back in the kitchen and eggplant meatballs

Ed and I had a perfect wedding day. We were both so happy to be marrying each other and completely humbled and overwhelmed by the love of our family and friends. We ran off to our honeymoon immediately after the wedding and savored every relaxing moment. In short, it was a fantastic couple of weeks. And now everything’s over. That fact has been nagging me much more than I expected. I found myself in a fog last week, weighed down and melancholy. I blamed my feelings on the discomfort of the long drive back from Virginia and the remaining sniffles of a mild cold, but I was just sad that the wedding was in the past.

mint, parsley, lemon zest

mint, parsley, lemon zest

It was isolating to be back in a city that doesn’t know me and doesn’t care that I just got married. I dragged through my workday routine, feeling the flatness of nothing to anticipate. I honestly did not think I would feel this way. By the end of the planning process, I was more than ready to be done with the details and decisions and to-do lists and eager to go back to living a normal life. What I underestimated was the void that would be left when we didn’t have this huge thing to look forward to anymore. I didn’t realize that it would take time to find a new rhythm. I’m mad at myself for feeling this way. It seems silly and immature to feel let down; we have a new city to explore and a lifetime of happiness ahead of us. None of that really helped me last week, though. As silly as I might think I am, the feelings were real and hard. No chirpy “the-best-is-yet-to-come” thoughts could cheer me up. I just felt the way I felt.

eggplant ready to be salted, then roasted

eggplant ready to be salted, then roasted

There were two things that helped me start to feel like myself again, though: writing on this blog and cooking. I joked last week that it was therapeutic to describe to you the meals we enjoyed in the Lowcountry, but I was only half kidding. I love being back here and having a place to share ideas with you and to volley food stories and recipes with Jessica.

browned and baked meatballs

browned and baked meatballs

And boy, does it feel good to be back in the kitchen. In the weeks before the wedding, I had barely any time to cook and even less mental space to plan meals. Now that we’re back in Boston, I’ve fired up the stove nearly every night. I’ve found comfort in the familiar habits of chopping, measuring, and seasoning. I’d forgotten how much I love it when Ed comes into the kitchen to ooh and ahh over my shoulder and how cute it is when he insists on stirring whatever it is I’m cooking. The simple satisfaction of preparing a flavorful meal put a lift in my step that helped me move forward through my fog.

tzatziki on the side is essential

tzatziki on the side is essential

One of the best meals I made last week was this meatball dish, which was a favorite from last summer. The components are textbook Mediterranean: feta, spiced meat, herbs, garlic, and lemon. The meatballs are hearty because of the ground beef and creamy from the eggplant and feta (the feta also brings a bright and briny tang). This isn’t a 30-minute meal, as first you roast the eggplant, then you assemble and brown the meatballs, then bake them for a short time, but the effort is worth it. I was more than happy to spend my Tuesday night fully consumed by these meatballs. Ed came into the kitchen a couple of times to peek at my progress, delighted to see what we were having (one of his favorites) and to see me puttering in the kitchen. I’m delighted to be back, too.

feta and eggplant meatballs with tzatziki
adapted from Seasons, by Donna Hay

You will definitely want to serve these with the simple and delicious tzatziki recipe that follows.

meatballs

Three-quarters of a pound of eggplant, cut into small dice
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 lb ground beef
⅓ cup chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
⅓ cup chopped mint leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1.5 cups crumbled feta
salt
fresh cracked black pepper
lemon wedges

If your eggplant is not particularly young (i.e., it may have been in the grocery store bin for a couple of weeks), it’s worth taking time to salt the chopped eggplant to get rid of any bitterness that might be lurking: place the chopped eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Toss to coat all of the pieces with salt. Let sit for 15-20 minutes. Rinse well and pat dry. [For more explanation on salting and prepping eggplant, see this helpful Food52 article.]

Roast the eggplant: Preheat the oven to 355 F. Place the eggplant pieces on a baking sheet and toss with 2 tablespoons of oil. Roast for 30 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly (enough so that the eggplant won’t melt the feta). Leave the oven on.

Combine meatball ingredients: In a large bowl, stir together the eggplant, ground beef, parsley, mint, garlic, lemon rind, feta, 1 teaspoon salt, and a few cranks of black pepper. Roll tablespoons of the meat mixture into balls.

Cook the meatballs: Warm a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the meatballs in batches and cook until browned, approximately 3-4 minutes. Place the browned meatballs on a baking sheet and put into the oven for 5-10 minutes or until cooked through. (Mine always take 10 minutes, but Hay’s recipe says 5-6 minutes). Squeeze lemon slices over finished meatballs. Serve with tzatziki.

tzatziki

1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I use fat free)
½ cucumber
1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves
1 small garlic clove, crushed
½ tablespoon honey
¼ teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and stir to combine.

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7 thoughts on “back in the kitchen and eggplant meatballs

  1. Perfect timing. I am hosting a veggie and cheese only party and am still in summer grills and roasted fish mode. Will try this asap.

      • True! I was so excited about eggplant that I did not read all the way through before I went to day dream land about fried eggplant goodness. Will be making these yummy balls for just me.

  2. Pingback: favorite favorites | butter poached

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