It had been a successful week in the kitchen. Lamb meatballs, loaded with mint and parsley, broiled and sprinkled with vinegar, tasted as yummy as ever; olive bread, a two-day labor of love, proved as it always does, a worthwhile effort; and tiropitas (cheese-stuffed fillo triangles), irresistibly delicious, burned my tongue far too many times.
My Easter menu was all but finalized. I was feeling really good. And then I called my mother.
We chatted about meatballs, a wheat berry cake she’s been eyeing, and some other Easter menu ideas, and then she asked: “Are you planning on making a salad?”
“No,” I replied, “I’ve discovered roasted cabbage. It is so delicious and so easy. We have been devouring heads of it in single sittings.”
“Mmm hmm,” my mother responded.
Now, let me explain something. “Mmm hmm,” in my family is code for, “I don’t like what I’m hearing.”
What?! I wanted to scream, but before I could, my mother explained: “Well, you never make cabbage for company. Your whole house will smell of it.”
I did not know this. Did you?
I protested. I insisted there could be no possible way a few roasted cabbage wedges could overpower the smells of olive bread baking and of layers of fillo crisping and of lamb meatballs broiling. I affirmed, cabbage it would be.
“Sounds wonderful,” she replied. We said our goodbyes.
Of course I crossed cabbage off my grocery list upon hanging up the phone. Even if my suspicions are correct — that if the smells of bread and pita and lamb do in fact mask the cabbage — how could I possibly make it? Why add another worry to the list? Why tempt my guests to whisper on their ways home, “Great party, but boy, what was she simmering on that stove? Cat food?” I couldn’t take the risk.
A Greek salad it would be. Oh, mothers. Mother! I love you.
Yield = 23 to 25 small or 12 to 14 large
1 lb. ground lamb*
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon oregano plus more for sprinkling
1 small red onion, finely minced (about 1/3 cup or more to taste)
2 heaping tablespoons mint, chopped
2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices of white bread**, crusts removed
2 tablespoons red wine
1 eggs, lightly beaten
red wine vinegar for sprinkling (optional)
* If you can’t find ground lamb, buy a piece of lamb (shoulder is nice) and grind it yourself or have the butcher grind it for you at the market.
** We always use white sandwich bread (not Wonderbread) but you probably could use a bakery-style loaf of white bread, too.
1. Put the ground lamb in a large bowl and spread out to create a thin layer. Season all over with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the onion over the meat. Top with the herbs and the olive oil.
2. Meanwhile, toast the bread so it’s just dried out — not browned. (If you plan ahead, you can leave a few slices of bread out for a few hours. You also could dry out the bread in a 300ºF oven for 10 to 15 minutes.) Crumble bread slices into a separate bowl. Moisten with the wine, then add to the meat bowl. Add the egg to the meat bowl and then gently mix all of the ingredients together being careful not to over mix.
OK, it’s time to test your mixture. Preheat the broiler. Using a tablespoon (a measuring tablespoon), scoop out a level spoonful and roll it into a ball with your hands. If it holds together, you’re good to go. If it doesn’t hold together, toast another slice of bread, crumble it up, soak it in a tablespoon more of wine, and add it to the mixture. When the consistency is such that a ball holds together, place it on a sheetpan. Season with a pinch more salt, pepper and oregano. Broil 4 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool, then taste it. Adjust meat mixture accordingly with more salt, pepper, oregano, onion or herbs. Broil another one, taste it, etc. — repeat process until you’re happy with the flavors. Chill your meatball mixture for at least an hour. This mixture can be made up to a day in advance, too.
3. Preheat the broiler. Coat a sheetpan very lightly in olive oil. Shape your meatballs again using a tablespoon as a measure and place them on the prepared sheetpan as you go. Season with a pinch more salt, pepper and oregano. Broil 4 minutes or until done. (Note: You can make the meatballs any size you wish. Just adjust the time accordingly. My mother makes larger meatballs and broils them for 4 minutes a side.)
This might be a Greek tradition, but we sprinkle the just-broiled meatballs with a little bit of vinegar. Try it. You might like it, too.
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Toss cabbage wedges with olive oil and kosher salt on a sheetpan. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes. Test with a knife — they should be tender.