Recipe for Moroccan Meatballs aka Party Meatballs with Harissa

Here’s a recipe for Moroccan Meatballs (Meatballs with Harissa), plus how-to on Harissa, a condiment I’ve loved since I discovered it in—of all places—Quebec.

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Moroccan Meatballs — Meatballs with Harissa

Can you remember the first time you ever had couscous? I sure can. It was in the early ’80s, at an Algerian restaurant called La Fleur d’Oranger in Quebec city, where I was studying French.

I remember loving the house version of the Near East stew; it came with hearty lamb—still on chunks of bone—plus chick-peas and loads of vegetables, all in a light and spicy tomato sauce. I especially remember being fascinated by the unique, moist and beady texture of the couscous itself. What was this crazy stuff?

Me. Hitchhiking to Montreal from Quebec. What's worse--the fact that I was hitchhiking or the fact that I was wearing such hideous glasses?

Me. Hitchhiking to Montreal from Quebec. What’s worse–the fact that I was hitchhiking or the fact that I was wearing baggy jeans and hideous glasses?

What tied it all together for me, however, was the harissa—that condiment of all kinds of herbs and spices and chiles in olive oil. I loved the way it added brightness, heat, depth, and exoticism to everything I dabbed it on. I couldn’t get enough of it.

After my foray to Québec, back home for my senior year at the University of Iowa, my friends and I had a “Sunday night dining club,” where every week one of us would take turns making dinner for each other. It wasn’t a party–it was simply a meal together before we all went our separate ways to study. It was a terrific tradition that bonded us forever; I’m still great friends with all of the people in that group. Ah, the power of good food.

When it was my turn to make dinner, I’d often cook some variation of couscous. Depending on how flush I was, it might be chicken; in leaner weeks, it would be vegetarian. But no matter what, it was cheap and good and satisfying. And it was nothing anyone else knew how to make (this was long before the days of looking recipes up online).

One of the surviving Middle Eastern restaurants on Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn.

One of the surviving Middle Eastern restaurants on Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn.

When I moved to Brooklyn after college, couscous was no longer my specialty. If anyone wanted a great couscous, we only had to walk three blocks from our Schermerhorn Street flat to Atlantic Avenue, a hub of Middle Eastern restaurants.

I’m not sure I’ve made couscous since before my Brooklyn days. And right now, far from Brooklyn, I’m sitting here wondering why not. (It would be a perfect recipe for the braiser, now wouldn’t it?)

While I might not make couscous much anymore, I do use and cook with harissa quite often.

What Is Harissa?

Found in Middle Eastern markets, this Tunisian condiment combines hot red pepper flakes and olive oil with dashing flavorings such as garlic, cumin, onions, coriander, and vinegar.

Deviled Eggs with Harissa.

Deviled Eggs with Harissa.

Yes, it’s fiery hot, but it’s deeply, intriguingly flavored, too–no one-note wonder here! In fact, anything Sriracha sauce can do, harissa can do much better.

Where do I find Harissa?

Look for Harissa at well-stocked supermarkets. Sometimes it’s in the condiment aisle, sometimes it’s in the Asian food aisle (go figure). You can also find it on Amazon.

 
How do I use Harissa? 

Put it on the table, as you would Sriracha; however, use a little spoon for serving it. You only dab a tiny bit of harissa onto or into something on you plate, and let it meld into the dish.

A few other ways I use Harissa:

• Use harissa to spice up an aioli: Add a bit to your favorite aioli recipe–and serve it with everything from turkey burgers and grilled vegetables to fish. Yum.

• Use harissa to spice up deviled eggs: Just a dab on the top of your favorite deviled egg recipe. You’ll love the way the lushness of the egg contrasts the heat and spice of the harissa.

• Use harissa in my Moroccan-spiced meatballs recipe. Conveniently, the Super Bowl is coming up….but these will be great on any party appetizer table.

 

Your braiser makes a good stove-to-table vessel for cooking and serving these.

Your braiser makes a good stove-to-table vessel for cooking and serving these.

Did I mention that a 1 1/2-quart braiser would be perfect for this recipe? Here’s why: You can take it from stovetop to table. Once on the table, the pan is not only very pretty, but also shallow enough to serve from handily. Plus, the braiser retains heat well. But if they do get cold, whisk them back to the stove for a few minutes and heat them back up.

Enjoy!

Recipe for Moroccan Meatballs aka Party Meatballs with Harissa
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 10
 
Ingredients
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons harissa
  • 1 pound frozen, fully-cooked beef or lamb meatballs
  • Snipped fresh cilantro or parsley
Instructions
  1. In a medium skillet, sauté the onion in hot oil until tender but not brown; add the garlic and cumin and sauté 15 seconds more. Add the tomatoes, harissa, and meatballs; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes or until flavors have melded and meatballs are hot. Sprinkle with snipped fresh cilantro or parsley to serve. Makes around 20 meatballs.

