When I think of my favourite meals, three things come to mind: Dad’s veggie burgers, Mom’s eggplant parmesan, and these turkey meatballs. I think it’s pretty normal (hope it’s pretty normal?) to love the meals you grew up with, and the veggie burgers and eggplant parm are no exception. They are fantastic.
Thinking of the meals I love that I make, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem produces the best “burgers” hands down. You will read this recipe and think: “too many herbs, too much onion” (impossible!); “zucchini in a burger? no thanks”; “sumac? cayenne?”. And to all this, I say a simple YES! These babies will be juicy, full of flavour, and completely addictive.
I’ve doubled the burger part of this recipe, and left the sumac sauce as it was originally intended. Frankly, Marcus and I love these so much a technically-doubled recipe makes for perfect lunches and leftovers. The meatballs are super delicious both hot and at room temperature. Consistent with my experience with most Ottolenghi recipes, I find the sauce bit about double (or triple) what I actually need. Marcus has been known to dip chunks of fococcia or other yummy things into the leftover sauce, so it won’t go wasted if you have extra.
I’m a big Ottolenghi-Tamimi fan. Their dishes are something different than I would normally try. I find their cookbooks, and Ottolenghi’s solo projects, accessible and inspiring. We love many, many dishes from Plenty, especially the Black Pepper Tofu and Black Bean Quesadillas. Not only am I confident a bland dish out of these two is near impossible, an afternoon would be well spent curled up on the couch poring over the photos and words in their lovely cook books. An investment worth making.
I could eat cilantro for breakfast, so a word of caution for those cilantro-averse. Parsley would make a wonderful substitute. Dial back the amount if you’re unsure. It’ll be hard to mess up. I initially worried about a teaspoon of cayenne in the meatball mix, but I find the subtle heat perfect and completely balanced with the sumac sauce. I have the most beautiful sisters in law, Nadia and Lisa. They are seriously stunning – and seriously fabulous. Sumac, as I’ve recently (and embarrassingly) learned, is a plant. I hadn’t given it much thought to be honest, until Lisa pointed some out to me on the side of the road in Niagara-on-the-Lake. And of course, as many spices are, sumac is a very common plant. Marcus and I were visiting family in Ontario this summer and Lisa and Mike organized a wine tour – ahem, bike wine tour to clarify, and it was pretty much the greatest day of my life. Vineyards, sunshine, sampling, wobbly bike rides to the next winery…too much fun.
When Marcus and I got married last year, the whole family came to Canmore, Canada for our wedding. Lisa and my brother-in-law Mike particularly loved the mountain scenery and ambience that is Canmore. So when Marcus and I invited Lisa and Mike to Canmore for our annual “mini-cation” (always the week of Canada Day, always in Canmore), they obliged. It was the first time Marcus and I had guests on our mini-cation, and it’s a special time of year for us. My parents’ home in Canmore becomes ours, whether they like it or not, and we’ll usually host friends for a day or two here and there, but never the entire week. We always ride our bikes from Canmore to Banff and back, ride horses, hike, drink wine, sit on the deck, and enjoy summer in the mountains.
I really, really love to entertain. I love to make scones for breakfast, or marinate meat overnight in prep for the next lunch or dinner, and ultimately make meals easy for our guests. I made these meatballs for Lisa and Mike in Canmore (on the barbecue no less!) and kept trying to avert Lisa’s eyes away from the zucchini she saw go in to the mixture. Not a fan of zucchini I promised she wouldn’t taste it, and was so pleased when they both ended up liking this dish. I shared the recipe and we had a lengthy discussion about sumac; Lisa thinking I was literally picking it off plants on the side of the road and me not picking up the obvious hints that we were talking two very different sumacs.
Whether you’re familiar with Lisa’s sumac on the roadside, or mine in a jar at the market, sumac is a stunning red colour and has a distinct lemony taste that pairs so nicely with the creaminess of Greek yoghurt and sour cream. The original recipe calls this dish “burgers” and aptly so. If you were to smear the sauce and smoosh it between a bun, all would be good and happy. I call these meatballs because it’s more familiar to me, but they are indeed more burger-like than not. When Marcus and I visited Greece several years ago, any solo meat that resembled a ball was called a burger. So it makes good sense to me that these are somewhere in between.
Finally, in a perfect example of my laziness, I’ve started to simply bake these meatballs instead of the traditional sear and then broil. I admit – these meatballs are probably better when seared until crispy and browned and then finished off in a hot oven. You see, especially on weeknight, I just can’t be bothered. I like to set the meatballs on a baking tray and let my hot oven do all the work. You’ll see from the photos that the foil-side of the meatballs achieves the lovely crispiness, and if you were to rotate them half-way through you’d go the extra step of extra crunch. You’ll also see that my spheres don’t quite stay round, so you get a delicious browned edge. The flavour isn’t impacted either way and smothered in the creamy, lemon sumac sauce everything feels right regardless of the fry or not.
Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
2 pounds ground turkey
2 zucchini, coarsely grated or shredded
6 green onions, thinly sliced
Chopped mint, about 1/4 cup or to taste (I like much more)
Chopped cilantro, about 1/4 cup or to taste (I like much more)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp table salt
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Non-stick vegetable spray
1/2 cup sour cream
2/3 cup plain Greek yoghurt
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sumac
1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
Combine the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to eat.
Heat oven to 425 degrees.
In a large bowl (larger than you think you’ll need), combine all of the burger ingredients except for the non-stick vegetable spray. Mix with your hands and then shape into burgers. I made 17 burgers because I like them larger, and the cooking time of course will correspond to the size of the meatballs.
Line a baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with the non-stick vegetable spray. Transfer your meatballs to the baking sheet, and then bake in the hot oven for about 25 minutes. I used a meat thermometer and could see the meatballs were done sooner, but I like the brown edges you can achieve with a longer cooking time.
Serve with your sumac sauce.