Have you ever invented a recipe in your organic kitchen?

Dana Jacobi is the author of several cookbooks, including The Joy of Soy, and she creates recipes for the American Institute for Cancer Research. Today, she explains how she came up with the idea for last Friday’s recipe for Middle Eastern Meatballs.

Inventing a Recipe

By Dana Jacobi, American Institute for Cancer Research

I am often asked how I create recipes. One that I developed, for a cocktail party during last month’s holidays, is a hot hors d’oeuvre. The recipe started with the thought of meatballs, which came to mind because everyone likes them. But making them for a crowd is a nuisance. Besides having to stand and turn them, I dread the way cooking them leaves the stove spattered with grease.

So I set out to create a recipe with three goals. First, a meatball with distinctive, appealing flavor. Second, one that can be broiled or baked. And finally, a way of making my meatballs more healthful while keeping them tasty.

For flavor, I got an inspiration while doing errands. I stopped at a fast-food cart parked on the street that sold freshly grilled shish kebab. The warm Middle Eastern spices flavoring the meat made me think of using cumin, cinnamon and herbs in the meatballs. The bed of rice under the meat led to the idea of mixing cooked brown rice into the meat. This would make them more healthful and cut the cost by stretching the meat—a good idea because I wanted the flavor of lean ground sirloin.

Moving on to the second goal, and thinking that baking could dry out the meat, I decided to broil the meatballs rather than cook them on top of the stove. Turned only once, they came out juicy and just right.

Except for the Swedish type, a dip usually accompanies meatballs served as an hors d’oeuvre. Because Greek and Middle Eastern meat dishes often have a yogurt sauce, that’s what I decided to start with. For pungent flavor, I added garlic and hot pepper. But it needed another flavor dimension.

Considering how Mediterranean dishes use mint with meats, it seemed a good choice. Since most fresh mint sold in supermarkets tastes mediocre, dried mint was the answer—the kind used to make mint tea. To see how this worked, I grabbed a mint tea bag, tore it open and stirred its contents into the dip, making it the perfect finish for this meatball recipe.