Lamb meatballs with yogurt sauce are richly spiced–but not spicy–and they make a terrific appetizer or even as part of your main meal. Served with a cool yogurt dip, they’re easy to make and even easier to pop in your mouth.
Your ground lamb or beef will taste best if blended up to a day in advance, but cooked at the last possible moment or it will dry out.–Tori Ritchie
WHAT IS MERGUEZ-STYLE?
It means to be robustly and generously seasoned with an earthy heat that slowly creeps from the tip of your tongue to your toes. It’s not an overly spicy heat, and it’s not the sorta heat that has you gasping for air. Maghrebi (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia) cuisine is famous for their merguez sausage–a deep red, spicy, fresh mutton, lamb, or beef sausage. This recipe borrows the flavors common to that dish, like cumin, garlic, paprika, and coriander. You can also serve harissa on the side to really highlight the Maghrebi culinary traditions.
Merguez Meatballs with Yogurt Sauce
For the meatballs
- 1 pound ground lamb or beef (not too lean)
- 2 cloves garlic minced or pressed
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the yogurt sauce
- 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
- 1/2 cup loosely packed mint leaves
- 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
Make the meatballs
- Dump the meat in a large bowl and add the garlic, cilantro, vinegar, paprika, cumin, coriander, salt, and a generous grind pepper. Mix it with your hands until well blended. (You can cover and refrigerate the meat mixture for up to 24 hours.)
- Preheat a broiler and adjust the rack so it is about 4 inches from the heating element.
- Form the meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs and place them on a rimmed baking sheet, working in batches if necessary. Broil the meatballs until they're no longer pink inside, about 8 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice so the meatballs cook evenly. Transfer the meatballs to paper towels to drain.
Make the yogurt sauce
- Skewer the meatballs with toothpicks and serve them immediately on a platter with the yogurt sauce in a small bowl alongside. Don't forget to set out small dishes or glasses for depositing used toothpicks.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
Quick and simple to make, these meatballs are full of flavor. The accompanying sauce, cool and fresh-tasting, makes a great counterpart to the savory meat. They were devoured rather greedily.
For a quick and easy recipe, these sure pack a lot of punch. This recipe is also fantastic for preparing ahead of time. The only caution I have is that the meat not be too lean just as indicated in the recipe. Also, if you like your lamb medium you need to pull out that oven tray at 5-6 degrees less than what you were going for, as carryover temperature is also a thing with meatballs, especially these tiny ones.
The yogurt sauce flavour is just right for the meatball flavours. I found mine a bit runny so I'd recommend mixing the herbs with only 1/2 the yogurt then incorporating this mix into the rest of the yogurt. This would give the sauce of bit of extra body.
These could be served as an appetizer but we enjoyed ours with a salad, freshly baked pita bread, and a mezze spread. If you enjoy Middle Eastern flavours, these morsels are for you! They’re just brimming with personality.
Originally published January 21, 2004