We’re now into one of the most fleeting, yet delicious seasons in the British ingredients calendar – the cherry season.
I adore cherries so much, perhaps more than many other fruit, because they’re really not around for long.
Not only are they on our shelves for only a couple of months, those of us with cherry trees in the garden know that the birds consider them to be most definitely their property, and delight in stripping the branches of their delicious cargo in no time at all.
A rare commodity! But how delicious.
There’s a great simple pleasure to be had from simply taking the time to enjoy a little brown paper bag of cherries whilst contemplating life.
They taste exquisite, sour and sweet all at once, with a truly satisfying ‘pop’ as you bite into each one, and, of course, they’re incredible to cook with.
All those desserts – pies, crumbles, cakes and parfaits.
They make that most glorious dessert, Cherries Jubilee, a sweet compote of the fruit to be warmed and poured over ice-cream for the ultimate taste and texture explosion.
And they go well with many savoury recipes too – roast birds such as duck or goose absolutely love the tartness of cherries to offset the fatty richness.
And in that spirit, we come to this week’s recipe.
Lately, following a recent visit to a terrific Iranian restaurant in town, I’ve been obsessed with the cooking of that part of the world.
It’s unique and delicious, employing very little garlic or spices, but instead using the natural sourness of fruits such as limes and pomegranates to flavour the dishes. Sour cherries are used a lot, too.
I’ll admit, unless you have a certain sour-ish variety growing at home, you’ll have to make do with regular table cherries.
These meatballs are a non-canon creation of mine, but very similar to the skewered minced meat kebabs known as koobieh, and their big savoury flavour is complemented by a sauce made with cherries, vinegar and lemon.
It’s very sharp and tangy, and would actually go well with a roast joint of pork, or even a leg of lamb.
But it’s worth trying this recipe as it’s an incredibly mouthwatering and flavourful combination, especially with the inclusion of some soft, fluffy flatbreads flavoured with toasted sesame.
There’s quite a lot of recipe here, so let’s wrap things up and get cracking.
For the Iranian spice mix:
2 tsp cumin seeds
4 tsp sesame seeds
8 cardamom pods
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp Maldon sea salt
For the meatballs:
450g good beef mince
1 white or red onion, chopped very finely
½ tsp freshly-ground black pepper
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp Iranian spice mix
1 tsp Maldon salt
For the cherry sauce:
600g cherries (the tartest you can find), pitted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
120ml pomegranate molasses
A splash of fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon cornflour
Maldon salt, to taste
For the flatbreads:
500g strong flour
2tsp fine salt
1 tbsp unrefined golden caster sugar
1 tbsp dried yeast
350ml water, lukewarm
2 tbsps olive oil
3 tbsp black and (or) white sesame seeds
100g pine nuts, well toasted
A small bunch of curly parsley, finely chopped
Clarified butter (ghee) or olive oil for frying
First, make up the spice mix; lightly toast all the ingredients in a dry frying pan until they release their oils and smell heavenly, then tip into a bowl and cool. Grind in a machine or pestle and mortar when cool, and decant into a suitable storage jar.
Now for the meatballs; In a bowl, combine the ingredients and mix well by hand to evenly distribute the spices.
With damp hands, roll the mixture into neat balls about 4-5cm in diameter and set them on a tray. Cover with clingfilm and chill until required.
To make the flatbreads, put the water, yeast, sugar and olive oil in a bowl and stir. Leave for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to become frothy. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, add the sesame seeds and stir in the yeasty liquid, bringing the mixture together into a soft dough.
If it’s too wet, add a little more flour.
Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead briskly for 10 minutes. Pop into a large oiled bowl, and cover with oiled clingfilm.
Leave in a warm place for about an hour, or until it has roughly doubled in size. Tip out of the bowl and knock the dough back, then divide into 8 evensized pieces. Roll each piece out into a neat disc about 5mm thick.
Leave the flatbreads to rise a little for 10-15 minutes. Then, heat a thin frying pan and brush very lightly with olive oil or clarified butter.
Fry each flatbread for 2-3 minutes each side, making sure they brown well and char slightly in places, then remove from the pan and keep warm under a teatowel as you process all 8. When you’ve finished, stack them in a bowl and cover with clingfilm. To re-heat, simply wrap in foil and warm through in a medium oven for 5-10 minutes.
Now there’s just the cherry sauce to make. Put the cherries, molasses, cinnamon and lemon juice in a non-reactive pan and bring to a gentle simmer. When the cherries are nicely softened, remove one third and pass through a sieve or whizz in a blender.
Return to the pan and bring to the bubble again.
In a small cup, mix the vinegar with the cornflour until smooth and whisk into the bubbling cherry sauce. You’re after a nice, smooth and thick sauce. Add a little water or vinegar if it is too stodgy.
To serve, heat a pan with a little olive oil or clarified butter and fry the meatballs over a medium heat, browning them all over. When cooked through, serve a few on each flatbread drizzled with the cherries and their sauce.
Garnish with the toasted pinenuts and plenty of chopped parsley.