One of the lo~ved Iranian/Persian dishes which one will not find on a big event table is kufteh-berenji/rice-meatballs. It is more of a food that Moms cook for dinner at home. Thought to be a time-consuming, cumbersome dish, like kotlet and dolmeh, people are hoping for someone else to make it and be treated to.
The list of ingredients is not cast in stone. Within reason, some other spices and herbs may be added or some on the list omitted. Traditionally, Persian golden prunes (imported) are used for the center insert and sauce to add subtle sweet-and-sour effect. They are occasionally available in Middle Eastern grocery stores. I personally find dried, pitted apricots to be a better substitute. You may also use dried, pitted plums/prunes for the center only (not the sauce), as it darkens the sauce.
Another option is double the amount of hot water, lime juice, tomato paste, dried apricots, salt and pepper, to have a thinner sauce to be served as soup rather than thick sauce to pour over the rice-meatballs.
Rice-Meatballs / Kufteh Berenji
½ cup ‘slow-cooking’ yellow-split-peas
1 cup basmati rice
1 lb ground meat (beef, veal, lamb, turkey)
1 (12 wt oz/340 gr) large onion (to be grated/pureed in a food-processor)
1 (12 wt oz/340 gr) large onion, manually chopped – or→ 6 Tbsp caramelized onion
1 tsp turmeric
¾ ~1 tsp ground cumin
¾ ~1 tsp curry powder
¾ tsp ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
3 cups (or a large bunch) parsley (will use stems too)
1 cup (or a small bunch) cilantro (will use stems too)
1 cup (8 large stems) green onion
1 Tbsp dried dill
1 Tbsp dried tarragon
12 pieces of dried, pitted apricots, each cut in half
4 cups boiling water for the sauce
1/8 tsp ground saffron, dissolved in 3 Tbsp hot water
¼ cup lime juice
2 tsp tomato paste
- In a small sauce pan, combine rinsed yellow-split-peas, 1½ cups water, ½ tsp salt and bring to a boil on high-heat. Lower heat to medium (scoop off foam as it forms) and cook for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool. (Non ‘slow cook’ yellow split peas cook quickly and fall apart.)
- In a medium sauce pan, combine washed/rinsed basmati rice, 1½ cups water, ½ tsp salt, and on high-heat, bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low, scoop any foam and simmer for 15 minutes or until liquid is completely absorbed (rice should not be fully cooked). Dish out and spread on a large plate and set aside to cool.
- While rice and split-peas are cooking, in a food processor, in the following order, one-at-a-time:
.Almost puree 1 onion and empty in a small bowl,
.Finely chop the stems of parsley and then add the leaves, pulse a few times and empty in a separate medium bowl,
.Finely chop the stems of cilantro and then add the leaves and pulse a few times, empty in the same bowl as the chopped parsley and
.Cut green onions in a couple of inch length and pulse a few times, empty in the same bowl with the other greens.
- If not wearing exam gloves until now, this is the time to wear them. (Spices will tint your cuticles, which of course, comes off after several washes. )
- In a ‘large’ bowl, combine meat, pureed onion (just use the pulp and save the juice for later), turmeric, cumin, curry, pepper and knead for one minute and set aside. (Keep the gloves on and wash your hands.)
- In a ‘large’, deep, non-stick pot, about 12″/30cm diameter (room for one layer of up to 12 rice-meatballs) add 3 Tbsp oil and on medium-heat, caramelize the chopped onion. Turn off the heat and scoop out half of the caramelized onion in a small dish to cool.
- To the meat mixture, add garlic, parsley, cilantro, green onion, dill, tarragon, cooked rice, cooked split-peas, caramelized onion (which was set to cool), eggs, ½ tsp salt and knead for 7 minutes, until smooth mixture, paste consistency.
- Scoop handful of meat mixture, cupping your hands, squeeze/press/roll and shape meat mixture tightly into balls (size of a small orange). With index finger, push-in and open a hole to the center of the meatball and push in one cut piece of dried apricot into the center, close the hole, roll the meatballs tightly again and set on a large platter.
- To the pot with half of caramelized onion, add 4 cups hot water, lime juice, tomato paste, dissolved saffron, rest of the cut dried apricots, onion juice, 1 tsp salt, pepper to taste, bay-leaf and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low.
- Gently place prepared meatballs into simmering sauce, one-by-one. Increase heat to a boil. Then, immediately lower heat to medium-low again. Put lid on the pot and simmer for 60 minutes, basting meatballs every 20 minutes. Do not flip the meatballs.
- Dish out rice-meatballs onto a deep serving dish and pour sauce over meatballs.
♪ I made double recipe ♪
- Option: This dish may be made a day in advance and warmed in microwave before serving.
نوش جان / Noushe jan / Bon Appétit!