Friday, June 09, 2006


Madeleine # 6: Meatballs & Angels

Just the thought of certain smells and tastes make my mouth water. Literally. Garlic and onion frying. Ripped basil leaves. Ripe melon. Freshly baked bread. Rosemary. Coriander. Lime. So imagine the amount of drewling which goes on when I think about, prepare, smell and eat (in that order) something which incorporates fried onion & garlic, coriander and lime... These meatballs are a variation on a recurring theme. Recurring, because it seems I encounter them in different guises throughout my life.

In Kenya, my mum bought a local cookbook with recipes from the little Swahili Island of Lamu. I don't know if she ever tried any of the other recipes, but the one I am about to describe is definitely the one which became a household fixture, and has stayed with me ever since. There was a terribly traumatic period when the cookbook went AWOL and both my mum and I had to improvise the dish. It was still good, but definitely not as SCHLURP as the real McCoy. Finally it was found, behind a cupboard, half eaten by something (best not imagine what), but THE recipe was intact and was duly copied by yours truly (notice the stains).

For the meatballs
500g mince meat (beef or lamb)
2 onions, finely chopped
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp fresh

4-6 fresh limes
salt & pepper

Pound garlic, ginger & pepper into a smooth paste w. the lime juice (ideally with pestle & mortar). Add salt. Mix paste with meat & onions. Shape into small balls (not TOO small), cover and leave in fridge to chill and to avoid that they disintegrate while cooking.

For the sauce
3 onions, sliced
2 cans of chopped tomatoes
tomato puree
cooking oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
1 chilli, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh cardamom pods
1tbsp cumin seeds
big bunch of
fresh coriander (ideally with roots)

3-4 limes
salt & pepper

Fry cardamom and cumin to release flavour, then put to one side. Fry onions in oil. When nearly
cooked, add garlic & ginger. Fry for a minute, then add fried spices. Add chilli and chopped coriander roots. Add tomatoes and tomato puree. Cook slowly, while stirring on gentle heat. Add a little water if sauce is too thick.

Drop the meatballs in the sauce one at a time anf let it simmer (covered) over very low heat until ready (cooking time depends on the size of the meatballs). When ready, add juice from limes and lots of chopped coriander. Cover again and cook for 5 minutes, before serving with rice.

This is a guaranteed winner for any informal dinner. Even with people who are sick and tired of you.

When I lived in Geneva with my then boyfriend, his friends offered to help us move, before they realised that there was no lift and only very narrow and steep stairs up to our new home. The sofa-bed almost didn't make it, and our friendship was on decidely rocky ground, until - as promised - they tasted the meatballs my mum had so generously offered to cook to thank them for their hard work. Well, they are still friends with my ex-boyfriend, I believe...

Now to the many guises. During my studies, I did an internship in Rabat, Morocco and rented a flat from a colleague who was on holiday for the whole duration of my stay. The flat came fully furnished. And with Malika. Malika was the cleaner, who also cooked for the colleague who was a die-hard bachelor. But whereas he always wanted roast chicken, steak and fries, I convinced Malika to only cook Moroccan dishes for me. The sheer bliss of coming home every evening to one of her simple but fantastically tasty feasts! One evening I came home to find a traditional tagine on the stove, and when I lifted the lid, there they were, my Lamu meatballs! Granted, no lime, but the Malika magic had worked something else into them (I should have known, since Melika means Little Angel, and
Malaika is a beautiful Swahili love song).

I tried to coax her recipes from her and although she was very willing to share them my Moroccan was just not good enough. It stretched to "hello", "goodbye" and "no, my dad will not sell me for 40 camels". Ok, the last one is a joke, as my Dad has actually never been offered as much as an old crippled camel or goat for my hand, in 10 years of living in Africa. I choose to put it down to the fact that I have dark hair and a dark complexion, which in North Africa helps me to look at least half-indigenous, unlike my blonde friends who could not walk down the street without being propositioned. I chose to be happy about the lack of proposals, instead of feeling like some women who are angry when builders whistle at them, but vexed when they don't!

The most recent encounter with a variation on this theme was during our honeymoon in Tanzania last year, to an island not far from Lamu actually,
Mafia Island (no connection to Don Corleone whatsoever. Although I did try making them an offer they couldn't refuse...). The cooking at the little hotel was Swahili, just like on Lamu, and absolutely scrumptious. The starter for lunch was always a cold soup, and in the evening a warm one. They could have published a book of wonderful soup recipes! Anyway, one lunch, they served a cold tomato soup, seasoned with lots of lime and corianger! My meatballs without the meatballs! As it was in October, I haven't had a chance to make it myself here in London yet, but this week the weather has become very summer-y indeed and who knows if I won't rekindle a bit of our honeymoon spirit by offering Husband a little Madeleine...

Lire cette madeleine juste avant de dîner, quand l'appétit me tenaille, c'est un supplice ;-)
J'ai un fabuleux souvenir des boulettes de viande à la sauce tomate que Mohammed me faisait à Nouakchott le midi des jours de sport !
J'en connais un qui doit être rudement content d'être rentré à la maison :-D...
Quel beau voyage de noces vous avez du faire....

Mais dis moi, ça fait maintenant un an que vous êtes mariés.
Bon Anniversaire de mariage (noces de coton la 1 ère année).

Bon allez je vous laisse tous les deux...

Loreal > t'attends quoi, pour les preparer. hein?

Baronne: on a fait un voyage de reve, et oui, on vient de feter ce que je croyais etre nos noces papier, mais bon coton, c'est tout coton aussi!
Moroccan food - sounds amazing. Thanks so much for the recipe, I'm going to try to get my family to try it.
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