I love winter cooking with those long simmering sauces and hearty flavours that act as an internal embrace. Gone are the vibrant colours and fresh veggies of summer – now is the time for stews, chili, roasts and anything braised in wine. Rich sauces adorn pastas and meaty plates, adding a little extra cushioning around the middle section.

So begins my hunt for lighter versions of robust classics. The dear Christy of My Spice Box gifted me some gorgeous and flavourful organic spices, enlightening me on a subject I know very little about. I can honestly tell you that good spices have made a substantial change in my dishes thus far. I have been a bulk buyer of these little dish enhancers, although I burn through them much faster than most, they still lose their potency.

Fresh spices equal a complex depth of flavour allowing for a less complex preparation. Bonus: you can reduce some of the fattier ingredients and excess salt by supplementing them with flavourful spices.

Tearing open her Ceylon Ground Cinnamon was a real treat! It has a heat and sweetness I’ve never encountered – pairing it with tomatoes is akin to a religious experience. (Christy recommends mixing a little cinnamon with ground cardamom and sprinkling into your coffee – happiness in a mug!)

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Enter this slightly exotic and fun recipe for lamb. I have never been a lamb lover, I’m not a fan of the gaminess of it and I especially abhor the addition of mint jelly. Done with care, this meat can be delicious.

Two flavour profiles I like best are Moroccan and Indian – mysterious and earthy cumin, coriander, fennel, ginger and cinnamon all enhance the exotic lamb and make it a little special. I love me a lamb shank in red wine, slow cooked until it falls of the bone, a braised curry, or a tender rack, but ground lamb yields some nice results. It produces a fun burger patty with tzatziki – or in this case – a succulent and festive meatball.

 

MOROCCAN LAMB MEATBALLS & TOMATO SAUCE with HERBY EGGPLANT ORZO

serves 2 with leftovers

This is a surprisingly speedy recipe. You can make the sauce ahead of time and freeze or refrigerate it. Same with the meatballs – just roll and lightly oil placing in one layer in an airtight container to freeze until needed – great to have on hand for holiday visitors as easy tapas with a nice Malbec or Cabernet. Serve these little buddies over orzo, or try a simple spaghetti with olive oil, cous cous, or on their own with some crusty bread.

 

Meatballs:

350 grams ground lamb

1 extra large egg

1/4 cup panko crumbs

1 tbsp each fresh mint and parsley, finely diced

1 tsp each ground cumin and kosher salt

1/2 tsp each garam masala and ground coriander

1/4 tsp cinnamon

 

Sauce:

2 pats of butter (approx. 1 tbsp each)

1 tsp olive oil

1 small onion, finely diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp each cinnamon and fennel seeds (crushed in a pestle and mortar)

1 tsp each sugar, garam masala, ground coriander and kosher salt

1/2 tsp cayenne and ground cumin

796 ml (28oz) can whole tomatoes

156 ml (5.5oz) can tomato paste

1 tbsp lemon juice

 

Orzo:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 Japanese eggplant, cut into bite-sized chunks

1 cup orzo

1 tbsp lemon juice (+ more to taste, if you like)

1/3 cup mint, roughly chopped

1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped

1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

fresh ground black pepper

 

For your meatballs:  In a small bowl, combine all your ingredients and mix with clean hands until just combined. DO NOT over work your meatballs, they can become tough. Roll into balls with slightly damp hands (the size is up to you, just be consistent so they cook evenly). Place on an oiled plate or sheet. You can wrap them at this point to freeze or pop in the fridge to firm up until ready to fry.

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For your sauce: Place a pot over medium heat. Add 1 pat of butter and the olive oil. Tip in the onions and gently sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes (reduce heat if they are browning).  Add the garlic and all the spices, heating through until fragrant, about a minute more. Pour in the tomatoes and paste and raise heat to begin simmering. Once heated through (about 5 minutes), break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon for rustic chunks or purée with a hand blender if you want it really smooth. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.

 

Meatballs: Heat a non-stick frying pan over high heat. Add a splash of olive oil and place in the meatballs, leaving room to allow for even browning – you may need to do this in batches depending on the size. Occasionally give the pan a shake and rotate the meatballs a few times to sear on all sides, locking in their juices. Using tongs, gently nestle them into the sauce and cover, simmering for remaining time.

 

Orzo: Bring a large pot of salted cold water to a boil. Wipe clean your non-stick pan and heat to medium, adding the oil. Sauté your onion a few minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and eggplant, tossing about occasionally until lightly browned and softened, 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Once the water has boiled, pour in the orzo and cook to al dente as per the package instructions (about 7 minutes). Drain. Add to the eggplant pan with a little startchy water, lemon juice, herbs and cheese. Toss to combine and taste for seasoning.

lamb-sauce-orza

To serve: Spoon some orzo on a plate and top with Sauce and meatballs. Dig in!

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