"My sons love them, particularly my second boy; we have to slow him down when we eat at Rumi, he easily puts away six," says chef and restaurant owner, Joseph Abboud. His Persian meatballs are traditionally bigger than your average – 45 grams, a little larger than a golf ball.

"The boiled rice is what makes it really special," says Abboud. "It makes them succulent and soft and that's a particularly Persian way of doing meatballs." The recipe calls for advieh, a Persian spice mixture that "virtually includes every spice you can think of" including more unusual ingredients such as dried rose, lime and golpar, a bitter Iranian plant. Rumi makes 10-kilogram batches of the stuff at a time, but it's a lot easier to buy it from a Mediterranean grocer. "I probably should put it in jars and put a Rumi sticker on it, because people are always interested in buying it," jokes Abboud.

When asked if Rumi's popularity stems from the effort that goes into dishes such as the meatballs, Abboud admits he's still trying to work it out. "Most beautiful things in the world you can't put your finger on."

Serves 6

500g lamb mince
½ cup medium grain rice, boiled until just cooked
1 egg
1 small brown onion, grated
½ bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped
1 teaspoon advieh (Persian spice mix, available from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern grocers)
salt flakes
labna, to serve

100ml olive oil
1 brown onion, finely diced
10 saffron threads, crushed
1kg canned diced tomatoes
salt flakes

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To make the meatballs, mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and season. Divide the mix into 45–50g portions, roll into balls and refrigerate while you make the sauce.

To make the sauce, add the oil to a wide-based saucepan large enough to hold the meatballs. Cook the onion over low heat for about 10 minutes until translucent and softened. Add the saffron and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook over low-medium heat for 30 minutes. Season the sauce to taste.

Gently drop the meatballs into the sauce and turn the heat up to high so that the sauce returns to the boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

Serve meatballs with a dollop of labna.

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