Petite meatballs in tangy tomato sauce with roasted potatoes

Kal-leh gonjishkie

کله گنجشکی

This dish takes me way back to my childhood growing up in Tehran. I remember loving this dish for its flavor and simplicity, which clearly appealed to my teenage palate. A simple meatball dish with fried potatoes over steamed rice – how can you go wrong with that?

As I prepared this dish I found myself struggling to make the meatballs look uniform and be the right size. The term “kal-leh gonjishki” translates to “little bird’s head”, implying how small and delicate these meatballs should be.

Though I grew up in Iran, I have lived two thirds of my life in the US, where my exposure to meatballs has mainly been to those Italian ones that could practically be the size of a baseball! So, I found myself once again balancing the tension between my childhood memories and what has now become familiar to me. And as I became impatient, the meatballs gradually grew in size!

Looking back on my childhood, I never had to think about how much care went into preparing this dish. Making it now, I’m humbled to think of how much effort and dedication my mother gave as she lovingly prepared dishes that created a sense of continuity in my life. It’s a good reminder of how hard parents work behind the scenes, often unrecognized, to make life easier and to remove unnecessary burdens from their children.

Gratitude!

Kal-leh Gonjishki

Tiny meatballs in tangy tomato sauce with roasted potatoes
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian
Keyword: meatballs, stew, tomato sauce
Servings: 4

Ingredients

Meatballs

  • 1 pound ground beef or lamb
  • 1 small onion, grated
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, or ghee

Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, or ghee
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 2-4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 limu omani, cut in 1/2 (Persian dried lime)
  • 1 1/2 cups water

Potatoes

  • 2 large yukon gold potatoes, cut french fries style
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  • In a large mixing bowl combine all the ingredients for the meatballs with the exception of the oil and mix well and form into tiny small meatballs (little bird's heads size!)
  • In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat and saute the meatballs for about 10 minutes. Move and turn the meatballs as necessary to brown them on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  • In the same pan heat 2 additional tablespoons of oil and saute the diced onions for about 15 minutes over medium-high heat, until lightly golden brown.
  • Add the minced garlic, salt, pepper and turmeric, and saute for an additional 2 minutes.
  • Add the remaining ingredients for the sauce and bring to a gentle simmer.
  • Return the meatballs to the pan, cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour. Taste and adjust for tartness and seasoning.
  • While the stew is cooking, combine the sliced potatoes with oil and salt, and roast in a 375℉ oven for 30 minutes or until fully roasted.
  • Arrange the stew on a serving platter and place the roasted potatoes on top. Serve with Persian steamed basmati rice.

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