Everyone loves a good meatball and while the first dish the Accidental Locavore planned to cook from the new Ottolenghi book Nopi was the Vine Leaf Beef Pie, I haven’t been able to corral enough adventurous eaters to make it worth doing (without leftovers for weeks). These lamb meatballs looked great and I had some really good ground lamb from my Four Legs Farm share. The original recipe was for six but I halved it to feed 3:
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- Large pinch dried mint
- 2 teaspoons allspice
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- Salt and pepper
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ medium onion, finely chopped
- ½ serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped
- ½ pound Swiss chard, stems removed and greens shredded
- ½ cup chicken broth
- 4 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 cup Greek yogurt (whole milk) or labne
- ½ tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water to form a paste
- 1 small egg, lightly beaten
- Seeds from ½ pomegranate (optional)
- Chopped cilantro for garnish
Place the first six ingredients in a large bowl with 1 teaspoon of the allspice, 1 clove of garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt and a couple of grinds of pepper. Mix well and form into golf-ball-sized meatballs; you should have about a dozen.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium saucepan with the onion and the other garlic clove. Cook on medium heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened but not browned. Add the chile and the Swiss chard and cook for 2-3 minutes until the chard has wilted. Stir in the other teaspoon of the allspice, chicken stock and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat.
In a large mixing bowl, add the yogurt, cornstarch paste, egg and ¼ cup of water. Whisk well to form a smooth paste. Gradually spoon in the chard mixture, stirring well after each addition until the two mixtures are combined. Add a teaspoon of salt and a couple of grinds of pepper and set aside.
Pour the remaining olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and fry for 4 minutes, turning so all sides get browned. Do this in batches if you need to.
Wipe down the pan and pour in the yogurt sauce. Bring to a very gentle simmer on a medium-low heat. It should just barely be bubbling. Stir continuously in one direction to prevent the yogurt sauce from separating. Return the meatballs to the pan, stir to coat and cook on low heat, covered, for 20-25 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through.
Serve garnished with the pomegranate seeds and the cilantro sprinkled on top and enjoy!
My verdict: Maybe the recipes are “restaurant food” because in a restaurant you have someone to wash the dishes! Without sounding too much like The Twelve Days of Christmas, this used four measuring spoons, three frying pans, two cutting boards, and a mixing bowl washed twice. However, if you can con someone else into washing up, this was a delicious dinner! The meatballs were tender and juicy with a nice crunch from the pine nuts. The yogurt sauce was reliable, for once not only not breaking, but adding a rich creamy touch to the lamb. It might have been because I actually used labne instead of yogurt – that’s an experiment I may have to run in the future, and I was very careful to keep the heat low. When I made this, I actually made the meatballs ahead of time, refrigerated them, made the sauce later in the day and added the meatballs until they were warmed and cooked through. Even though there are a lot of steps (and dishes), nothing is terribly difficult and the results are worth it! Next time, I’ll make the full recipe of meatballs, freeze half and do the sauce as needed. That will save a pan or two.
A special shout-out and thank you to Bob & Edesio who hand carried my signed copy of Nopi back from the UK! Come up and I’ll make the Vine Leaf pie!