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Akhtar Nawab's Pork Meatballs with Yogurt Dressing


Five weeks and counting. Five weeks and something like two days, I think. Oh, who am I kidding, like I don't know down to the minute. To be precise, 37 days. 37 days as of tomorrow. 37 days and one more evening, I guess, if I'm going to be totally exact. Is what I've got left in New York, of course.

I've been doing this thing which is totally maddening and kind of makes me want to smack myself gently in the face to snap out of it, but I can't seem to help it, this thing where I'll be somewhere, not even somewhere special, maybe just on the corner of 7th Avenue and 28th Street, which is sort of Nowheresville compared to other glimmering parts of this city, but who cares, I happen to love it. Anyway. The light will fall just so on that random little corner while the strangest accumulation of beautiful creatures will emerge from the subway moving like jungle cats and some cab driver will be screaming epithets from three lanes away while leaning on his horn and the cars will be moving along gracefully in this perfect symphony and a homeless dude will smile at me sweetly and I'll see the Rafiqi's cart guy pulling into his regular space and the wind will whip through my hair and suddenly I'll just lose my breath, it'll just get caught in my throat and my heart will stop and I'll find myself thinking This is it, this is the last time I'll ever be on the corner of 7th Avenue and 28th Street when the light falls just so with that crazy cabbie yelling over the din and the Rafiqi's guy setting up his cart, The Very Last Time, OMG, I must be crazy if I think I can leave, how on earth can I ever leave? Help.

And because I'm sentimental and in love with my city, the kind of love that I don't think will ever die, this happens to me on almost every street corner, at almost every moment. Don't get me started on when I see my friends. Let's just say I'm walking around with a perpetually clenched heart these days.

Which is all sort of ridiculous, of course. First of all, my reason for leaving is the kind of thing that still has me waking up with a disbelieving grin on my face most mornings. And second of all, New York is not exactly going anywhere. As most kind people tell me these days, I can always come back. I can always come back. I can always come back. Thirdly, while New York is without a doubt the Greatest City in the World, fully deserving of every tear I shed for its wondrous, sparkling, incredible self, I think I tend towards the slightly hysterical when it comes to saying goodbye, no matter where I am, let's be honest.



One of the loveliest things to happen in these last few weeks was finally seeing what my friends Francis and Ganda were like in real life. Which just makes me laugh, really, since I can still remember those Stone Age days when I thought that people who made friends online were just totally strange and definitely a little suspect. And now I'm the kind of person who has dinner with her friends from the Internet, and it's practically like we've known each other for years. Which we have! Sort of. You know what I mean.


Francis made his famous koshary, Ganda brought positively addictive French Mint Bars from Li-Lac, so good they inspired a surprise visit from my strange disappearing sweet tooth (let me tell you about that unnerving phenomenon another time), and I made Akhtar Nawab's pork meatballs, finally, after hoarding the recipe carefully for two years.

Don't wait that long, is all I can tell you. These meatballs are wonderful. Even better, they come with two little sauces that catapult the meatballs from Very Tasty into Totally Delicious. Two sauces may seem like overkill to you (well, they did to me in any case), but I say think of them as a reason to pull out those adorable sauce dishes you might have been given as a wedding present, or the little bowls you bought at a flea market in Paris years ago and never seem to use.

The meatballs are flavored with everything from ground coriander to minced oregano. Interestingly, instead of mixing soaked bread into the raw meat in clumps, Akhtar has you sweat an onion until it's soft and translucent, then purée that onion with milk-soaked bread into a fragrant paste and mix that into the raw meat. Clever! The meat is shaped into balls and then fried in butter and oil until browned on all sides (mine went from rounds to triangularish domes in the pan, but no matter, they still tasted good). They're savory and herbal and crunchy and deeply wonderful.

The sauces are meant to be drizzled and dripped on the meatballs - first the yogurt sauce, which is so thick it can only be dolloped, and then the mint sauce, which is so good I could have sat down on the floor with a spoon and made it my dinner. (I'm having this weirdly intense thing with vinegar lately. I can't get enough of it. Even pickles don't seem to cut it. Maybe it's related to my disappearing sweet tooth? I don't know, I don't even care. I just want more vinegar, please. Straight from the bottle is fine, too.) If you're serving these as an appetizer, I think it'd be cute to arrange the meatballs on a platter, each stuck with a little toothpick, then drizzled and dolloped in advance by you before your guests set themselves upon the toothpicked meatballs like hungry Visigoths. If you're serving these as part of a meal, then pass the sauces in their bowls and let your guests dress their meatballs as they wish.


(Look at these sweethearts, would you?)


Pork Meatballs with Yogurt Dressing
Yields 50 1-inch meatballs (serves about 12 as an hors d’oeuvre)

For yogurt dressing
1 cup high-fat Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For mint dressing
1/2 cup finely sliced mint leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons minced shallots
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For meatballs
1 cup crustless country bread, torn into pieces
2 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons olive oil
Half a large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
2 1/2 pounds ground pork, chilled
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
4 tablespoons butter

1. For yogurt dressing, combine yogurt, cumin, and sugar. Slowly whisk in oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate.

2. For mint dressing, combine mint, shallot and vinegar in small bowl. Slowly whisk in oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover and refrigerate.

3. For meatballs, combine bread and milk in a bowl, and stir until bread has absorbed milk.

4. Combine 1 tablespoon of oil and onion in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sizzling, then cover, reduce heat to low and cook until onion is softened but not colored. Transfer to food processor, add bread mixture and purée.

5. Combine coriander, cumin, fennel and hot red-pepper flakes in small skillet over medium heat and stir until lightly toasted and fragrant. Remove from heat and grind to a powder in a spice grinder.

6. Mix meat, the bread mixture, spices and salt in a large stand mixer with paddle attachment. Add parsley and oregano, and mix again. With wet hands, roll into 1-inch balls.

7. Place large skillet over medium heat. Add butter and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter has melted, reduce heat slightly and begin adding meatballs, allowing them to brown on the bottom, then turning gently to continue browning on all sides. Work in batches, transferring meatballs to a platter when they are cooked. To serve, drizzle with yogurt dressing and sprinkle with mint dressing.