Unorthodox Indian Meatballs

By Reba Ray.

As you may or may not know, Indians (from India) do not eat beef. So any Indian dish with beef in it has to be unorthodox, right? No disrespect to Indians, but one night I found myself with nan (pronounced “non” and also spelled “naan”) in the pantry and beef in the fridge – and little else of substance to make a meal. So I concocted this dish out of necessity. What’s nan, you ask? That my dear, is nan of yur business! Ha! Nan is a flatbread used in Indian cuisine. I think they eat it in India, but I’ve never been to India, so I can’t say fur sure, but I have eaten it at Indian restaurants. It’s not too hard to make at home either, but it requires yeast and I have an aversion to cooking with yeast. Nothin’ warranted, I’m just nutzo that way.

Now maybe you city folk see nan at yur grocer all the time, but we country folk don’t. So when I spotted it at my local Wal-Mart Superstore, I did a back flip in the bread aisle and brought some home. And that’s how I ended up with nan in the pantry.

Now, a word to my readers who are afeared of Indian food: Don’t be a weenie! Just cuz you haven’t ever eaten it, dudn’t mean it idn’t delicious! Step outta yur French-fried comfort zone and try something new, why don’t ya!

This recipe makes enough for three big or four average servings, so if yur eatin’ alone, have some leftover containers nearby to ration out the extra portions, so you avoid the temptation to eat more than you should. This dish actually improves with a night or two in the fridge, as do most tomato/garlic-based foods.

1 pound lean ground beef rolled into one-inch balls
1 ½ tbsp coconut or olive oil
Medium onion, chopped fine
1/2 yellow, red, orange (or green, though not preferred) pepper, chopped fine
14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tsp. ginger
2 tbsp. curry powder
½ tsp chili powder
1 tsp. garam masala
1 c. coconut milk (you’ll find this near the Chow Mein in yur grocery store)
1 can peas
1 can new potatoes
Salt to taste
Store-bought nan – or in a pinch, a coupla flour tortillas.

Roll yur ground beef into one-inch balls and set aside, awaitin’ further instructions. Keep these balls small! Resist the temptation to save time and make big meatballs, they won’t cook through before yur sauce dries up! Chop yur veggies, then heat the oil in a large skillet. Toss in the onions and pepper and cook until they’re not crunchy – about 10 minutes on medium heat. Now add the garlic, spices and tomatoes and mix it all up. Place the meatballs in the skillet and put a lid on it. About ever five minutes, take the lid off and move the meatballs around so they cook evenly. If while yur cooking the meatballs, the tomato base starts to get alarmingly thick, just toss in a little water – maybe a quarter cup – cuz you wanna keep it about the consistency of thick spaghetti sauce. After the meatballs have cooked about 15 minutes, add the coconut milk, peas and potatoes, stir, put the lid on again and cook for five more minutes. You mighta noticed you don’t ever get a chance to drain those cooked meatballs; that’s why it’s important to use lean ground beef in this recipe. Salt to taste and yur done!

Dish this out in a big bowl and tear off chunks of yur nan to dip in it. If you live in the sticks like I do where nan is hard to find, don’t fret it. Just buy some flour tortillas and heat ‘em on a griddle or in a skillet until they are bubblin’ and have some brown spots on ‘em. When they’re cooked well like that, they make a decent substitute for nan, just not as tasty.

The Spice Trade
You probably noticed this dish calls for a not-so-well-known spice, garam masala. You can get this in yur local grocer – you just never looked for it. But, the bigger issue is why would you want to spend $3 for one teaspoon of flavoring? This is supposed to be cookin’ for one on a budget, idn’t it? Spices are actually a pretty good investment. As long as you keep ‘em in airtight containers, they will last a long, ding-dong time – like years. So yea, today yur just using a teaspoon of garam masala, but if you like this dish (and my neck’s out bettin’ you will!), that bottle of garam masala is not goin’ to waste – even if it takes you a few years to get through it.

But here’s another idea: Do you have a couple of friends who like to cook too? Why don’t ya’ll go in together and buy some spices? Pitch in $10 each and head to the store to pick out some spices. With $30, you can probably buy about 10 odd-ball spices. Then go home and divvy ‘em up equally. So for yur $10, you got 10 spices – probably enough of each to last a year.

Or here’s another idea – this one we’re tryin’ out at my church and I think it makes a great little add-on to any women’s get together: Have a spice trade – that’s a cute play on words if you’ll reckon back to the days of Magellan. Tell everybody to bring one odd-ball spice to a party and then provide some little zip-locking baggies. Split the bottles into thirds, leaving one part in the bottle and the other two parts in baggies with the name of the spice written on it. Now put them all in a basket and let folks come up at their leisure and pick three spices in exchange for the one they brought. If yur a buncha serious cooks, make everybody bring a recipe that uses the spice they bring – as many copies as you expect people at yur gatherin’.

This is a smart way to afford manageable amounts of pricey spices. Give it a try and tell ‘em you heard it from Reba Ray!

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