These lamb meatballs with tahini, a Palestinian specialty also known as kefte, are spiced with cinnamon and allspice, cooked on roasted potatoes so the juices infuse the potatoes with flavor, and finished with a tangy, garlicky, tahini sauce.
Kefte. It literally translates to meatballs, and there are no shortage of different types of meatballs in the Middle East. But these Palestinian lamb meatballs drizzled with garlicky tahini sauce are definitely contenders for best kefte. The cinnamon- and allspice-scented lamb meatballs are roasted atop potatoes, so their aromatic juices dribble onto the potatoes during roasting and infuse them with flavor, and then the whole shebang–potatoes AND meatballs—is drizzled with tahini sauce and sprinkled with buttery toasted pine nuts. Did we mention that it can be prepped almost entirely ahead of time and cooked in a single baking dish? Yes, Dorothy, you can both impress AND take time to mingle with your dinner guests.–Angie Zoobkoff
*NOTE How To Make Certain You Have Sufficient Tahini Sauce
We’re a little smitten with this recipe’s tangy tahini sauce. It pairs beautifully with the rich lamb meatballs. But it also pairs beautifully with ample other things. We could list them all. Or we could just let you use your imagination. To make sure that you have plenty of sauce for drizzling, we recommend doubling the tahini sauce recipe.
Lamb Meatballs with Tahini ~ Kefte
For the potatoes
- 1 1/2 pounds potatoes preferably Yukon Gold, peeled if desired
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or mild vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
For the lamb meatballs | kefte
- 1 3/4 pounds ground lamb
- 1 medium onion finely chopped
- 1/3 cup parsley leaves roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt or more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
For the tahini sauce
- 4 tablespoons tahini
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice plus more to taste
- 1 garlic clove crushed
- 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 cup water plus more to taste
For the pine nut topping
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
- Whole or chopped parsley leaves (optional)
Make the potatoes
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- Slice the potatoes crosswise into circles 1/4 inch (1 cm) thick. Toss them in a 9-by-13-inch (23-by-33-cm) baking dish or on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle the potatoes with the olive or vegetable oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss to evenly coat. Spread the potatoes in an even layer in the baking dish (it’s ok if they overlap). Roast until almost but not completely tender, about 40 minutes.
Make the lamb meatballs | kefte
- While the potatoes are cooking, in a food processor, combine the lamb, onion, parsley, garlic, pepper flakes, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and pepper and blitz until evenly mixed, 2 to 3 minutes. (Grinding the meat again in this way ensures a better texture.) Using your hands, shape the meatballs into 2-inch (5-cm) ovals that are tapered at the edges.
- Pour the extra-virgin olive oil in a bowl and, using your fingertips, lightly coat each lamb meatball with oil to smooth it. (At this stage, you can place the lamb meatballs in a baking dish, cover, and stash them in the fridge for up to several hours.)
- When the potatoes are tender, place the lamb meatballs in a single layer on top and roast until the meatballs are cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes. You can test this by cutting into one or waiting for a thermometer to register 160°F (70°C).
Make the tahini sauce* (see *NOTE above)
- [Editor's Note: Before making this tahini sauce, read the *NOTE above and consider doubling this tahini sauce so you have leftover to drizzle, dabble, and dribble over anything and everything. It's THAT spectacular and versatile.] In a small bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, and salt. Slowly stir in the water, a little at a time, until the sauce reaches the consistency of a very runny honey. (Different brands of tahini varies drastically in consistency. You may need to add a little more water, a few drops at a time, to achieve the desired consistency.)
Make the pine nut topping
- In a small skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Stir in the pine nuts and cook, stirring or shaking the skillet frequently, until golden, 3 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
Serve the lamb meatballs
- Once the lamb meatballs and potatoes are cooked, drain off any excess fat that was released during roasting and spoon the tahini sauce over the top. Scatter with the pine nuts and chopped parsley. Serve immediately straight from the baking dish or transfer to a platter.
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Recipe Testers’ Reviews
The end result was a wonderful burst of flavor. Lamb is the perfect meat to carry the flavors of onion, garlic, allspice, red pepper, cinnamon, and parsley. We could taste each ingredient along with the lamb. Add the tang of the tahini sauce, crunchy nuttiness of the pine nuts, and creaminess of the potatoes—wow, what a dish!
