Adding bread to meatballs, sometimes even in a larger quantities than meat, was a practice developed during the frugal years of World War II in British Mandate Palestine and continued during the period of austerity that marked Israel’s first years as a state. Emblematic of homeliness, this is one of the few recipes that Nechama Rivlin adopted from her mother’s kitchen. Here, she replaces the more commonly used chicken with lamb and or beef. Whether served hot from the pan or at room temperature, a squeeze of lemon juice over the patties just before serving is highly recommended.
This recipe is easily prepared and very adaptable. If lamb isn’t available, use ground beef and you can also swap the thyme for parsley and or cilantro. And any kind of plain bread is fine.
1 loaf of bread, crust removed and cut into rough slices
¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 green chili pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
9 ounces / 250 grams ground lamb or a mix of ground beef and lamb fat
2 eggs, beaten
Neutral oil for frying
Soak the bread in water for 15 minutes or until it is completely saturated but still holds its shape.
Meanwhile, place the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until it is translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, chili pepper, thyme, and cumin seeds. Mix and saute for 3 more minutes until the cumin is fragrant. Add the meat and cook for another 5-10 minutes while breaking down the meat into smaller pieces with a spoon. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool (you can skip the step of cooking the meat if you’re short on time). Transfer the mixture to a bowl (if you decide not to cook the meat, add the raw meat into the bowl at this point).
Squeeze as much water out of the bread as possible. Crumble the bread into small pieces and add them to the bowl with the onions and meat. Knead the mixture until it is combined. Form flat circular patties that are about 2-inches / 5-cm wide and ½-1-inches / 1-2 cm thick.
Fry and serve the patties: Place the oil into a wide pan over medium heat. Once the oil is sizzling, place the patties into the pot and fry them for about 5 minutes per side until the patties are golden brown. Transfer the patties onto a paper towel-lined plate.
Serve hot with a generous spritz of lemon juice on top.