Spicy lamb meatballs are filled with the warmth of cumin, garlic, and chile flakes. Then they get dressed up with harissa before being devoured any which way you want.
Meatballs are the epitome of comfort food. There is plenty of joy to be found in the slow process of rolling seasoned minced meat to perfectly round balls, ready for their dive into slow-cooked sauces. Perhaps I’ve been swayed by my years spent married to a Swede whose answer to life’s woes are meatballs. Although often associated with warmth and comfort, the true beauty of meatballs is their adaptability and the way they make an ideal vehicle for so many flavours of world cuisines.–Donal Skehan
☞ Table of Contents
*How do I keep my meatballs from drying out?
Because these lamb meatballs don’t have lots of “stuff” added to them—in particular eggs, milk-soaked bread, cheese, or even ketchup—you’re gonna have to find another way to keep these little lamb meatballs from getting crumbly. If you keep things cool before cooking, then you won’t melt the fat before they hit the skillet and, hence, you don’t risk losing any of the resulting juiciness. Speaking of fat…don’t skimp on the fat content of your meat. You’ll want all the juicy moisture you can get. And finally, be gentle with those meatballs. Over-handling them will compact the meat, making them rubbery and tough, as well as drawing out that precious fat with your hot little hands.
Spicy Lamb Meatballs
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 4 garlic cloves crushed
- Good pinch of chile flakes
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- One (14-ounce) can chickpeas
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 7 ounces low-fat natural yogurt
- 1 tablespoon rose harissa paste or regular harissa paste
- 5 ounces (8 cups) arugula or baby lettuce leaves
- Large handful flat-leaf parsley leaves picked
- Large handful cilantro leaves picked
- In a large skillet over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds until aromatic, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour into a small bowl.
- In a large bowl, combine the lamb with half the toasted cumin seeds, half the garlic, and the chile flakes. Season well with salt and pepper and shape into 1 1/2-inch (4-cm) meatballs.
☞TESTER TIP: To check your meat for seasoning, break off a small bit and fry it up before forming the meatballs.
- In the same large skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the meatballs and brown really well all over, about 10 minutes.
- Add a splash of water and continue to cook until the meatballs are cooked through, and have an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C), about 4 minutes more. Pile onto a plate, reserving any fat in the skillet. Cover and keep warm.
- Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Carefully add them to the oil in the skillet, and cook over medium heat until they are beginning to crisp, about 5 minutes.
- Using a slotted spoon, move the chickpeas to a medium bowl and stir in the extra-virgin olive oil and remaining cumin seeds and garlic. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if necessary.
- In a small bowl, mix the yogurt and harissa paste together.
- In a large bowl, toss the chickpeas with the lettuce leaves and herbs, then serve with the meatballs and the harissa yogurt on the side.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
These turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable and multi-purpose dish. The first night that I made them, we had them in a small salad. From there, I let my imagination take over. The next day, I used some for part of an appetizer selection for New Year’s Eve. I had Little Gem lettuce leaves which I placed on a plate, and had the meatballs, the chickpeas, the herbs, and the sauce there to enjoy along with other nibbles.
The third time we had these, (yeah, I stretched these 14 meatballs out to three different meals.) I served them along with Trader Joes’ Malabari Paratha, Authentic Indian Bread. If you’ve never had these, run, don’t walk, to your closest TJ’s and buy these flatbreads. They’re flat, round, and extremely flaky. The flatbreads on their own are amazing, along with the meatballs, they are elevated to a whole new level, a very good one.
This was a very timely reminder of how simple meatballs really can be to make—not an epic project, but a weeknight dinner that can also fit in with any season. The ingredient list is remarkably short and easy for the meatballs, and the salad can be as easy as salad greens and a tin of chickpeas simply dressed (but if you happen to have freshly cooked from dry chickpeas I think they really shine in a salad like this and I was lucky to have some from Rancho Gordo that had just arrived).
We like lamb, and I grew up eating plenty of it in meatballs (kefthedes in my Greek mother’s tradition). These have a more focused seasoning, and I needn’t have worried that the cumin, pepper and garlic would be too single note, because it worked very well. I do use good local lamb from a favorite butcher, and always try to not overly compress the meatballs as I form them, especially since there really isn’t any other ingredient that lightens them (like bread crumbs or veggies). I did use my garlic “rocker” to crush the garlic, so it would more easily be distributed in the meat mixture.
Working with gloved hands, I calculated that to get 16 meatballs (a nice amount to divide between 4 servings), I wanted to make them 28-30 g each and I ended up with 1½” inch diameter meatballs. After cooking they had shrunk a bit as they give up some fat in the cooking. The actual cooking was nearly done at 15 minutes, before adding the splash of water, which seemed to be useful in helping finish the cooking (you get a little steam blast) and by 18 minutes, I checked internal temperatures on several to make sure they had reached 165-170℉. I had prepared the salad and herbs earlier, distributing them between the plates and mixed up the dressing and the harissa-yogurt so I could serve at once, removing the meatballs briefly to a rack on a baking sheet, then plating.
**The only warning I give is that if you cook a whole batch of meatballs and plan on saving half for the next day, you need to lock them up because they are way too tempting to nibble all of them**