Rich man, poor woman – spicy lamb balls with zucchini fritters

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A terrific spicy lamb dish from North Africa follows.  But first –

It’s about your driveway…

About a year ago I got a call from an old friend (let’s call him Bill) I hadn’t seen in years. I’d heard he’d done very well for himself as an investment banker, and had homes in different countries. And some boats. He asked about our move to Maine, and I told him my wife and I had bought a piece of land on a cove on the Weskeag River, designed a house, and had it built.

“Do you have a long driveway?” he asked.

The question spun my brain around a little bit. It was the first and only question he asked about our new place – if we had a long driveway. Forget the house or outbuildings or garden, or how pretty it all is, the key thing is driveway length.

“Not too long, no,” I said, and we went on to talk of other things.

Actually, there are other possible answers to “Do you have a long driveway?”, like -

“No, but it’s incredibly wide!”

“Yes. In fact it’s so long, we always carry extra gas to just so we can get out of it!”

“No, it’s just ten feet long and we had to get a Smart Car to use it!”

- which are all sarcastic responses to a straightforward question, and not very useful.

In fact, our driveway is kind of long, because it has to travel halfway down our long skinny 1.3 acre lot to reach the house. But I believe Bill meant loooooong, because I knew he was visualizing a massive amount of property with spacious waterfront and vast spreading lawns with gardens and towering maple and spruce trees and a driveway with mile markers, because, in his mind, maybe we’d bought an entire point. He’s a card-carrying one percenter. We’re not (not even close). And between us was a language gap.

One thing I’ve learned over the years that I hope isn’t too offensive to people: many people with a lot of money tend to have some strange ideas, like, “Why, doesn’t everyone have a long driveway?” The good thing is, as soon as you hint that you’re not at all wealthy, it’s a buzzkill for them and the conversation tends to end quickly.

To be fair, Bill is a terribly nice guy and kind and thoughtful and cheerful, but vast amounts of cash do affect people in ways they may not be aware of. Not long ago, we had a visit from some old friends, one of whom is a woman roughly my age who was homeless for a couple of years, traveling through the western U.S. She learned the ropes of homelessness – sleeping in libraries, traveling with other homeless people, finding towns that were friendly to her and her cohorts – and made it through this phase of her life in decent shape. What some may find surprising is that she’s well-educated and as smart as anyone I know and a good, hard worker. But circumstances worked against her, and she found herself on the road, basically penniless, for a good stretch of time.

The point of this is, what would she and my friend Bill have to talk about? I would like, in a better world, to have anyone I call a friend to be able to talk to anyone else I call a friend, but it ain’t gonna happen. You see, there’s this language problem…

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Kefta Ghan’ Mi Bel’ – Tunisian spicy lamb balls

DSC_9783Mmm… (my photo)

My wife made this the other night – it’s adapted from a Mediterranean cookbook which includes dishes like this from North Africa. She served it with a creamy yogurt sauce and zucchini fritters (zucchinis? where on earth did we get them this time of year?!?) and a sauce that included her homemade Tunisian harissa sauce (good recipe here). It was an excursion into gustatory paradise. It takes some prep, but it’s worth it. This recipe serves two, so adjust it if you’re having guests or cooking for the family.

You’ll need:

  • 1 lb. ground lamb, or other cut of lamb you’ve minced
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. chopped flat leaf parsley
  • (optional: 1 tbsp. chopped coriander leaves)
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika

and for the sauce -

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 can diced tomatoes (about 6-7 ozs.)
  • 1 tsp. harissa (see above, or, use a spicy tomato-based paste of your choice)

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Put the lamb, onion, garlic and spices (everything from the first list) in a bowl and mix well. Now roll the mixture into balls – 1″ – 1 1/2″, put the balls on the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until nicely brown.

Make the sauce: heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion, and cook for 5 minutes or until well-softened. Add garlic, cumin, and paprika and cook for another 1 minute. Now stir in the diced tomatoes and harissa and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Finally, add the baked meatballs into the sauce and simmer for about 10 minutes. You can season with salt, black pepper, and more cayenne if you wish.

DSC_9782Yogurt sauce, Kefta Ghan’ Mi Bel’ (spicy lamb balls with sauce), and our own zucchini fritters. We ate lustily and watched an old Columbo episode. What could be wrong with that?

I suppose it’s not necessary to offer recipes for the yogurt sauce or fritters – they’re pretty simple and also popular around here.

There you have it.

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is an author, photographer, crossword constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and an avid cook. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.