 
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Recipe for Braised Escarole and White Beans in Your Braiser

Searching for a braised greens and beans dish? Here’s a fabulous French take, and it’s a great recipe for your braiser. Read on!

Hearty braised French greens + beans, flavored with bacon, garlic, and onions.

Hearty braised French greens + beans, flavored with bacon, garlic, and onions.

We’re right smack-dab in a ferocious stretch of wineter, and I’m craving something green and bright. Nothing so light as a summer salad, of course—it has to be hearty and filling and warming, too.

Is this possible? Yes. Escarole and curly endive will fill both the bill. These are sturdy greens that travel well, so if you live in a place where your fresh+local ethos has hit the skids for a few dormant months, you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s a recipe for that can call on either escarole or curly endive (known as chicory in parts of the U.S., chicory lettuce in Great Britain, and chicory frisée in France.

Did I'm mention it's healthful? Your body loves fiber from the beans and nutrients from the greens. And your soul appreciates its Gaullic goodness.

Did I’m mention it’s healthful? Your body loves fiber from the beans and nutrients from the greens. And your soul appreciates its Gaullic goodness.

Serve this with a simple main dish to let its brightness stand out. I suggest roasted salmon or chicken, or a great French-style sausage. Or, serve as a main dish in shallow bowls, topped with poached eggs. Pass a big basket of baguette slices!

PS: I’m thinking of all of you out East. It’s cold here, but nothing like the ferocious weather you’re having. Hope you’re inside and warm and surrounded by your favorite people.

Ingredients for my recipe for braised French greens. That escarole is going to really brighten up your day.

Ingredients for my recipe for braised French greens. That escarole is going to really brighten up your day.

Enjoy!

Recipe for Braised Escarole and White Beans in Your Braiser
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 3 slices thick bacon, chopped (use about ½ cup lardons if you live in France!)
  • Olive oil (if needed)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 8-ounce head curly endive (chicory), rinsed, cored, and roughly chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • 1 15.8-ounce can Great Northern beans or Cannellini Beans, rinsed and drained
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. In a 3½-quart braising pan or a deep skillet with tight-fitting lid, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan. Add enough olive oil to the drippings to equal about 1 tablespoon. Add the onion and cook 3 to 5 minutes or until tender but not brown.
  2. Stir in the curly endive, garlic cloves, and chicken stock. Cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the endive is wilted but still colorful, stirring once during cooking time. Stir in the beans; cook and stir until the beans are heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

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The Best B&B in the World: The Villa Lafabrègue in Prades, France

It’s bitterly cold in much of the U.S.A., so why not do a little armchair traveling with me to Prades, France, where last summer, I came upon the most charming B&B I’ve ever stayed had the pleasure of staying in.

What follows includes an overview of my trip, as well as an independent, unbiased review of the Villa Lafabrègue; I did not make it known to the innkeepers that I might be writing about their wonderful spot. I received no special treatment, no special rates, etc. #notsponsored!

The terrace of of our room.

The terrace off of our room at the Villa Lafabrègue in Prades, France

I don’t know about you, but I’m often skittish about staying in B&Bs. Some can yield wonderful experiences; others can bring a creepy over-familiarity that makes you almost wish you’d stayed at a Marriott. I’m thinking specifically of American B&B owners who want to give you a little too much information about their renovation, antiques, grandkids, divorce—whatever. And what is it with American B&B owners making everyone sit at one big table for breakfast? Too often, someone is going to monopolize the discussion, and way too often, it’s the innkeeper. I’m just not a fan of being a captive audience in the a.m.

View from our terrace. I could have sat there for days.

View from our terrace. I could have sat there for days. The highest peak shown is the Pic du Canigou, which was once believed to be the highest peak in the Pyrenees. It’s not, but it’s still a beautiful thing to behold.

European B&Bs are generally much better, but even in France, I’ve had my share of nutty innkeepers. Not long ago, our host at an otherwise lovely Chambre d’Hote (B&B) in Narbonne stood at our breakfast table for about 20 minutes telling us why we shouldn’t book a room through TripAdsivor (it cuts down on her profits). Seriously. She got in a loop about the subject and simply would not move on. I kept thinking, “We’re paying 30 euros for breakfast so we can listen to your problems? Stop it!”

And so….last summer when Dave and I were in our wonderful vacation rental in Collioure, we decided to take the 1 Euro Train up the Têt Valley to Prades for a night. (Yes–the train costs just 1 Euro, but it’s a bit tricky to figure out how to get the cheapest tickets; I’ll post on this at another time).

My favorite corner of France. Pyrannées Orientales. The trip from Collioure (the sea) to Prades (the mountains) is an easy train ride of about an hour.

My favorite corner of France. Pyrenées Orientales. The trip from Collioure (the sea) to Prades (in the foothills of the mountains) is an easy train ride of about an hour.

