Monday, July 19, 2010

Let's Be Realistic

Let's be realistic. If a recipe calls for Mexican oregano and I've got a bag of plain old oregano bought in bulk, am I going to run out to the store? If a recipe calls for sweet Hungarian paprika and my bottle has no affiliation with an eastern European country, am I going to abandon ship? And are panko breadcrumbs really far superior to other breadcrumbs?

All this time I've been preaching about cooking things yourself. But cooking it yourself is not about cooking it Top Chef style with a million ingredients, most of which are packaged in large quantities but only required in 1/4 teaspoons. It's about being realistic about what you need and what you don't need, and knowing what tastes good enough to eat at home because this isn't a restaurant and you don't need to put parsley on the plate so why buy a bunch for a recipe that requires five leaves?

But enough of that tirade. Let's just take a Top Chef recipe and see what we can make of it. A couple weeks ago, the recipe for Sesame Lamb Meatballs won the elimination challenge on Top Chef and I was all about making it at home. I figured it had some lamb, some sesame paste, salt, pepper, olive oil. You know, the basics. Then I looked at the recipe and counted 17 ingredients, or 18 if you want to count the lemongrass skewers the meatballs are threaded on. There were two kinds of meat! There were two kinds of sesame seeds!

I nixed the ground beef right away. These were lamb meatballs, I was sold on lamb meatballs, and I wasn't going to buy ground beef just to use 4 ounces of it. Next I nixed the parsley because, as mentioned above, I have no use for leftover parsley and my fridge is getting tired of the mess it leaves. Next I addressed the roasted garlic oil. I'm not sure if one can buy roasted garlic oil. I'm certain that I could make roasted garlic oil, but did I really want to make it? So I resigned myself to just adding roasted garlic, and then at the last minute just added chopped garlic and nixed the roasting altogether.

Next on the list was sherry vinegar, which I never have around but see in recipes all the time. I decided I would buy sherry vinegar, but then I didn't see any at the grocery store and so I used my standby substitute, cider vinegar. It works just fine. Mexican oregano = oregano. Smoked paprika = paprika. And black and white sesame seeds would have to be just one or the other, whatever color I spotted at the supermarket first. But here's a hint - don't skip the tahini or the chile paste. Because these meatballs taste like sesame and chile, and everything else just adds deliciousness. Maybe I'm sacrificing a little bit of deliciousness, but I'm getting a lot of darn good meatballs either way.

The moral of the story is, make decisions about what's realistic and make the recipe work for you. You're eating it - not some judge. And it's okay if the meatballs end up being flat instead of round (ahem).

Top Chef Sesame Lamb Meatballs (from - but edited)

  • 16 oz ground lamb
  • 1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro stems
  • 1 Tbl chopped garlic
  • 2 Tbl cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbl sambal (chile paste)
  • 2 Tbl Tahini paste
  • 1/8 cup chopped shallots
  • 3 Tbl bread crumbs
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 whole egg
  • 4 Tbl sesame seeds
  • Salt & Sugar, to taste

1. Distribute all ingredients evenly.

2. Form patties and wrap around skewers.

3. Grill to desired doneness.

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