I might boil a door knob if I thought Maeve would eat it. She’s an unpredictable sort who loves bananas one week only to systematically chuck every bit of banana off her highchair tray the following week. Her doctor assures me this is normal behavior and to avoid battles with food. Offer. Offer. Offer. That’s her advice and I do my best to follow it.
I will admit, however, I frequently find myself at a loss not knowing what to cook for dinner or lunch. I desperately cling to any shred of evidence demonstrating Maeve’s heightened interest in a certain food. This is the situation I found myself in a few weeks ago following a dinner party during which Maeve ate an inordinate amount of meatballs.
My child loves meatballs! I nearly sang it from the mountaintops, but I restrained myself. There was a complication. The meatballs for which Maeve showed such intense affinity were Greek meatballs made from a family recipe. I knew I needed that recipe. I wasn’t about to mess around with another type of meatball. Too many foods end up in the trash that way.
I went straight to the source. Well, this is not exactly true. I went straight to the wife of the meatball maker. During a play date shortly after the dinner party, I mentioned to my friend how much Maeve loved her husband’s Greek meatballs. I asked if I could have the recipe. She didn’t think it would be an issue and told me she would ask.
A few hours later, I received an email with the bad news. No meatballs. My friend told me the conversation with her husband was brief. It went something like this:
Wife: Robin would like your meatball recipe.
Husband: Well, that’s too bad.
It stung, but I can’t say I was too surprised. I am a food writer. People aren’t always willing to share recipes with me. This is particularly true when it comes to family recipes. It doesn’t matter how desperate I seem or how many times I promise to keep a secret a secret. The family vaults are impenetrable.
Life went on and a few weeks passed meatball-free in our household. I practically forgot about the whole incident until I was wandering through the cookbook section of the library and saw this book. It’s a gorgeous book with some real heft. It’s the type of cookbook that is boundlessly promising with a elegant cover and a weightiness that feels so good in your palm. You just know it is brimming with inspiration. This wasn’t the first time I looked at this book. A few years ago, my friend Nathan interviewed Chef Psilakis for Time magazine. They even killed and grilled a goat together! I nearly bought the book then, but somehow it fell off my radar as so many cookbooks do.
I stood there admiring the book for a moment in the stacks. I wanted to tear into it right away, but I couldn’t. Just as I started to flip through the pages, there was a tug at my pant leg. A little redheaded fox was done with the library. It was time to go home.
Hours later after dinner, a bath, and bedtime stories, I finally got my chance to sit down with the cookbook. It was blissful and quiet. I dove in and was immediately hooked. This book isn’t just full of recipes, but stories as well. It’s my favorite way of exploring new foods and Chef Psilakis tells heaps of good stories about growing up in a Greek American household. He talks openly about his upbringing, his introduction to cooking and about each recipe and why it’s special. I was so fascinated I forgot about the meatballs.
Eventually, however, I made my way to the meatball recipe. I won’t lie. It looked superb, but the ingredient list was daunting. I took a deep breath and considered what tomorrow might look like for meatballs. I thought it might be possible until I noticed the recipe was characterized as “time consuming.” I didn’t read further. My evenings are complicated and often plagued by toddler meltdowns. It wasn’t going to happen. Besides, my the meatball madness faded over the course of several weeks. I didn’t feel so desperate anymore.
Instead, I found a recipe for a meat sauce (kima) that looked far more reasonable. It doesn’t cook in minutes, but most of the time spent making the kima is for the purpose of simmering it. I can think of no better way to spend your time than filling your house with the scent of slow cooked onions and meat in the most aromatic mixture of spices. Cinnamon? Nutmeg? Yes. That’s correct. You might think you have your standard meat sauce already. It’s the one you can cook up without looking at a book from a few tomatoes, spices, and some caramelized onions. That’s a good sauce. I know it is. This one is better. It’s different in that the flavors are sweet and tangy at the same time. And while a regular Bolognese sauce has the sweetness of the onions and possibly carrots, this sauce gets its sweetness from the spice mixture and a hint of sugar. Combine that with meat, fresh herbs, and vinegar, and you have a moutwatering dinner. Intoxicating, really. I might call this a new twist on your old Bolognese, but that would be sort of insulting. I’m sure Greek people eat kima all the time. It’s probably old hat. For me, however, it is new. I’m thrilled to have it in my arsenal.
I paired the kima sauce with penne, but you can pair it with what you like. In fact, I think it would probably be delicious over roasted potatoes as well. Maybe root vegetables? There are many possibilities and I would love to hear your thoughts.
I know you went into this thinking I was going to make you meatballs. I hope I didn’t crush your expectations. There isn’t much in this world that can replace a good hearty meatball, but this sauce is a hit nonetheless. And, Maeve’s verdict? You can see for yourself. I’m quite confident she forgot all about the meatballs.
Adapted from How to Roast a Lamb