Persian-inspired meatball stew with white beans and herbs

Meatball and white bean stew with creamy, melty feta.
Meatball and white bean stew with creamy, melty feta. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Dietary
Gluten-free

This one-pot is comfort in a frying pan. I love how the feta melts into the sauce, leaving an indecent trail in its wake – there really is nothing better in the winter warm-my-belly stakes. If you feel the sauce is quite thin, cook it down a little longer to compensate – you want it to be a slightly thinner consistency than tomato sauce. You could also add a dash of the liquid from the can of beans to help it thicken.

Ingredients

Meatballs

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground cardamom

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tbsp chilli flakes (I used Aleppo pepper as I like the mild round taste of it)

1 red onion, finely diced

500g beef mince

½ cup Persian-style feta (plus extra to serve)

2 tbsp finely chopped coriander

2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tbsp finely chopped dill

2 tbsp finely chopped chives

2 garlic cloves, crushed

zest of 1 lemon

1½ tbsp olive oil, for frying

For the braising sauce

1 small red onion, finely diced

1 tsp coriander seeds, roughly ground 

1 tsp cumin seeds, roughly ground

500ml veal stock*

400g can crushed tomatoes

400g can butter beans, rinsed thoroughly

pinch salt

pinch brown sugar

To serve

1½ cups mixed fresh herbs finely chopped (I used coriander, dill, flat-leaf parsley, chives)

about ½ cup Persian-style feta

steamed rice and/or warm flatbreads (optional)

Method

1. For the meatballs, combine the spices and chilli flakes in a bowl.  Reserve half the spice mixture for the sauce. 

2. Add the remaining spice mixture to a large bowl with the remaining meatball ingredients, aside from the oil. Use your hands to thoroughly incorporate, then roll the mixture into golf-sized balls.

3. Place a frying pan over medium heat. Add the oil, and once hot, brown the meatballs on all sides, about 2 minutes. Gently remove the meatballs from the frying pan.

4. For the sauce, add the onion to the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes or until soft. Add the leftover spice mix as well as the roughly ground cumin and coriander seeds and cook for another minute or until the onion is coated in the spices and becomes fragrant.

5. Add the stock and crushed tomatoes and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the sauce has thickened and reduced by about a third.

6. Add the sugar and salt, then return the meatballs to the sauce and cook for another 5-8 minutes or until the meatballs have cooked through. Gently stir through the beans and cook for another few minutes so the beans warm through.

7. Remove from heat. Add the herbs and the feta. Season with salt and pepper. This is great with rice or with piping hot flatbreads to swipe through the sauce.

Tip: If you didn't want to collect the spices listed in this recipe from the depths of your cupboard, Herbies spices does a spectacular Persian spice blend. If you get your hands on that, this dinner is really 1, 2, 3 and done. It's a worthy and speedy shortcut.

*I suggest veal stock for this because no matter the brand, it tends to be thicker, silkier and more unctuous than other stocks.