STUFFED KING OLIVES BRAISED IN AN EXOTIC TOMATO SAUCE WITH WHITE BEANS
Yield: 36 to 48 olive balls, or 6 to 8 portions
Onion, thinly sliced
Garlic cloves, minced
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper
Tomatoes, canned, crushed
White beans, small, drained, cooked
Preserved lemon, thinly sliced
Capers, brine-cured, coarsely chopped
Flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Onion, medium, chopped
Chicken, lean, finely ground
Fine dry bread crumbs
Gruyere, freshly grated
Feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
Green olives, large, pitted
Parsley or cilantro, chopped, for sprinkling
For the tabbil:
all the spices together into a powder and store in an airtight container for up
to 3 months.
For the preserved lemons:
- Cut lemons into quarters, top to bottom, but not all the way through, leaving about 1 inch uncut. By doing this you can spread the quarters like a flower and they with stay together. Pack the lemons into a non-reactive jar or glass cookie jar.
- Meanwhile, prepare a brine by boiling the water and salt. Once it boils, pour the hot brine over the lemons; the lemons should be completely submerged. Seal the jar and allow the lemons to cure at room temperature for 4 to 6 weeks. When they are ready, the flesh will separate from the rind very easily and the rind will be translucent without any of the chalky whiteness of the raw lemon rind. Refrigerate the lemons at this stage.
- The lemons should keep easily for 6 months. If mold should form on the surface of the brine, drain and strain the brine, and bring it to a boil. Pour the hot brine over the lemons and redouble your efforts. Do not reach into the lemons with dirty hands or tools, and keep the lemons covered.
For the tomato sauce:
- Combine the onion and garlic with ½ cup of the olive oil. Add 2 teaspoons of tabbil, paprika, and curry powder and sauté very gently over medium-low heat until the onion is soft. Add salt, pepper, and tomatoes. Stir in a cup of hot water and when the mixture begins to simmer, cover, and cook very gently for about 20 minutes, or until the sauce is thick. Add the beans and combine. Then stir in the preserved lemon and capers. Remove from the heat and set aside. This sauce can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for a week or so.
For the filling:
- Combine the parsley and onion with ¼ cup of the olive oil, and sauté gently over medium-low heat until the onions are very soft and translucent. Place in a mixing bowl and allow to cool. Add the chicken bread crumbs, gruyere, and 2 of the eggs. Using your hands, knead the mixture well. Stir in the feta. If the mixture is too soft, add another tablespoon or so of bread crumbs.
- To assemble the stuffed olives, heat a shallow sauté pan with about 1 cup of cooking oil until the heat reaches about 350ºF. The oils should be about ½-inch deep. Cut the olives halfway open, lengthwise, and stuff about 1 tablespoon of filling in and around the fruit. (The outside of the olive is also covered with the “filling” similar to a meatball.) When the olives are stuffed, bread them by dipping the olives first into a light coating of flour, into remaining beaten egg, and then drop in the preheated oil. Turn the olives with a fork and when each one is firm and browned on all sides, remove and drain briefly on an absorbent towel.
- Bring the tomato-bean sauce back to a simmer, adding another cup of hot water to the mixture. When all the olive balls have been fried, drop them in the simmering sauce. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes to heat through. You can either do this on top of the stove or in a 350ºF oven. Serve with either parsley and cilantro or both to suit your taste.
NOTE: The spices in the original Tunisian dish are a blend known as tabbil. The recipe is simple if you have all the ingredients on hand; otherwise, curry powder can be substituted for the tabbil.