You know when people ask you what flavor of ice cream they should bring back home from the grocery store, or what you want for your birthday this year? Are you one of those people who has the emotional flexibility to answer these (a.k.a, life’s big questions) with, “I don’t care, surprise me!”
It’s not that I’m as anti-surprise as certain people. Maybe it’s a slight bias towards control freakism, or maybe it’s just that I know what I like. Why let someone “surprise” you with strawberry or another unfortunate flavor when chocolate peanut butter is readily available?
A part of me wishes I could be more carefree, less concerned about retaining a degree of authority over situations. But then again – if we’re rationalizing behaviors here – being decisive can be just as helpful to those asking the questions.
I learned my lesson one birthday a few years back (when I urged a certain someone to “surprise me” and was later presented a pretty, but pretty impractical, ceramic teapot): specificity is the real spice of life. In the years since, with this particular person, I’ve taken a more direct approach to answering questions big and small. And that is how you wind up with a life full of DVDs, immersion blenders and one engagement ring that were precisely what you wanted.
This recipe is the byproduct of one such strategically guided gift. In the weeks leading up to last Christmas, I hinted that no, I was not on the market for another desserts-heavy cookbook – although cookbooks in general weren’t off the ideas table. And like premeditated magic, I became the proud owner of Deb Perelman’s pièce de résistance.
It wrenches my guts to say that, like too many people my age, the thought of investing in physical cookbooks seems excessive, especially when a Google search for “chicken vesuvio recipe” yields more than 36,000 results. Whenever I find myself flipping through a cookbook in one of the few remaining physical bookstores – after factoring in my limited kitchen space, abbreviated selection of cooking tools and personal ongoing evolution from picky eaterdom – the number of testable recipes dwindles too far to warrant the sticker price.
But Deb outsmarted everyone, putting together a cookbook stacked with approachable, adaptable, consistently satisfying recipes that almost anyone can handle, whether you’re plagued by the fragile Gen Y mentality, a small kitchen, or painful memories of homemade pizza failures.
I’m not saying my quality of life would be any worse off if I hadn’t name dropped my daily list of food blogs (pointing out who among them were published), but my
boyfriend fiancé and I are almost certainly better fed for it.
Sesame Turkey Meatballs & Chickpea Salad
Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook; Makes ~ 4 servings
1 lb ground turkey
2/3 c breadcrumbs
1/4 c water
1 tsp salt
1 large egg
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Pinch of red pepper flakes or cayenne peppers
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds (If using an actual toaster, keep your eyes on the seeds at all times. These little nibs turn from gold to ash in seconds.)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Handful of pitted, sliced green olives
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup of cooked Israeli couscous (optional)
Preheat your oven to 400º. Combine all of the meatball ingredients in a bowl with a fork until everything’s well incorporated. With wet hands, form the mixture into 1.5-inch meatballs.
Heat a thin layer of olive oil in an ovenproof pan (cast iron does the trick). Brown the meatballs a few at a time and transfer to a paper towel-lined tray/plate. When all the meatballs are browned, wipe most of the oil from the pan, add the balls back (you may need a second ovenproof pan if they don’t all fit) and ship to the oven. Bake for around 15 minutes until cooked through.
For the chickpea salad, mix everything but the olive oil in a serving bowl. Get in there and smash up some of the garbanzos with a fork (this doesn’t have to be perfect; not every bean needs to be obliterated.) Add olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the meatballs, dreaming of eating seaside in some Mediterranean oasis, not unlike the Kardashian/Jenner family trip of 2013.