Not Greek to Me Lamb Meatballs
Why should you make this recipe? (“There are sooo many ingredients!” one tester said.)
Because it’s fun to make, delicious, and even people who don’t like lamb will love it, I promise.
These make a cute appetizer if you spear them with a sprig of fresh rosemary. You can omit some of the spices and herbs if you don’t have them or don’t want to buy them, but if you dumb it down too much, you may just as well use another, simpler, boring version from the ATK, Food Network, or Epicurious websites.
At first, I wanted to just duplicate the meatballs we enjoyed at our favorite Greek restaurant, Dio Deka in Los Gatos, California, and even got the recipe from the chef, but then I decided to make them more flavorful and tender. I decided to start over with America’s Test Kitchen recipe first, but found it very bland. ATK does a lot of things well, like testing their recipes a million times, but for exotic or ethnic dishes they play it very safe in order to use only ingredients that can be purchased anywhere – meh!, I say.
Saveur’s “The New Classics” cookbook’s version is more global and ethnically diverse, but even it needed more flavor. For instance, for 1½ pounds of lamb, it listed 1/8 teaspoon each of nutmeg and cinnamon. Really?! So totally wimpy and useless, IMHO. I reworked the recipe four times, bumping up the spices each time before I sent it out to my recipes testers, who sent back rave reviews. I hope that you will, too.
TIP 1 > If you’d like, spear each ball with a
short sprig of fresh rosemary or mint, like in
TIP 2 > You can substitute Pecorino Romano
for the Parmesan.
TIP 3 > You can also grill them, but if you do,
make sure that they won’t overcook in the
For the bread/panko mixture
¼ cup milk
½ cup bread crumbs or panko
For the spice mixture
¼ cup toasted pine nuts (if you only have raw ones,
stir them for 3 minutes in a dry hot frying pan)
2 peeled garlic cloves
1 teaspoon paprika (smoked, if you have it)
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt (if using table salt, reduce to
1½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 In a small bowl, stir the milk into the bread crumbs or panko, and let soften for a couple of minutes.
2 Grind the spice mixture ingredients in a food processor for just 30 seconds (it will be coarse).
3 Mix the bread/panko mixture and spice the mixture together with the remaining ingredients, gently but thoroughly, and then form balls about the size of ping pong balls. You can make them smaller or larger, but do make them all the same size so they’ll all cook at the same time. Using an ice cream scoop makes the job easier and ensures consistent size.
4 Fry them in a shallow pan over medium heat with a bit of vegetable oil, browning them on all sides, or roast in the oven at 375°F for 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of your
5 Test for doneness by pressing on them a little with a fork or a spatula. If they resist, they’re done; if they squish, they’re still too rare. Don’t overcook them. Remember that they will continue to cook with residual heat after you take them out of the oven, and lamb can be eaten medium rare.
6 Serve plain or with a yogurt sauce, hummus, tzatziki, or chimichurri (see my yogurt sauce recipe here, and my tzatziki and chimichurri recipes somewhere in this book).
For the meatballs
1 pound ground lamb
1 egg white (if you use the whole egg it might be a bit too soft, but pleasantly moist – your call)
¼ cup grated onion (drained of liquid)
½ cup minced fresh parsley
½ cup minced fresh mint (or substitute
¼ cup grated Parmesan
½ cup plain Greek-style yogurt
2-3 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon tahini
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon salt (or more, to taste)
½ teaspoon black pepper
Whisk together in a bowl and let sit a half-hour