My food processor is apparently not a full-size one because once I put in the lamb, there was no room for anything else, so I mixed it all by hand. The meat wasn’t as finely ground as it probably should have been and the onions and garlic weren’t as minced as they probably should have been. But some of us loved it just the way it was.
This one-pan way of making kefte and potatoes is terrific. I did go to the butcher and get ground shoulder as recommended. Putting the ingredients through the food processor made everything uniform and gave a great texture to the kefte, which came out so juicy and tender. The potatoes came out nice and tender—I did have to overlap a little bit in my 9-quart Dutch oven, which has a circumference of about 10 inches. The tahini sauce was delicious (and it made enough that I could dip the pita in that I ate with the meal as well).
The butter did get a little browned before the pine nuts were toasted, which gave a nice nutty flavor, but given that the lamb is sort of fatty and drips juices that you can’t completely remove.
A great dinner with pita bread.
These traditional Palestinian kefte were a huge hit at the dinner table last night! I wouldn’t change a thing! Everything from the crisp roasted potatoes to the flavorful lamb meatballs to the savory tahini sauce to the crunchy pine nut topping were perfection. This dish was incredible and perfectly seasoned with each and every bite. I served the potato and lamb dish with some lemony sauteed Swiss chard with garlic, which was a nice accompaniment.
I really loved the flavor of the tahini sauce; it was perfectly salty and I think would be a great sauce for a number of other dishes as well. Pan-seared za’atar chicken thighs come to mind. Or even steamed veggies would be nice.
I roasted the potatoes on a large 9-by-13-inch baking sheet and seeing that they were sliced so thinly, mine only took 20 minutes to roast, not the suggested 40 minutes. And yes, I was able to get them in a single layer on my baking sheet so they were all tender yet crisp on the outside.
I thought blitzing the lamb mixture in the food processor was an interesting touch and made for a very tender, smooth meatball texture. The combo of allspice, cinnamon, garlic, and onion in the kefte was super tasty.
Overall we really enjoyed this unique dish. It will be made again-and-again, I guarantee it!
This is a very good lamb dish. We really enjoyed the layering of the potatoes, meat, and sauce with a nice crunch of pine nuts to finish.
I made the meatballs and sauce the day before and each required about 10 minutes time. I used fingerling potatoes and sliced them on the long side. This will definitely be an added to our rotation.
I’m a meatball aficionado and he’s a sucker for lamb, but the appeal of this recipe goes beyond the obvious. Roasting sliced potatoes and then topping them with meatballs and finishing everything in the oven lets you coast to the finish and creates the ideal pace for dinner prep.
The dish I chose, an 8-by-12-inch Moroccan-printed earthenware, didn’t allow the potatoes to fit in a single layer, nor did it allow the meatballs much elbow room, but the juices from the roasting meatballs basted the layers of potatoes and brought the elements together nicely. Since I used thin-skinned yellow potatoes, I chose to keep the skins on, and they became tender and held their shape well.
I’d never used the food processor to re-grind meat for meatballs, and found that it did break down the onion further and made for a more finely textured product. The meatball seasoning here is medium-spicy with the flavor of allspice pleasantly prominent.
I had to add much more tahini and hold way back on the water to get the consistency of runny honey.
The finished dish served us 2 for dinner with a salad the first night and then into the fridge the leftovers went. They were reheated in 2 packed lunches and the meatball spices were mellower, and of course the texture was tighter after microwaving. I’ll make this dish again!
I served it with a leafy green salad with oranges and grapefruits with extra pine nuts scattered on top.
Originally published March 17, 2019
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
I really liked this dish. The flavor profile was delicious although it’s not my usual style to use cinnamon and allspice with lamb. I thought potatoes were an interesting touch with Palestinian food – most Middle Eastern recipes seem to use rice, bread, or perhaps pasta as the starchy component. Tahini sauce is delicious with the rich, fatty lamb. Pine nuts with butter seemed to me to be gilding the lily with all the other rich, creamy roasted things in the dish, but why not?
I put the potatoes on an oiled baking sheet because I prefer them crisp, although I may have outsmarted myself because they ended up a little too dark (but still very tasty).
We served the lamb meatballs with a chopped Middle Eastern salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, and parsley. This would make a really nice meal for guests as it was interesting, unusual, delicious, and the prep can all be done ahead of time.