Lamb and Date Meatballs in Frazzled Aubergine Sauce

[Edit] I WON! Thanks so much to everyone who voted. 

‘Frazzled’ aubergines? Okay, so I’m definitely not talking about aubergines cooked alongside the popular, bacon rasher-shaped potato snacks.

I sense your relief.

The idea of ‘burnt’ aubergines may be more familiar; popularised recently by chefs like Ottolenghi, it’s actually an age-old cooking technique. I prefer to call them frazzled. It’s just…well, it’s just a lovely word.

Shiny purple fruits are placed over a naked flame, roasted or grilled until skins blacken and they collapse inward on themselves with a steamy sigh. Once cooled and split, the inside is silken, and above all gloriously smoky; a total transformation. It is this creamy flesh that blends into magical dips such as baba ghanoush, but I like to use it as a base for a sauce. It seems very decadent somehow; almost fit for a feast.

The meatballs bobbing within are made with lamb, sweet nubs of date and warming cumin and chilli. I’ve nicked a trick from the Italians too and mixed in some breadcrumbs soaked in milk – just a little – the difference in texture is astounding. They become light and – dangerously – extremely easy to eat. A swirl of yoghurt and a few jewels of pomegranate make this dish really rather pretty. Serve with cous cous or bread to absorb the luxurious sauce.

I came up with this recipe as for the Le Creuset ‘Cast Iron Challenge’, so if you think this sounds a bit tasty, please vote for my recipe on twitter (using ‘I’m voting for @FoodStories in the (@McArthurGlenUK #LeCreuset #CastIronChallenge, and you could win a Le Creuset voucher worth £50!! That’s pretty awesome.

Lamb and Date Meatballs in Frazzled Aubergine Sauce

500g minced lamb
4 dates, pitted and finely chopped
1 heaped teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 heaped teaspoon hot chilli flakes, or to taste
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 thick slice white bread
Milk (about 4 tablespoons)

For the sauce

4 aubergines
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 400g regular tin chopped tomatoes
2 black cardamom
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 cinnamon stick
300ml vegetable stock

Vegetable oil, for frying

Pierce the aubergines in several places with a fork, then place directly on the gas ring of the hob, turning occasionally, until black and shrivelled all over. Alternatively, grill them to the same effect.

Remove the crusts from the slice of bread and break into rough pieces. Place in a small bowl with enough milk to mash to a paste.

In a small frying pan, toast the cumin and coriander seeds over a low heat, stirring frequently, until they start to smell fragrant. Take care not to burn them. Grind them in a spice grinder or crush them in a pestle and mortar.

In a large bowl combine the minced lamb, bread paste, ground cumin and coriander, chilli flakes, chopped dates and mint. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well; really , really well. Get in there with your hands and knead the mixture almost like a bread dough. Make sure the dates are well distributed. Roll into walnut sized balls. Set aside on a plate.

Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the Le Creuset, and fry the meatballs in batches, 4 or 5 at a time, until golden brown all over. Set each batch aside while you cook the next.

To make the sauce, scrape the flesh from inside the aubergines, leaving behind the blackened skin. Chop roughly. Fry the onion until , cardamom pods and cinnamon stick until the onions are soft and beginning to colour. Scrape up the lovely meaty residues from the pan as you do this. Add the aubergines and garlic. Turn up the heat a little and Cook for about five minutes more stirring.

Add the tomatoes, pomegranate molasses and stock. Put lid on and cook for 45 mins to an hour on low heat. Taste and season. For a thicker sauce, remove the lid towards the end of cooking time to reduce it. Add back the meatballs to heat through.

Scatter with pomegranate seeds and coriander to serve.

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25 thoughts on “Lamb and Date Meatballs in Frazzled Aubergine Sauce

  1. Hey Helen! Just wanted to say thanks for this recipe – I made it the other night and it was FABULOUS! It doesn’t say in the instructions when to add the bread paste, just thought you might want to know so you can correct the recipe. But anyway it was great and an inspired combination of ingredients – love the dates in the meatballs.

  2. Absolutely love the sound of this dish – will bookmark this for cool autumn days. Congrats on the contest win as well, well deserved I think!

  3. This looks great – my daughter Liz tweeted about it. Definitely gets my vote. Where can I find pomegranate molasses in my corner of Leicestershire? or do i have to get Liz in London to find them for me?

    1. Don’t worry if you can’t find it, just leave it out and the dish will still be delicious. You can make your own if you are a mega keen bean!

  4. I like this recipe, I loveaubergines, never used them in a sauce, but I make a nice pot stew with chicken and aubergine, that don, t have dates. I have posted it on you can check it out it is delish. I am going to try your recipe and make the sauce, if of course the grilled aubergines don, t change their mind and turn into babaganoush…::)

  5. Hey Helen,

    Just wanted to drop you a line to say how gorgeous your photography is! I’m not a lamb eater, but love the sound of the recipe so will give it a try with either steak or pork mince. Literally adore the sound of the frazzled aubergines too.

    Great post!

  6. Any suggestions for how to blacken an aubergine without a gas flame? I’ve got a ceramic hob and a bog standard ol’ grill.

    1. Yep! Pierce them several times witha fork then stick on baking tray and cook at for 30-45 mins, at 200C. You may want to turn them over halfway through. The result won’t be AS smoky, but it will certainly still be very tasty.

  7. Are the dates compulsory? I’ve never been able to get past the aging Christmas box of dates horror…..

  8. This recipe is fit. Perhaps an unorthodox word, but it expresses entirely my feelings about it. I love burnt aubergine (admittedly slightly disappointed at the lack of fusion here between the aubergine and my favourite childhood bacon snacks), I love meatballs and lamb, and I especially love dates. Can’t wait to give this a go.

    1. Ha ha! Really pleased you like the look of the recipe, do let me know if you try it. Also let me know if you try aubergine and frazzles 😉


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