Sunday, August 2, 2009


Sometimes when I come across an interesting recipe I decide I want to make that dish, research a bunch of variations and then come up with my own version. But sometimes I'll notice that I've got everything I need for the recipe in the house and skip all that and just make it.

I found a link to this recipe on, but it was a link to a link to a reposting of a recipe from a cookbook so all the context and explanation was missing. That should have been a warning sign, but I guess I wasn't in a mindset to be warned. I didn't look at variations and didn't even look at the context. I just thought: "I didn't know albóndigas had oatmeal in them." and went ahead with it. As you may know, they don't. This recipe is from Almost Meatless, a cookbook by Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond, where they switched out bread crumbs and reduced the amount of meat. The oats add bulk and absorb flavors. If they had left it at that then I may well have tried the recipe even if I had done my due diligence; it's a clever idea. But they made a bunch of other changes that I don't get. I'll explain later, but first the recipe.

- serves 4 to 6 -
from Almost Meatless by Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond

1/2 cup steel-cut oatmeal
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped plus more for garnish
4 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons), divided
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, seeded and chopped into a paste
4 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
2 teaspoons ground coriander, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound ground lamb
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 cup water
Juice of 1 lime

1. Mix together the oatmeal, cilantro, half the garlic, the chipotle, 2 teaspoons of the cumin, 1 teaspoon of the coriander, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Gently work the lamb into the mixture, distributing it evenly. Form balls out of tablespoon-size scoops of the mixture and set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining garlic, cumin, and coriander, cooking for an additional 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and water and stir to combine.

3. Bring the sauce to a simmer and add the meatballs. Simmer partially covered for 45 minutes.

4. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste, squeeze the lime juice over top, and serve with extra chopped cilantro.

From all the oats floating around the bowl, it appears I've suffered critical meatball failure during simmering. The meatballs that remain are crumbly which isn't too surprising considering the chunky bits they're made of and the lack of binder. Most every other albóndiga recipe has an egg in there. I think maybe the recipe was expecting little broken bits of oats instead of the big chunks in the McCann's brand oatmeal I used. I probably should have chopped my cilantro finer; that can't have helped. I suppose I could break up the rest and call this chili.

I'm a bit disappointed that I'm not getting more lamb flavor here. There's a bit of anonymous meatiness in there, but mainly it's all tomato, cumin, cilantro and less chipotle than you'd expect, but I did use a small one. Frying the meatball before simmering, which most Spanish albóndigas recipes do, would have helped. So would using more strongly flavored beef or pork which are far more common.

I wonder; what with the chipotle, cilantro and lime; if this is a take on a Mexican meatball. The cumin, coriander and lamb are typical of the Moorish origins of the tapas version (each of those isn't unheard of in Mexican cooking, but they're a very Mediterranean combination). Even if all the spices were Mexican, the tomato sauce is very much a Spanish element. It all just seems incoherent and, for me, it doesn't really work.

Incoherence aside, it's not actively unpleasant to eat. Not high praise, but that's all this dish is going to get.


kat said...

Funny, I did a recipe from the same people a couple weeks ago.

billjac said...

How did it turn out?

LaDivaCucina said...

When making dishes meatless, lowering the fat content or trying to reduce a recipe's calories, I find I get success from trying the recipe in the original style first and then when I have an idea of the dish's taste and texture, I fiddle around with it. sounds like this recipe was too far from the original concept. are you going to try it with meat?

billjac said...

I'm not sure. I'm not the world's biggest fan of the albondigas I've had at tapas bars. I was more intrigued by this specific recipe. On the other hand, I find that eating a lousy version always leaves me craving a better one so I very well might try a more traditional version.