This is my family’s new fav meal. I think in part because everyone has a bit of control over individualization. Inspiration came from a new-to-me restaurant I visited a year ago in the DC area called Cava.
The idea for the restaurant is similar to Chipotle, except instead of Mexican, it’s Mediterranean. You walk down the line and tell the employee how to make your bowl, choosing from grains, proteins, toppings and sauces. Part of what I love about Cava is the abundance of choices and flavors. I don’t want to break the bank or stand chopping all day, so I’ve copied the experience in this reduced way:
Base – Protein – Sauce.
First choose a base. I make white rice and black lentils, both made with homemade chicken broth for optimal nutrition. Yes, brown rice is probably healthier, but I don’t care for it. My first experience with black lentils was at Cava – they’re smaller than black beans and firmer than green lentils. (I’ve only found them in the bulk bins at Whole Foods in Little Rock.) Recently I made cauliflower rice for my hubs since he’s grain free (he loved it). You could also use a salad mix as a base.
Protein – at Cava, you can choose from lamb, beef, falafel or grilled chicken. I’m a giant lover of red meat and what’s easier than ground beef? Plus, my freezer is full of the half side I bought from a farmer a few months back.
You can use your favorite meatball recipe, but here’s the one I’ve perfected:
- 2 pounds ground beef*
- 2 cups old fashioned oats (quick oats work too, or breadcrumbs )
- 4 eggs
- small diced onion, green onions or 1/3c dried onion
- 4+ cloves diced garlic (optional)
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 heaping teaspoon ground mustard
- 2 cups flat leaf parsley, chopped, or all the fresh herbs you can steal from your neighbor. I like to use a combination of fresh mint, oregano, thyme and parsley. Inevitably when I harvesting herbs, I think, “Oh I have plenty.” Then I come inside and start chopping them and wish I had more. I probably used 3 cups of chopped herbs the day I took these pictures.
- 1-1.5 cups kefir, yogurt or milk (add the liquid last and slowly to see how much can be absorbed)
I like to mix up the meatballs a couple hours before cooking them so the flavors have a chance to meld. No big deal if you’re in a rush to the table and don’t have time for the ingredients to make friends.
A cookie scoop makes the perfect size meatballs or an ice cream scooper will make more generous balls. Of course you can do it by hand but if you have a scooper it will go faster. Also for super easy clean up, line your cookie tray with parchment paper or foil. Bake at 400* until they smell amazing and look a bit charred on the tips – about 20 minutes, depending on their size.
* The beef in these pictures is grass finished and extremely lean and why the pan is dry after baking. Fattier beef will result in more pan juices.
There were 55 meatballs formed this day. Six remained after 5 people dined. I dream of leftovers.
Herbs are not a deal breaker for this meal but they certainly up the nutrient density and flavor. I really like the taste of mint in these meatballs. At the very least, buy a bunch of parsley from the grocery. Try to find ways to slip parsley into your meals even if it’s a tiny bit sprinkled as garnish. It’s great for improving digestion, boosting immune function, an anti-inflammatory and has anti-cancer properties. Plus, herbs looks pretty and feel so fancy!
The third element to our Mediterranean Bowls is the sauce. One of my kids says that the sauce is the best part and I’d have to agree. It’s great having both sauces with the meal. Don’t skimp on the sauce.
The first is tzatziki. It’s usually made with yogurt but have you tried making it with sour cream? It just might change your life. Well, maybe not. Here’s how I make it:
- 2 cups sour cream
- 1/2 lemon, squeezed. Maybe more
- 1/2-1t sea salt
- 1 teaspoon dried dill weed
- 1/4-1/2 chopped cucumber
Mix the above. Taste and adjust. It should taste so delicious that you can eat it off the spoon. Usually people are too stingy on the salt and/or lemon juice. Don’t be stingy.
The second sauce is my take on harissa, a North African tomato/pepper sauce. Please make this sauce. It really is amazing. Use equal parts of the three ingredients below:
I like to empty the red curry paste into a wide mouth jar, then rinse the curry jar with rice vinegar to make sure I’m getting every drop of the curry paste. Then I squeeze a giant dollop of ketchup into the other ingredients. I like a hotter sauce and am on the hunt for a better harissa. For now, this sauce is delicious, easy and my kids like it. (Thai red curry sauce can be found in the Asian aisle in most grocery stores.)
I’m no food blogger. I don’t have a fancy camera, but here’s the bowl I made for dinner:
I was satisfied with 3 meatballs + rice and lentils + extra veggies. My teenage swimmer ate rice, lentils and FIFTEEN meatballs. Different kids like different variations. One kid likes everything separate and nothing touching. Everyone comes running to the table for this meal. Try it and let me know what you think.