spicy lamb meatballs / by Nate Everett

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A childhood favorite with a North African twist. Braised in a hearty tomato sauce, these meatballs are plump, juicy, and fragrant with aromatics. They are wonderful to eat on their own with a simple garnish of rosemary or mint and feta cheese, but for a fuller meal, I suggest spooning them over fresh couscous or cumin-roasted cauliflower.

You could also make a Mediterranean version of a meatball sub: slather some pita bread with a Greek yogurt tahini sauce and top it with the meatballs, a vinegary cucumber and tomato combo, and fresh parsley. The options are abundant!

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Prepackaged ground lamb is fine, but to maximize freshness and flavor, ask your butcher to grind equal parts lamb shoulder and shank. These cuts offer the best fat-to-meat ratio and produce a more richly-flavored meatball than, say, a meatball of the sirloin variety.

A note, when mixing the ingredients into the lamb, make sure you handle the meat gently by not overworking it - crushing down the meat fibers will result in a tough, dense meatball. The eggs in this recipe do the heavy lifting by acting as a binding agent, so lightly roll each meatball between your palms until it loosely comes together and then move on to the next one. 

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 Recipe

  • 2 lbs ground lamb
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup minced yellow or white onion
  • 1 tbsp minced shallots
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup freshly-chopped rosemary
  • 2 pinches turmeric
  • 1 28 ounce can tomato puree
  • 1 tsp lemon juice or white vinegar
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  1. Place the lamb in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs, half of the spices and herbs, and half of the onion, shallots, and garlic. Season generously with salt and pepper. Mix the meat with your hands until the ingredients are evenly incorporated into the meat.
  2. Adjust a oven rack to the upper part of the oven and turn on the broiler. Apply a light coat of olive oil to a large roasting pan, then shape the meat into golf ball-sized portions and place the meatballs in the roasting pan about one inch apart from each other.
  3. Broil for 5-8 minutes, turning the meatballs halfway through cooking to ensure the tops and bottoms are evenly browned. Set aside, and set the oven at 400°.
  4. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 3-5 minutes, then add the shallots and garlic and cook for a minute or two longer. Pour in the tomato puree and add the remaining spices and herbs, and the lemon juice or vinegar and the bay leaf.
  5. In a small mason jar, combine the cornstarch with 1 tsp cold water and shake vigorously until evenly combined, then add it to the tomato mixture. This is called a slurry, and it acts as a thickening agent for the sauce. 
  6. Stir the sauce with a wooden spoon to blend together the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow the mixture to gently simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure the mixture doesn't burn or stick to the bottom of the pan.
  7. Add the meatballs to the tomato mixture and toss until evenly coated. Cover saucepan, place it in the oven, and cook for 13-15 minutes. To check for doneness, remove one meatball and slice it in half - it's fine if they're slightly pink in the center, but if you prefer them medium-well, then cook the meatballs for several minutes longer. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Garnish and enjoy!

If you make this recipe, hashtag a pic to #spiceandhutch and post to Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter. I'd love to see your final product!