Little Spiced Meatballs

This is a Persian inspired bit of home cooking. It's a cheap dish to make and pretty simple, provided you start early enough. It doesn't take lots of prep either, just a long slow cook, during which you can get on with something else. Just make sure you keep an eye on it and use a very gentle heat.

Little Spiced Meatballs
Serves 4-6

500g lamb mince
3 onions
6 scrubbed new potatoes or a celeriac root
6 carrots
6 pieces of celery
2 cans of plum tomatoes
1 tsp turmeric
4 bay leaves
2 pinches of fresh nutmeg
2 pinches of ground black pepper
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 clove bud ground to a powder with a pinch of salt
2 pinches of Turkish chili flakes (1 pinch of regular chili flakes)

Grate the smallest onion of the three and add it to the mince along with the cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg and ground clove bud. Work it in with your fingers until everything is nicely combined. Roll the mince mixture into walnut sized balls and put on waxed paper or cling film on a plate in the fridge.

Finely chop the remaining onions and fry gently in a little duckfat or coconut oil until they are translucent. This dish is best made in a wide heavy pan, but it must have a close fitting lid. Put the kettle on to boil. Chop the celery finely and add this to the pan. Continue frying on a low heat stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden and sweet smelling. Sprinkle over the turmeric and stir for a minute or so to fry off the bitter taste of the turmeric.

Peel and chop the carrots into thin rounds. Pour about 200ml of boiling water onto the onions, add the bay leaves, chili flakes and bring back to the boil. Turn down to a simmer, gently place the meat balls into the pan one at a time and spread the carrots on top. Add a little more water if needed - to come about half way up the meatballs. Put the lid on the pan and simmer gently for an hour without stirring.

Spoon off some of the fat if there seems to be too much - some is ok and will make the sauce nice and rich. Chop the canned tomatoes and stir sprinkle over the meatballs, pouring in some juice if it looks like the level has fallen too much. Chop the new potatoes or celeriac into smallish cubes and add these too. Season with a few twists of salt and pepper, put the lid back on and simmer on the gentlest heat for another hour until the sauce has reduced a little. If the sauce gets too thick before the hour is up add the juice from the tomatoes. If things still look a bit soupy after an hour, just take the lid off and simmer for another half an hour until the sauce is thick and velvety. Taste for seasoning at this point, it should have a nice balance between savoury and tart.

A generous sprinkle of fresh herbs such as coriander, parsley and spring onion. Put a piece of lemon on each plate or a little dish in the centre of the table, to be squeezed over the meat. A crisp salad is a wonderful counterpoint to the richness of the meal.