This is one of the absolute best dishes I made this winter. It's the perfect comfort food on a chilly night. The only really time-consuming part of the dish is rolling the meatballs - if you're in a rush, you could easily just combine all the meatball ingredients in a skillet (minus the panko and egg) and brown the meat, and then add to the sauce for a delicious meat sauce. Then again, meatballs are a lot of fun and well worth the effort...just recruit a helper or two! The meatballs are cooked in a spiced tomato sauce that's super flavorful. You can serve the meatballs with anything you like - the original recipe suggested pitas, but couscous or pasta would be excellent as well. Since I had some extra goat cheese in the fridge, I decided to go with the Pioneer Woman's fantastic goat cheese polenta. It's creamy with wonderful corn and goat cheese flavors, and it goes perfectly with rich meatballs (although it definitely takes the dish out of "Cooking Light" territory). My secret to making good polenta is to use a non-stick pot to make it - you don't have to worry about sticking, and you can get away with a little less whisking. Start the polenta a few minutes after you put the meatballs on to simmer and everything should be done about the same time.
Middle Eastern Spiced Meatballs (adapted from Cooking Light)
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped, divided
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup panko
1/4 cup minced fresh mint
1/2 pound ground lamb
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1 large egg
1 tsp kosher salt, divided
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 14.5-ounce can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
1. Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 T of the onions and the garlic, and cook until translucent, stirring often. Let cool slightly, and then scrape into a large bowl. Add the panko, mint, lamb, ground beef, and egg. Season with 1/2 tsp of the salt and several grinds of black pepper. Mix to combine with your hands, and then shape into small meatballs.
2. Return the pan to the stove, add more oil as needed, and heat over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs, and cook, turning often, until they are browned on a couple of sides - no need to cook them through completely. Transfer the meatballs to a bowl or plate.
3. Adding more oil if needed, add the remaining onions to the skillet and saute until translucent and starting to brown. Add the ginger, cumin, cinnamon, and tomatoes, and simmer 5 minutes. Season with the remaining 1/2 tsp salt and several grinds of pepper. Stir in enough water to make a loose sauce, and then stir in the meatballs. Simmer 20 minutes, adding more water as needed. Serve over goat cheese polenta.
Goat Cheese Polenta (adapted from the Pioneer Woman, original recipe here)
1 cup dry polenta
1 tsp salt
4 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
1 T butter, at room temperature
1. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add the polenta in a thin stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Season with the salt.
2. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook 15 minutes, whisking often. Add more water as needed to get your desired consistency.
3. When the polenta is done, whisk in the goat cheese and butter. Taste and adjust seasoning.