THE FOODIE FILES: Play the Curried Game

By on September 13, 2016

East meets West with this exotic preparation for game meats.

The Jackson Hole Foodie has just the recipe to get your autumn simmering: Indian Kofta Meatball Curry. (Photo: Holly A. Heyser)

The Jackson Hole Foodie has just the recipe to get your autumn simmering: Indian Kofta Meatball Curry. (Photo: Holly A. Heyser)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – When my copy of Buck, Buck, Moose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Deer, Elk, Antelope, Moose and Other Antlered Things by Hank Shaw came in the mail, I went straight to the chapter on ground venison. Like most hunting families, we happen to have a lot of ground meat in the freezer. And just in case all the elements of the hunt line up perfectly for my husband and his bow, we’ll have an elk coming soon.

All this means that it behooves me to get to the bottom of my freezer and make room. Shaw’s chapter on meatballs, burgers, and other ground meat dishes is just what my wild game recipe repertoire hungered for. There’s a recipe for mushroom burgers using venison, fresh mushrooms, and dried morels. Morels! If only I had some put up this year. Shaw also reveals his secret to making perfect venison smashburgers. (Hint: it’s all about the fineness of the grind and the percentage of fat.)

But the recipes that I am immediately drawn to are the meatballs. Rolling meat into balls and simmering them in a bubbling pot seems to be part of my DNA.

My Sicilian grandparents were raised in a culture of frugality in which meat made a rare appearance at the table. By mixing meatballs with bread crumbs, finely chopped vegetables, herbs, garlic, and whatever tidbits of food needed to be used up, Sicilians were masters of stretching a meal to feed many mouths. My grandmother placed two raisins inside each meatball “to keep them moist.” I can’t help but think she just had a lot of raisins in her larder.

Given the delicious nip in the air, I was immediately drawn to Shaw’s Indian Kofta Meatball Curry. I love making curry, especially with wild game meats, but I have never rolled ground venison into balls and simmered them in an Indian curry sauce. For this, Shaw’s new cookbook has already paid for itself in my mind.

If you are also a fan of making curries, you probably already have the spices for this recipe on hand—garam masala, fennel seed, ground fenugreek, turmeric and a good curry powder. It’s important that the spices are fresh so this would be a good time to take a spice cabinet inventory.

Another ingredient in this recipe may be new to you: chickpea flour. The meatballs are coated in chickpea flour then pan-fried in oil before being added to the curry. Shaw gives you permission to skip this step and just gently place your meatballs directly into the curry, but I suggest you give the chickpea flour coating a try.

For the last few years I’ve fallen hard for chickpea flour. The first thing I ever tasted made with chickpea flour was a fritter called panelle from the streets of Palermo, Sicily, where it is a local specialty. I have been obsessed with the ingredient ever since. Anyone who is gluten-free is probably already cooking with chickpea flour, also called gram flour or besan. I love it for its nutty flavor and because it is a nutrient dense food high in protein, iron and fiber. Plain old white flour just doesn’t compare.

Chickpea flour can be stirred into lentil stews, used to coat vegetable fritters before frying, and folded into falafel batter. My favorite use of chickpea flour, however, is to make another Sicilian street food called a farinata, which is a thin, custardy pancake like a crépe. These savory farinata can be used to scoop up a fresh pea relish, wrap around ricotta and sautéed vegetables, and I often roll them around scrambled eggs as I head out the door for a grab and go breakfast.

All of this is to convince you that a bag of chickpea flour is a good investment (it actually costs only a few dollars) and will not go to waste in your kitchen. And if I seem to have Sicily on the brain it’s because I am leaving tomorrow to dive deep into the food and wine of the triangular little island off the toe of Italy’s boot. Indeed, by the time you read this, I hope to be standing on the street in Palermo with a hot panelle in my hand. I’ll be sure to quiz the locals on making chickpea fritters and pancakes so I’ll have some authentic recipes to share when I get back.

Hank Shaw is in Jackson for a book signing and special venison dinner at The Rose September 23. Win a copy of Buck, Buck, Moose at jacksonholefoodie.com.

Indian Kofta Meatball Curry

Recipe from Buck, Buck, Moose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Deer, Elk, Antelope, Moose and Other Antlered Things.
If you don’t have time to make the curry sauce from scratch, use store-bought Kashmiri curry in a jar.
Serves 4 to 6

Meatballs

1 ½ pounds finely ground venison

1 small onion, grated on a box grater

A 2-inch piece of ginger, minced and mashed into a rough puree

¼ cup chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon garam masala

2 teaspoons ground fennel seed

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup chickpea flour (optional)

1 cup vegetable oil (optional)

Curry (or 2 jars of store-bought Kashmiri curry sauce)

A 3-inch piece of ginger, minced

1 onion, minced

2 small, hot chilies, such as cayenne, chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup clarified butter (ghee), mustard oil, or vegetable oil

One 6-ounce can of tomato paste

2 teaspoons garam masala

2 teaspoons curry powder or turmeric

½ teaspoon fenugreek (optional)

½ teaspoon cornstarch

½ cup plain, full-fat yogurt

If you’re using store-bought curry, get it simmering in a pot large enough to hold all the meatballs. Alternatively, if you’re making your own curry, whisk the cornstarch with the yogurt, and set aside at room temperature.

Now you need to turn the ginger, onions, chiles, and garlic into a paste. You can do this several ways. Most traditional would be to pound it into submission with a mortar and pestle. Your other option is to put everything in a blender with just enough water to get the blades to run normally. The blender method sounds easier, but it’s not; if you put too much water into the mix, you’ll wreck the next step, which is cooking the paste in butter.

When you have the vegetables mashed into a paste, fry them in the ghee over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don’t let it brown. Mix in the tomato paste and turn the heat to medium. Fill the tomato paste can with water and stir that in. Stir in the garam masala, curry powder, and fenugreek, if using. Add enough water to make the curry into a thin gravy, and bring it to a gentle simmer.

To make the meatballs, mix all the ingredients together, and form into balls the size of a walnut. You can either cook them entirely in the curry, or coat them in the chickpea flour and fry them in the oil.

When the last meatball goes into the curry, simmer everything for 10 minutes or so to make sure everything’s cooked through. Turn off the heat and when the curry stops bubbling, add the yogurt by folding it in. Serve with long-grain rice. PJH

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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