Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Want a little kick in your meatballs?

(photo from
This is about chiles. You want a bit of chile heat in your meatballs? This is your recipe, then. Usually I make these during cool weather, not in the summer, as the spicy heat seems to taste better when the rain is falling or the wind is blowing. But, there's no reason why this couldn't be eaten any time of year.

We'd been on a hiatus from eating beef when I made this some years ago. The recipe was in Bon Appetit, and just hit a taste button with me and I promptly went out to buy the ingredients. I made a moderate batch of them and froze the remaining in dinner-sized portions. I freeze the rice in a separate quart-sized Ziploc bag but put it with the meatballs in the gallon sized bags. Then my meal is all together.

This could be made with ground turkey or chicken, or a mixture. It's the little bit of capers in the middle that make the meatballs unusual. And the chipotle chiles. Then the fresh tomato sauce is also different. Fresh Tomato Sauce merely means you use fresh tomatoes and you don't cook it very long. So the sauce retains some semblance of a "fresh" taste. It's easy and delicious. Summertime is a good season to use up your abundance of home grown tomatoes.

As I mentioned, the recipe called for rice (I use brown basmati), but it could also go over mashed potatoes just as easily. Or pasta for that matter. But you might want some kind of carb to soak up the good sauce. Generally I make more sauce than the recipe says, but it's truly not necessary unless you like sauce like we do.

Chipotle chiles are an ancient condiment, I'm sure, with all the Mexican or South American cuisines that include hot chiles. They're merely jalapeno chiles that have been smoked and canned or bottled in an adobo tomato sauce. They're spicy. Very spicy. I'd open a can and use a mere teaspoon or two, put it in the refrigerator and months later would discover this moldy messy gunk in there. So I was overjoyed when at one of the cooking classes I attended, the instructor suggested piling the chipotles into a plastic bag and freezing the leftovers. Then when you need some, you just use a spoon and scrape out whatever you need. Very easy, and certainly a better use for the contents of the can. I don't cook Mexican food very often - we have such wonderful restaurants here in our part of the world that I don't need to make it. But I use lots and lots of Mexican food products in my cooking. And this meatball dish certainly isn't Mexican particularly.

Are any of you enjoying Rick Bayless' cooking program on public television? I've been Tivo-ing it for awhile, and have enjoyed it immensely. Rick is a famous American chef from Oklahoma, although he lives in Chicago now, where he has two very popular Mexican restaurants. He's a very unassuming kind of guy - I don't detect a bit of ego in his style. He just adores Mexican cuisine, particularly from the Yucatan. He uses copious amounts of chipotle and other chiles in nearly everything he makes. Some chiles I'd never heard of. Rick has published six cookbooks. (Just an aside here for those of you who follow my cookbook obsession, I own not one single Rick Bayless cookbook . . . aren't you proud of me?) This series, with the recipes from the PBS series is from his book called Mexican Everyday, although the series is called Mexico One Plate at a Time.

My hands are particularly sensitive to chiles. No matter how careful I am with cutting up a chile, I always manage to feel some heat from it - usually underneath my fingernails. Not everybody has this problem, so this is just a friendly warning. I use plastic gloves. The staff in my dentist's office has been kind enough (thanks Joan and others) to give me a box of their gloves every couple of years. They're a must for me. Particularly with the chipotles. Getting a little bit of that spicy chipotle sauce under my fingernails can be so painful for hours and hours.

So, if you're looking for something a bit different, give this a try. Use gloves. :-)

Chipotle Meatballs in Fresh Tomato Sauce
Recipe: Bon Appetit, May, 2003
Servings: 6
3 pounds plum tomatoes -- chopped
1 medium white onion -- chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons chipotle chile canned in adobo -- minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons capers -- drained
1. Puree first five ingredients in blender (in batches, if necessary) until almost smooth.
2. Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat, add tomatoes, cover and simmer for 10 minutes just to blend flavors and thicken slightly. Stir occasionally and season with salt and pepper. This can be prepared up to 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.
3. In a large bowl combine the beef and pork and next six ingredients. Add 1/2 cup of the cooled tomato mixture and stir well. Using your hands, form about 1 rounded tablespoon of meat mixture into a ball. Insert 2-3 capers into the center and reshape to cover them. Repeat with remaining meat mixture and capers.
4. Bring sauce to a simmer over medium heat. Add meatballs, cover and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, about 20 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, prepare a batch of basmati rice. I use brown basmati rice because it's better for us. Spoon rice into a large shallow bowl and ladle meatballs and sauce on top.
NOTES : At a cooking class I learned to open a can of chipotle chiles, divide them up into small plastic bags, place those in a larger plastic bag that can be labeled. Since you never use much chipotle for any one dish, at least you'll always have it on hand. The chipotle adds a subtle, but important kick to this dish. I make this in at least double quantity and freeze both meatballs (in sauce) and rice in separate bags, and on evenings when I don't want to cook, it's really easy to pop out one of each bag and there's dinner with a vegetable and/or salad.
Per Serving : 511 Calories; 38g Fat (66.6% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 147mg Cholesterol; 635mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 4 Lean Meat; 2 Vegetable; 5 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
To view a printable recipe, click on title at top.

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