Ahrash (Arabic Meatballs)

Original: Recipe for Making Ahrash

Pound well meat from the two legs, the shoulder and the like. Throw in some sifted flour, a head of garlic peeled and pounded with salt, pepper, cumin, coriander and caraway, and let the pepper predominate, and some good murri, and beat all this well with five eggs or as many as it will bear. Then take coarse fat, as much of this as of the pounded meat or more, and cut up fine and mix with the pounded meat. And if rue is cut into it, good. Then make it into  meatballs and fry it; and the same recipe can be made with the meat of mirqâs, except that the egg is left out from it, God willing.
Source (from An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century, trans. Charles Perry)

Redaction

2 lbs 80% lean ground beef
1 large egg
1 T Byzantine murri (see accompanying recipe)
1 head garlic
2 t ground black pepper
1 t ground cumin
1 t ground coriander seed
1 t ground caraway seed
¼ cup wheat flour
Olive oil for frying
  1. Crush and peel garlic, then mince it finely by hand or in a food processor (lubricate with a tablespoon of olive oil).
  2. Beat egg. Place ground beef in large bowl, pour egg over beef.
  3. Add garlic, murri and spices to bowl with meat and mix all ingredients thoroughly by hand.
  4. Form into small meatballs slightly larger than a hazelnut. Heat several tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet, and panfry meatballs, turning several times to brown evenly.
  5. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately, or freeze for later reheating
Makes approximately 80 meatballs.

Notes and Choices

The original meat for this dish was probably chopped lamb. We used beef to save on the cost. Because of the high fat content of the beef as opposed to lamb, we did not add additional “coarse fat” to the mixture. We chose to size the meatballs similarly to hazelnuts based on Charles Perry’s note that the contemporary Spanish word for meatballs (albondigas) is based on the Arabic al-bunduqa, meaning hazelnut. Our early attempts at nougat from the same source vastly overestimated the necessary quantities of egg,  suggesting that the eggs of this period were much smaller than modern large chicken eggs. One or two modern eggs are certainly sufficient as a binding agent in this recipe. We used freshly ground spices; if using pre-ground spices, one might conceivably increase quantities to compensate for the loss of volatile aromatics over time. We had no source for fresh rue, and so omitted it.
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