Maghrebi Veal Meatballs with Spinach and Chickpeas

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Here's a simple and attractive family dish from the Tunisian island of Djerba. The Tunisians have a spice mixture they call le tabil, which they use for soups, stews, and meatballs. These veal meatballs can be any size, though smaller is always more attractive. They are gently sautéed to enhance flavor, then placed in a simmering sauce to keep them from hardening. Brown, flavorful, and tasty, they go beautifully with chickpeas and spinach.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup dried chickpeas, picked over and soaked overnight in water to cover
  • Maghrebi Meatballs
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • cups chopped onions
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Pinch of crumbled saffron
  • 2 pounds fresh spinach or 1½ packages frozen organic chopped spinach (10 ounces each)
  • ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Method

  1. Drain the chickpeas, rinse well, and place in a heavy saucepan with quarts water. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Make the meatballs.
  2. Set a 5-quart heavy casserole over medium heat, add 3 tablespoons olive oil, the onions, and ¾ cup water. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the onions are soft but not brown. Add the tomato paste and cook until it sizzles and the water has evaporated.
  3. Transfer the meatballs, chickpeas, and 2 cups cooking liquid to the casserole. Add the crumbled saffron. Cover with a sheet of crumpled foil and a lid. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the spinach. If using fresh spinach, trim off any stems; wash thoroughly and gently squeeze to remove most of the water. Place the spinach in the reserved skillet and cook until wilted. Drain and coarsely chop. You should have about cups.
  5. When the meatballs have simmered for 30 minutes, gently fold in the spinach and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Gently stir in the parsley and cook for 5 minutes longer. Correct the seasoning and serve.
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