Meatballs are as timeless as they are delicious. There are so many variations for the recipe that it’s hard to determine which way is right and which the original recipe is. Traditionally in Egypt though, we make what they call ‘Dawuud Pasha’; basically, these adorable little meatballs, made with ground rice, a ton of minced garlic and onion, and cooked in thick red sauce and served over white rice. That’s the way I remember mum used to make it, and despite her no-fail recipe, every family I’ve ever encountered made it differently – as does every restaurant in town.
As per usual though, I’m going to stray from tradition. I tried to improvise one day, when I ran out of onions and had nothing but a jar of dried onion flakes on the shelf. Rummaging through the fridge, I found black olives and cheese and basil, and thought maybe I could create a pizza meatball? Or maybe I could create a burger-ball? Or maybe, I could just switch ingredients?
Or maybe, all three! For starters, my meatballs are not tiny – they’re slightly smaller than a tennis ball. Yep – a whopping ball of meat to fill the palm of your hand. And they’re not packed with a heap garlic and onions! Instead, they’re smooth and succulent, moistened with tomato paste and chopped black olives, dried onions, a bit of garlic, lots of dried thyme, and left to bubble away in thick and goopy tomato sauce. To top it off… cheese. Oozy, melting cheese. Oh yes… because there’s a magical marriage happening when cheese and sauce meet each other halfway in a dish like this. Not exactly a pizza, not exactly a burger, and not exactly traditional meatballs. It is… what it is! And with a sprinkle of basil, you’ll be thanking me, and your lucky stars, that I ran out of onions on the day this was created.
500g pure minced beef
½ cup fine breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
¼ cup finely chopped black olives
¼ cup dried onion flakes
1-tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon black pepper
5 tablespoons sunflower oil for shallow frying
1 400g jar pasta sauce (ready made)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
8 slices mature cheddar cheese
Fresh basil leaves
Place all the meatball ingredients into one large bowl, and mix together until fully incorporated.
Divide the meat into 12-14 large meatballs, packing each ball tightly. Set aside.
In a heavy bottomed non-stick skillet, add sunflower oil, and gently brown the meatballs in batches on high heat. For about 5 minutes, roll or turn them around until the balls are golden in color all over. Remove from oil and set aside (Note: the meatballs aren’t done yet, but will continue cooking later in the sauce until done on the inside).
In the same skillet, add the jar of sauce, followed by salt and spices. Bring to boil, and add 1 cup of water, stirring gently until spices and sauce are incorporated.
Reduce heat to medium-low, and gently drop the meatballs back into the skillet, rolling them into the sauce. Cover, and leave to simmer for about 10-15 minutes. This will ensure the meatballs are cooked all the way through. Halfway through, roll meatballs over to ensure they’re not sticking, and that the sauce is thickening.
Once sauce has thickened and is bubbling, layer cheese slices in and around the meatballs. Cover, and leave the heat on low for a few more minutes until cheese melts over the meatballs and into the sauce.
Garnish with fresh basil leaves, and serve with your choice of pasta or rice.