With his latest recipe book, Eat Up New Zealand: The Bach Edition, high-profile chef Al Brown captures the easy joy of casual holiday eating – something we can get excited for now that the weather is starting to warm.

This meatball recipe is perfect for those still-crisp days, though: a deeply flavourful melding of textures and spices that ends up together in one satisfying pot.

“This is my current go-to winter brunch dish. I had something similar when visiting Melbourne a while back,” Brown wrote in the book. “It certainly doesn’t scream Australia, but like New Zealand they have that melding of cultures and cuisines brought about by positive immigration policies, with one of the big ups being the introduction of new flavours and food ideas.”

Al Brown’s meatballs with spiced tomato lentils
Serves 12
Preparation time: Approx. 1.5 hours
Cooking time: Approx. 10 minutes

Ingredients

Spiced tomato ragout
½ cup (125ml) canola oil or similar cooking oil
1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tbsp black mustard seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground
12 cardamom pods
1 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
6 stems curry leaves
500g onion, finely diced
300g ginger, finely chopped
300g garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 x 400g tins whole peeled tomatoes, blitzed to a puree
1 cup (250ml) chicken stock
⅓ cup (90g) tomato paste

1½ tbsp sugar

Lentils
1½ cups (250g) green lentils, such as Puy lentils

2 cups (1L) chicken stock
1 tsp flaky sea salt

Meatballs

500g lamb mince
500g beef mince
500g pork mince
250g onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
⅓ cup finely chopped parsley
⅓ cup finely chopped coriander leaves
1 egg, beaten
½ cup panko breadcrumbs or other dried breadcrumbs
1 tbsp flaky sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

To cook and serve
Canola oil, for frying
12 eggs
Thick natural yoghurt
Coriander leaves
Roasted slivered almonds (optional)
Toasted bread, flat bread or roti

Method:
First, make the ragout. Place a large, preferably heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Pour in the oil and, once hot, add all the spices, including the curry leaves.

With a wooden spoon, stir for a minute or two, then add the onion, ginger and garlic. Sweat gently over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the spices from sticking. Add the tomatoes, stock, tomato paste and sugar.

Turn up the heat, bring to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and let cool before refrigerating until required.

Place the lentils in a saucepan with the stock and the salt. Bring up to a boil over high heat, then drop the heat down to a rolling boil. Check the lentils after 20 or so minutes. They are ready when they are soft but not mushy and falling apart. Once you are happy with them, drain and let cool. Add the lentils to the spiced tomato ragout.

To make the meatballs, place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly with clean hands until combined. Roll into the size meatball that you prefer. If you roll them to about 25g each you’ll end up with approximately 60 small meatballs. Refrigerate what you think you’ll require and freeze the rest.
Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Place a large ovenproof frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, pour in a little canola oil, then add the meatballs. Cook for 2 minutes on either side until caramelised. Now spoon in and around the meatballs liberal amounts of the spiced tomato ragout. Crack the eggs onto the top of the ragout, then place the pan into the preheated oven and cook for about 6–7 minutes, until the eggs are just cooked but the yolks are still runny.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Add dollops of natural yoghurt and sprinkle about the coriander leaves. For texture and flavour, add the toasted slivered almonds. Serve with a pile of toast, flat bread or roti.

Recipe extracted from Eat Up New Zealand: The Bach Edition by Al Brown, photography by Josh Griggs, published by Allen & Unwin NZ, RRP $49.99.