There is a very large Armenian community in Pasadena, CA, where I grew up. And because there is a very large Armenian community, there are a lot of restaurants that offer some great Armenian dishes as well. You will know where they are once you walk into these restaurants and are instantly greeted with all the fabulous aromas of all the fragrant and aromatic spices that are used. One such restaurant I loved and frequented was Burger Continental, on South Lake Street. The foods they served were a combination of Armenian, Greek, Lebanese and Mediterranean. No matter what time of day, it was always packed, and on the weekends, there was always live music and belly dancing.
Armenia is a small country located in Eastern Europe. It borders Turkey to the east, Iran to the south and Georgia to the north. All these countries influenced the foods and customs of the Armenian people. There are also influences from all the Mediterranean counties and the Middle Eastern Countries as well. In sum, the Armenian culture is multi ethnic in its roots. “Throughout history, as they migrated from their lush homeland in the center of the spice route and on to new worlds, Armenian cooks have embraced new foods, integrating them into their daily fare to create a rich and varied cuisine”. (p. 9, The Armenian Table, Victoria Jenanyan Wise).
We had some ground lamb that was in our meat rotation, ready to be cooked. I had to do it justice, so I went through my ever-growing culinary library and found a perfect way to cook that ground lamb. I decided on an Armenian recipe, making them into spiced lamb meatballs with a tomato-spinach sauce. It was a great choice too. We both thoroughly enjoyed this spicy, exotic lamb creation.
Spicy Lamb Meatballs with Tomato-Spinach Sauce
3/4-1 lb ground lamb
1 1/2 TBSP garlic
1/2 white or yellow onion, diced fine
2 small red chili peppers, diced fine or brunoise cut
1/2 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cardamom
2 tsp orange zest
olive oil for cooking
Mix all the ingredients together well and form the meat into meatballs about the size of a walnut.
Place the meatballs on a a piece of parchment paper and place in the refrigerator anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight, to set.
2 TBSP butter
4 tomatoes diced medium – I like to mix and match my tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped fine
1 cup fresh spinach, rough cut
1/4 tsp crushed Aleppo pepper (from Aleppo, Syria)
dash of salt – I used my fleur de sel
When ready to cook, take the meatballs out and let set at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Then heat the olive oil in a large skillet. When the oil is hot, carefully place the meatballs without overcrowding them. Cook until they are completely browned on all sides. Once they are cooked, removed them from the skillet and set aside.
As you can see, I had an eager little helper too.
Add the butter to the olive oil and add the tomatoes and spices. Cook over a medium heat until the tomatoes start to break down, then add the spinach and the cilantro. The spinach and cilantro do not take long to cook.
Add the meatballs into the mixture and roll them around to get them nice and saucy. Once the meatballs are thoroughly heated, serve everything on top of a bed of couscous. I also served it with pita bread and hummus, along with a delicious Malbec on the side.
Lamb is an acquired taste and not everyone likes it. That’s OK. You can always substitute ground beef instead.
Your taste buds will really come alive with this spicy, aromatic, exotic dish. Hamegh or delicious in Armenian.
Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.