Lamb Meatball Pilaf

I’ve just been reading a disappointing new cookbook (no names, no packed lunch) by an author so full of himself that it's a wonder he has any space left for food. The author gives his readers the familiar lecture on authenticity and how we should know the origins of a recipe and never use any ingredient not available to the cook who might have created it. That’s not really my cup of authentic British tea. It made me want to cook something as inauthentic as possible at the earliest opportunity.

This recipe is about as inauthentic as it gets. It's based on a dish that I remember seeing made many years ago although I didn't get the recipe at the time. This is very much my own inauthentic recreation of the dish and should serve 4 people

For the meatballs:
   1 onion, finely chopped
   30 g breadcrumbs
   1 egg, beaten
   Zest of ½ lemon
   30 g sultanas
   3 dried apricots
   ½ tsp dried lime, ground
   2 tsp sweet chilli sauce
   500 g minced lamb

For the rice mixture:
   1 small onion, finely chopped
   300 g carrot, grated (you can make this coarse or fine, but I prefer quite finely grated)
   2 tsp caster sugar
   1 tsp ras el hanout
   250 g basmati rice
   1 tbsp lemon juice

To make the meatballs, soften the onion in a little oil, allow it to cool and then mix it with all the other meatball ingredients. Once thoroughly combined, form the mix into balls – a little smaller than golf balls is about right. Fry the balls gently in a little olive oil for about 10 minutes until they are evenly browned all over. They will probably be quite soft and somewhat prone to falling apart – if this happens a little, it doesn't really matter.

If you have time soak the rice for half an hour in cold water before cooking, but don't worry if you don't. Cook the rice in boiling salted water until it's just done – the time this takes seems to vary a lot between different suppliers of rice, but mine takes around 8 minutes.

Fry the onion gently in a little olive oil and when it starts to soften (after about 5 minutes or so) add the grated carrot. Continue frying for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the sugar and continue cooking and stirring for another 2 minutes. Add the ras el hanout, stir it in and take off the heat.

Preheat the oven to 160ºC. Spread half the cooked rice in an oven-proof dish (one with a lid) and place half of the carrot mixture on top. Now put the meatballs on top of this layer and cover, as far as possible, with the remainder of the carrot mixture. Finally top with the remaining rice, covering as evenly as possible. Drizzle over the lemon juice and a little extra virgin olive oil.

Put the lid on and place the dish in the oven for half an hour until warmed through completely. Be careful that it doesn't dry out too much and add a little water if necessary.

I served this with some simply roasted beetroot for a contrast of taste and colour and that special hint of inauthenticity.

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