Trouble was, there was only one place with a pool that had a room available for the night. And it was a B&B. Nevertheless, we rolled the dice, and, as it turns out, it was the best B&B in the entire world. Or, at least the best B&B I’ve ever stayed in.

Our journey started in Collioure….

The train station in my little town, Collioure, France.

The train station in my little town, Collioure, France.

We changed trains in Perpignan, which, happily, is just a great little train station. Salvador Dali called it El Centre del Mon–the center of the world (he claimed he got his best ideas while sitting in the waiting room there). Now the completely modernized station calls itself that.

Perpignan train station: The center of the world.

Perpignan train station: The center of the world, according to Salvador Dali. And just a pleasant little station, according to me. I’ve never minded layovers here.

Of course, the journey up the  Têt Valley in the train was a great part of the fun—chugging (not speeding) by the scenery of fields, trees, mountains, dotted by stone outbuildings. Yes–France at its unspoiled best.

View from the train, up the Têt Valley, between two mountain ranges.

View out of the window from the train, up the Têt Valley, between two mountain ranges.

About one hour from Perpignan, we landed in Prades. Our B&B was an easy 10-minute walk. A word about Prades: There is a cute town square, a lovely medieval church, and a handful of shops, cafés, and restaurants in the center. However, a lot of the commerce has moved to the outskirts, so some of the streets leading away from the town center felt sadly vacant.

Do not let that stop you from going to Prades, however, because the town center does have its charms….and you’re going to want to spend most of your time hiking and exploring the surrounding area anyway!

Medieval church tower in Prades.

Medieval church tower in Prades.

It’s always exciting coming upon new lodgings for the first time….you’re wondering: Is it as nice as pictured? Is it everything we’d hoped for? It’s especially a thrill when you find that it is. Frankly, there’s nothing like the first glimpse you have of a place that you later fall in love with. It’s like kissing someone for the very first time. Enchanting.

Our first glimpse of our lodgings.

Our first glimpse of the Villa Lafabregue. Check out the terraces. It wasn’t long until I was sipping a glass of wine right up there.

We stayed in the Canigou room: Charming, spacious, and tastefully furnished. We liked the room even more, of course, when we saw the terrace, and the view from the terrace.

Me. Pretty darn happy on our spacious terrace overlooking the Canigou.

Me. Pretty darn happy on our spacious terrace overlooking the Canigou.

Oh. Did you notice that I’m drinking a glass of wine? One of the many things I loved about the Villa Lafabregue was that they have an “honor bar”: In the common area downstairs, there’s a fabulously well-stocked refrigerator, with mineral waters, sodas, wine, beer, etc. There’s a basket with cookies and crackers and potato chips and other snacks. You simply write down what you consumed. So civilized!

We took a swim in the pool; hung around the gardens a bit, then went into Prades for dinner. That evening, we sat on the terrace, finishing up our evening with a bottle of Badoit, and stared at the mountain range as it receded into the dark night. It was magical!

More pleasures were to come. In the morning, we had breakfast in the sunny breakfast room. They put out a nice spread:

Somewhere in that sweet spot between "Continental" and "Full English."

Not just continental, but not a “bacon-and-egg” thing, either. A sweet spot in between, with meats, cheeses, pastries, fruits, cereals, hard-cooked eggs, juices, and more.

And get this. You know how some hoteliers and B&B owners will give you the evil eye if you take so much as a cracker out of the dining room with you? The owners (Kate and Nick Wilcock) actually invite you to make yourself some lunch sandwiches from their generous spread. How kind is that? It’s a great idea if you’re going to go hiking that day–pack yourselves a couple of sandwiches.

Frankly, as many B&Bs as I’ve stayed in, I’ve never come across such generosity.

Canigou Room

Canigou Room

We did not pack a lunch, however; instead, we decided to go for a hike (the gracious owners have all kinds of maps for you to borrow), then have a little lunch at a cafe. Here is a list of the hiking around this spot.

When it was time to leave, Nick Wilcock offered to drive us to the station. Even though it was a short walk, it happened to be a very hot day, so we took him up on his offer. We were so touched that he took the the time out of his workday to do this for us.

Did I mention that the owners are British? In my view, that’s neither here nor there–nice French hoteliers exist, too, of course. But I got the sense that being from somewhere else in the world, these two really had a deep understanding of what a non-native visitor to France would really appreciate–and they supplied it at every turn.

I know I’ll be back. And I give it my highest recommendation.

Villa Lafabregue — www.villafrench.com/
Owners: Kate & Nick Wilcock
15 Avenue Louis Prat
66500 Prades
Pyrenees Orientales, France

Tel 04 68 96 29 90
Intl 00 33 4 68 96 29 90

Prices for a double room, including breakfast: 65 to 85 Euros

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