Bulgur meatballs with tomato pepper sauce

Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields Serves 8 to 10 as an appetizer, or 6 to 8 as a main course
Bulgur meatballs with tomato pepper sauce
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Tomato pepper sauce


Heat the oil in a wide-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the bell pepper and chile and cook over medium-low heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook about 1/2 minute, stirring frequently.


Add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and the sauce has thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Taste for salt, and season to taste with black and red pepper. This makes a generous pint of sauce. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.


In a food processor, combine the bulgur, onion, garlic, salt, black pepper, red pepper and allspice and process briefly to blend. Add the ground meat in 4 portions and process briefly to mix. Add 2 cups water in 4 additions, processing to blend after each addition. Scrape down mixture. Add 6 tablespoons water, 2 tablespoons at a time, and process after each addition. The mixture should be sticky. Process the mixture until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes.


Transfer the mixture to a bowl and knead until it is very smooth, adding the last 3 tablespoons water. Check that the mixture is evenly moistened. This makes about 1 quart mix.


Make a test meatball: Take about 1 teaspoon of the mixture and roll it into a ball. Fry the meatball in a small skillet heated with a thin layer of oil until the meatball is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if desired, then test again until the flavors are right.


Moisten your hands and roll the mixture into small meatballs, using a rounded teaspoon of mixture for each one. Set them on a plate.


Prepare a steamer (make sure the boiling water doesn’t touch the steamer top). Add 1/3 the bulgur meatballs, or enough to make one layer, to the steamer top. (They expand a little while steaming.) Cover and steam over medium heat for 18 to 20 minutes or until they are cooked through. Refrigerate the rest of the mixture until all of the meatballs are steamed.


Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add about 1/4 of the bulgur meatballs and sauté until lightly browned, about 3 minutes per side; shake the pan to turn the meatballs over, or use a slotted spoon. Just before removing them from the pan, add 1/4 teaspoon pepper flakes and sauté for a few seconds. Transfer the meatballs to a plate. Wipe the pan if necessary, add more oil and repeat until all the meatballs are cooked.


Serve the meatballs on a platter garnished with parsley sprigs. Serve the sauce separately.

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