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Former Bon Appetit food editor Andy Baraghani shares a very personal recipe—Iranian meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce—from his first cookbook, The Cook You Want to Be.
"Supposedly, my first words were 'hum hum,' directed at the kufteh that my mother was tearing up and feeding me as a baby. Every time she tells the story, I feel like it was a different dish. The point is, I loved food. Kufteh is Farsi for 'meatballs,' and they are made throughout Iran, in various sizes, like kufteh tabrizi, which are enormous—the size of two human fists—and with various fillings. In that spirit, these are tennis ball–size meatballs stuffed with herbs, rice, and turmeric, which get cooked in a bright, spicy tomato sauce that isn't very Iranian at all, so I'm breaking tradition." —Andy
Pro Tip from Andy: The meatballs and sauce can be cooked one day ahead. Let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate. Warm over medium-low heat.
In a large bowl using a fork, beat the egg. Stir in the rice, herbs, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and turmeric until you have a somewhat evenly combined mixture. Add the ground meat and 1 ½ teaspoons salt to the bowl. Using your hands like the claw at an arcade game, mix everything until well combined. Gently roll the mixture into meatballs slightly smaller than the size of a tennis ball, but bigger than the meatballs you find at IKEA, placing each kufteh on a baking sheet or a large plate as you roll them. You don't want to pack the kufteh mixture super-tight as you roll it; you want to keep them light.
In a large heavy pot over medium heat, warm the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and stir to coat everything in the oil. Season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion and garlic have become soft and taken on a pale golden color, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and red pepper flakes and cook until the tomato paste starts to stick to the bottom of the pot and has slightly darkened, about 3 minutes.
Toss the tomatoes into the pot and cook, using a wooden spoon to stir and scrape any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pot, until most of the tomatoes begin to burst their skins, 7 to 9 minutes. If the pan looks dry, add a splash of the water to loosen things up. Once most of the tomatoes have broken down, pour in the rest of the water and season with salt. Bring the sauce to a simmer and continue cooking until it has slightly reduced but is still quite brothy, 5 to 10 minutes.
Turn the heat to medium-low and, one at a time, drop the meatballs into the sauce. Cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and simmer, occasionally spooning some sauce over the kufteh (not a must, but it's what I do), until the kufteh are cooked through and can be broken easily with a fork, 20 to 30 minutes.
Ladle meatballs and sauce into bowls or leave in the pot. Serve topped with herbs and a drizzle of olive oil.
Excerpted from The Cook You Want to Be by Andy Baraghani. Copyright © 2022 by Andy Baraghani. Used with permission by Lorena Jones Books. All rights reserved.