You'd be hard pressed to find a cuisine that does not have a minced meat recipe of some kind. Here's an ingredient that graciously adapts to any cook’s expectations and limitations. The oldest mince dish is thought to be the isicia omentata, a minced beef patty cooked in caul fat, which appeared in the first century as documented by Apicius in ancient Rome. The first meatballs, meanwhile, are believed to have originated in Persia, with an ingenious cook using leftover meat to make the now-ubiquitous kofta.
Thanks to travel and trade, various minced meat preparations voyaged across the globe. In fact, at the 1904 World's Fair in St Louis, Missouri, “Old Dave” sold a meat patty sandwiched between bread, aka the hamburger. This history puts me in mind of our own Expo 2020 in Dubai and how the smorgasbord of food served there makes for a romantic story of the sharing of cuisines and culture between people throughout history.
Food has always had an intrinsic ability to unite people. Inspired by this, I offer three of my original recipes to be enjoyed by you and yours.
Beef potato chops
Makes 12 chops
A version of patties or cutlets from Goa, this dish is very popular among Catholic Goans owing to the Portuguese colonisation of the smallest Indian state, and is served at celebrations big and small.
1 tbsp neutral oil
250g lean beef mince
70g red onion
1 green chilli
4-5 cloves of garlic
½ tsp ginger garlic paste
1 tsp coriander
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp red chilli
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp garam masala
2-3 tbsp water
Salt, to taste
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ cup chopped coriander + mint leaves
1 cup semolina + breadcrumbs
Oil, for frying
Boil the peeled potatoes with salt until cooked. Mash while warm, season and set aside.
In a pan, fry the diced onions and garlic until translucent. Add the ginger-garlic paste and tomatoes on high heat, bashing them with a spoon to break them down. Add a splash of water, lower the flame and cover the pan for two minutes.
Add the green chilli and dry spices with 1 teaspoon of salt. Add a splash of water, then cover for three to five minutes.
On a high flame, add the mince and break it down into smaller pieces with a spoon and allow it to brown. Lower the flame and cover the pan for five to eight minutes. Add the chopped coriander-mint mix and lemon juice.
Adjust the seasoning in the mince and mash. Once cooled, roll about 75g of mash into a ball. Flatten it and fold the edges up to create a high wall. Add 1 ½ tablespoon of mince into the middle, then enclose it with the potato to form a compact ball. Refrigerate for an hour once all the chops are formed.
Coat each potato chop in an egg wash, then roll into the breadcrumb-semolina mix and deep or shallow fry until golden brown on both sides.
Lebanese meatball fatteh
This luscious Levantine recipe has its origins in a sublime dish I was served in a local restaurant. The ingredients list is serpentine, but everything is easily available.
While you can always buy a ready-made baharat spice mix, it’s also easy enough to make. Simply grind a teaspoon each of nutmeg and cinnamon, with a tablespoon each of cloves and coriander, two tablespoons each of paprika, cumin and pepper, and half a teaspoon of cardamom, and store in an airtight jar.
Ingredients and method for the meatballs
130g beef mince
120g lamb mince
30g red onion
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 tsp lemon juice
¼ cup mint + ¼ cup coriander, chopped
1tsp baharat spice mix
½ tsp salt
1½ tbsp olive oil, for frying
Mix all the meatball ingredients, except the oil. Fry a tiny patty to taste and adjust the seasoning. Next, roll into small yolk-sized meatballs, to get between 25 and 30.
In a large pan, add the oil and fry the meatballs on a full flame so they get crusty on one side. In about a minute, turn them to check for the crust formed, then lower the flame, cover the pan and cook on the other side for a minute or two. Uncover and raise the heat for about half a minute so they get crusty on the other side. Do not overcook.
Ingredients and method for the chickpeas
80-85g red onion
4 garlic cloves, grated
Water, to add as needed
1tsp baharat spice mix
1tsp cumin powder
240g canned chickpeas, drained
Salt, to taste
1 ½ tbsp lemon
¼ tsp paprika
Keep the meatballs aside and fry the onions for the chickpeas in the same pan, adding oil if needed. Stir the onions until soft, then add the garlic, and then the tomatoes on a high flame and squash them with a spoon to break down. If the mix gets too dry, add water gradually to keep it moving.
Add 1 teaspoon baharat and cumin powder with a little water. Stir to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the chickpeas and stir on a high flame. Add ¼ tsp salt plus ¼ cup water, stir and cover. Cover and cook for two to four minutes on a low flame.
Taste and adjust the seasoning of the chickpeas, then add the lemon juice and stir. Add the meatballs back in, add a tiny splash of water if needed, then sprinkle the paprika. Cover for a minute to reheat meatballs on a low flame.
Separate the meatballs and chickpeas as best you can in the same pan before you begin plating.
Ingredients and method for the yoghurt sauce
1 cup yoghurt
Up to ¼ cup water
Pinch each of cumin + paprika + salt
1 garlic clove, grated
Squeeze of lemon
Whisk the yoghurt slowly with a little water to make a smooth sauce. Then add all the other ingredients, mix and taste to adjust the seasoning.
Ingredients and method for the almond garnish
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 ½tsp almond slivers or pine nuts
¼ tsp paprika
In a small saucepan, add the butter, nuts and paprika on a low flame, then stir gently until the butter has melted. Turn off the flame to allow the garnish to cool down slightly.
Ingredients and method for the pita bread
1½ pita per person
1-2 tbsp olive oil
Preheat oven to 180˚C with the grill on, then cut the bread into triangles and ready them by laying on a foil-lined baking tray. Rub them with oil and sprinkle paprika all over.
Bake them on the highest shelf for about three to four minutes until crunchy and slightly brown.
Make a bed of the chickpeas, then a mound of the meatballs. Spoon half the yoghurt sauce all over, reserving some for people to add as they eat.
Drizzle the almond garnish all over, topping with some coriander and mint leaves. Serve immediately, with the pita/khubz on the side or crushed around the base of the dish.
Indo-Italian chicken and turkey mince fritters
Makes 20 to 25 pieces
500g lean chicken mince
150g turkey mince (can be substituted with more chicken)
2-3 tsp spicy Italian seasoning mix, heaped
½ tbsp ginger, chopped
½ tsp fennel seeds, toasted
2 green chillies, chopped fine
2 tbsp red onion
3 cloves garlic, grated
¼ tsp turmeric
Sea salt, to taste
8 peppercorns, crushed
2 eggs, beaten
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp spring onion, sliced
1/3 cup coriander, chopped
1 tbsp mint, chopped
Sprinkle of smoked paprika
2½ cups vegetable oil, for frying
In a mixing bowl, combine the chicken and turkey mince. Add the ginger, fennel, chillies, onion, garlic and Italian seasoning, and incorporate well.
Next, add the turmeric and season with salt and pepper.
Add the eggs and mix gently but well. Add the flour gradually, mixing after each addition. Next, add the herbs and paprika. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
In a large vessel or wok, heat the oil. Once tiny bubbles form, get two tablespoons and use them to form roughly shaped balls, working the mince gently between spoons. Slide each medium-sized fritter into the oil. If the oil is too hot, the fritters will only colour outside and be raw inside, so adjust the heat accordingly.
Fry in small batches, turning them once golden. Medium-sized fritters will take about four minutes on a high flame. Remove once evenly coloured and cooked through.