I didn’t get elaborate with the photos for this meal, as it came at the end of a long day of grape peeling, jam-making, and relish-canning, but this minimalist plating packed a huge flavor punch.
In the midst of this week’s grape harvest and preservation madness, I found myself craving Mediterranean food. My first thought was dolmas made with Brussels sprout leaves (the collard-sized ones that you trim off to encourage vertical growth), but I ended up making some little meatballs called voli me plyguri first. Filled with parsley and scallions from my backyard and simmered in the tomato sauce I made from our garden tomatoes a few days ago, these moist little meatballs have a unique chew thanks to the inclusion of bulgur rather than rice or breadcrumbs.
I served the voli (which means “marbles”) stuffed into homemade pitas with baba ghanoush, another very seasonal element of the meal. Our two eggplant plants have spent the summer growing very leisurely and are not yet inclined to produce for us, so I bought specimens from the farmer’s market. Next time I will remember to prick their skins before charring them under the broiler—one of them burst and left a mess in the oven! The finished baba ghanoush had a silky texture and a smoky, nutty, spicy flavor that was delightful on its own as well as perfectly complemented by the acidity of the tomatoey meatballs.
I will probably go back to making hummus in the foreseeable future, however, because my son apparently has an eggplant sensitivity. As I was rolling and baking the last few pitas, my mom helped Nolan get started on his dinner with a quarter of a pita smeared generously with baba ghanoush. But in the space of a few minutes, he started getting upset, and when I came over to see what the problem was, I realized that all the skin around his mouth had turned bright red and rashy. We took away the offending plate, wiped his face clean, and within minutes the rash faded and Nolan’s mood markedly improved. Poor child, doomed to lead an eggplantless existence (she said wryly).
Voli Me Plyguri (Meatballs with Bulgur and Tomato)
My adjustments to this recipe included browning the meatballs on one side before adding the wine and tomato sauce to the skillet. I used homemade tomato sauce, and rinsed the container out with the water to get every last drop. I also used white wine instead of red because it was all I had on hand.
1 lb lean ground beef, veal, lamb or pork or a combination
1 C finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4-5 scallions (white plus most of the green parts), finely chopped
1/2 C coarse bulgur
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/3 C olive oil, divided
4 garlic cloves, divided
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, halved lengthwise and sliced into half-moons
1/2 C dry red wine
2 C grated ripe tomatoes or canned diced tomatoes with their juice
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 C water
In a large bowl, combine the meat, all but 2 tablespoons of the parsley, the scallions, bulgur, egg, 2 tablespoons of the oil, 2 T minced garlic, cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Knead well, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours. Shape the meat mixture into 2-tablespoon balls. Place on a plate, cover and refrigerate.
In a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and saute the onion over high heat for 4 to 5 minutes, or until it starts to color. Add 2 T coarsely chopped garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add the wine and simmer for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and cinnamon stick. Carefully add the meatballs to the skillet; the sauce should almost cover them. Add the water, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low.
Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce has thickened. Remove the cinnamon stick, sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons parsley and serve.