Medjool Date Gondi
Rotem Lieberson’s entire house in north Tel Aviv smells like turmeric and rose petals, only one of the reasons I love going there to cook with her. A prolific, highly intelligent, and deeply talented cook and writer who trained and worked in New York restaurants for years, Rotem brings vibrant, traditional Persian cooking alive from her gorgeous marble-countered kitchen. Everything I’ve made from her Hebrew-language Persian cookbook has been stellar, and one day she showed me how to make these oversized chicken and chickpea meatballs from scratch. Gondi were a staple in her house growing up, where they would sit on the stove on Fridays waiting for hungry children eager for a pre-Shabbat snack of one meatball and some broth. The Medjool date she tucks inside each gondi softens while cooking, breaking apart easily so you can get a little sweetness with every savory bite. Of course, feel free to leave out the dates if you prefer.
1¼ cups dried chickpeas*, or two 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 medium onion (just over 1 cup), coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
12 ounces ground chicken, preferably dark meat
3 tablespoons chickpea flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, olive oil, or schmaltz
4 medium pitted Medjool dates, halved
7 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 small onion, quartered
1¼ teaspoons ground turmeric
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 jalapeño, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
Make the gondi: In a large bowl, cover the chickpeas with at least 4 inches of water, cover the bowl, and soak for 10 to 12 hours at room temperature or for 24 hours in the refrigerator. Check in on the chickpeas every few hours, and replenish the water if it seems like it’s all getting soaked up by the chickpeas. Drain the chickpeas, transfer to a medium saucepan, cover with 2 inches of water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and keep the chickpeas on a vigorous simmer, skimming off and discarding any foam and scum, until a chickpea collapses between your fingers when pressure is applied but isn’t totally mushy, anywhere from 45 to 55 minutes. Drain and slightly cool the chickpeas and transfer 2 cups of them to the bowl of a food processor; reserve the remaining chickpeas for the broth. Add the onions to the food processor along with the turmeric, salt, cumin, and cardamom and process, scraping down the bowl once if necessary, until almost totally smooth, 20 to 30 long pulses; transfer to a large bowl. Add the chicken, chickpea flour, and oil and mix gently with your hands until evenly incorporated. Wash and moisten your hands, then form the mixture into 8 large, equal-sized balls; each ball will use a scant ½ cup of the mixture. Poke a date into the center of each ball, then make sure it’s well sealed around the date. Chill on a plate, covered, for 30 minutes.
Make the broth: In a large, high-sided 10-inch skillet or stockpot, bring the broth, onion, turmeric, salt, black pepper, jalapeño, and reserved chickpeas to a simmer over medium-high heat and gently lower the gondi balls into the soup. Return the pot to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and simmer gently until the gondi are cooked through and have expanded and look like gorgeous, perfectly cooked, oversized matzo balls, 40 to 45 minutes. Uncover, place 2 gondi in a bowl, and cover with some of the broth. Garnish with cilantro.
*To quick-soak chickpeas, cover them with 3 inches cold water and bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 5 minutes, remove from the heat, and let the chickpeas sit in their hot water for 1 hour. Drain and proceed! Dried chickpeas can be replaced with two 15-ounce cans cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed (about 3 cups drained chickpeas).