With the help of 196 flavors and my Moroccan heritage, I think I can say that I am well versed when it comes to the dos and don’ts about meatballs!
No. The origin of meatballs is not cheapness or poverty. As I mentioned in my article about Romanian chiftele, meatballs are the most ancestral culinary traditions. This is at least the hypothesis defended by Michèle Stroun in her “History of meatballs from the Neolithic to today” in which she goes on a quest for the birth of the original meatball.
It is in the north of India, in the Punjab more precisely, 4000 years before our era that the remains of two missing major cities, Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, were found. In it in those cities that were prosperous and advanced civilizations, that we found utensils designed to prepare food: pots, pans, dishes, knives, mortars, etc.
Research has shown that they ate meat tenderized in a pestle, cooked in sesame oil and seasoned with mustard, turmeric and ginger.
According to Pierre-Brice Lebrun, author of the “Treaty of the meatball,” the birth of the meatball should coincide with a historical discovery: spices. This time it would be in the southwest of India, on the Malabar Coast. Legend has it that a fisherman had the idea to gather a few peppercorns to sprinkle on rice. That would be the origin of the history of spices. Lebrun’s research showed his fisherman modeled small, easy to consume rice balls.
This is finally in ancient Rome that we find the first mention of meatball in a cookbook, “De re coquinaria” by Apicius, written in Vulgar Latin. One of the first meat used for making meatballs was peacock!
There is nothing more universal than a dumpling! Whether sweet or savory, each country has its own recipes of dumplings or pellets. We already posted a few variations on 196 flavors, including koftas from Pakistan , Iraqi kibbehs, Romanian chifetele, salt fish cakes from Barbados and topaïs from Tonga.
Today, we are going to the Central African Republic!
As its name suggests, the Central African Republic (CAR) is located in the heart of the African continent. The landlocked country shares borders with Chad to the north, Sudan to the north, DR of Congo and Congo to the south, and Cameroon to the west. The population is estimated at more than 4 million people.
I discovered that CAR cuisine was much richer than it seemed at first, and it has a major benefit: everything is organic! Farmers who can’t afford to buy pesticides, follow the seasons and protect their crops using natural repellents.
CAR cuisine uses ingredients of excellent quality that are tasty and plentiful, but… it allows all kinds of eccentricities! Although I liked what I read at first, what I found out next was not as glamorous!
Caterpillars, termites, boas, antelopes, warthogs, monkeys… OK, 196 flavors taught me to be adventurous but not to that extreme… I am definitely not as bold as Mike!
So I settled for good old beef! Kanda, beef balls with pumpkin seeds, as popular in CAR as the famous caterpillars but a dish that does not require immense bravery!
The recipe asks for almost as much beef as pumpkin seeds… Surprising mix, isn’t it?
There are two kinds of kandas: kanda ti nyma, based on okras and peanuts and kanda, based on pumpkin seeds.
I was born and I grew up in Morocco, a country where pumpkin seeds are consumed roasted and salted, as a snack. We called them “white seeds” as opposed black or striped gray seeds that were sunflower seeds.
I think of my maternal grandmother who extracted the squash seeds herself. She was roasting them and was keeping them in large glass jars. I do not remember her ever running out of pumpkin seeds. She probably never would have thought about incorporating them into her delicious meatballs. And that’s a shame! If she were still alive, I would have shared this great idea!
Kanda was a delicious dish indeed!
- 1½ lb ground beef
- 3 cups pumpkin seeds
- 2 onions
- 6 cloves garlic , peeled
- 4 tomatoes , peeled, seeded and diced
- 2 chili peppers
- 1 small bunch parsley
- ½ cup cold water (for the meatballs)
- 1½ cup water (for the sauce)
- ½ cup oil
- Slightly roasted pumpkin seeds and ground to a powder in a food processor.
In a meat grinder (or food processor), grind the meat, pumpkin seed powder, parsley, garlic and onion. Season with salt and pepper.
Stir in ½ cup (100ml) of cold water into the mixture and knead well for 3 minutes until forming a homogeneous dough. Refrigerate.
- Slice the other onion. Sauté in oil for 2 minutes over medium heat in a large pot, stirring regularly.
- Add the tomatoes and chili peppers and sauté again covered, for 5 minutes.
Pour 1½ cup (350ml) of water and increase the heat until the reaching a boil, then turn down to low heat.
- Form meatballs about the size of a golf ball.
- Increase heat and place each meatball in the sauce very carefully.
- Cook over high heat for 10 minutes.
- Then cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.
- And finally simmer for 30 minutes.
- When cooked, increase the temperature if necessary, to reduce the sauce.
- Serve with plain rice.