adjustments!) Thanks to you and Doron!

7:10 PM, December 20, 2012  
Anonymous Marija @ Palachinka said...

Made it, ate it and love it! Thanks for the yummy recipe!

Used beef/pork mix and cashews due to availability and it turned out great :)

12:03 PM, January 21, 2014  
Blogger Betsy said...

Molly, I just made these meatballs last night after finally picking up your first book and they were just marvelous! By some miracle I convinced my husband to leave a few for me to take for lunch today and I now I can't wait to dive in again. I only wish I could have held more of the pine nuts in, but it seems that's part of the charm of these little gems. Hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

10:04 AM, December 29, 2014  

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