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A short leap

Our friend Ben is in town for a visit, and this past Friday, while we waited in line for lunch at Il Corvo - always worth the wait, in case you ever walked by and wondered - I told him about some lamb meatballs that I wanted to write up, but that I had a problem: the only photo I have is of the raw meat and seasonings in a bowl. Ooh, Ben said sharply, sucking air between his teeth, which I took to mean, That’s going to hurt.

And yet.  AND YET.

Maybe it will ease the blow to know that the reason why I have no meatball photo is that, by the time they’re done cooking, they smell so irritatingly good, and I’m so irritable and hungry, that my claws come out and I throw myself on the pan. Anyway, I think my mother will love this recipe, and if I hold off on posting until I have a proper photo, it’ll be almost like I’m depriving my mother, my very own mother, of happiness.

I am not the first person in the world to own The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by the brilliant Deb Perelman, and I am also not the first person to be tempted by her recipe for Sesame-Spiced Turkey Meatballs.  Deb mentions in the sidebar that the recipe can be made with ground lamb instead of turkey, and what I am, in fact, is here to report that, yes, absolutely, it can!  I’ve done it myself five or six times now. There is probably no meat that doesn’t go well with toasted sesame seeds, garlic, cumin, coriander, and chile, but in most such cases, lamb would be my intuitive choice. The meatball that we’re talking about here has the basic flavor profile of falafel, right, and since lamb shows up in cooking across the Middle East, falafel to lamb is a short leap.  I don’t know, but I sort of want to call these Falafel-Spiced Lamb Meatballs.  Deb, I’m screwing up everything.

In any case, it’s nothing more complicated than mixing up ground meat and seasonings in a bowl and rolling them into balls. It’s the kind of cooking that can be accomplished with only minimal attention, while the rest of your brain is lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves crashing on the white noise machine in your kid’s room on the other side of the wall.  (Or, you could listen to Spilled Milk. Did you know that we’re going weekly? And that you can donate to the show, which helps us buy ingredients and pay for hosting and wins our devotion to the grave and beyond?) The resulting meatballs are juicy, fragrant with cumin and coriander and garlic, and when you chew, there’s a faint, wonderful crackle of toasted sesame seeds between your teeth. The crackle might be the best part.

Deb serves hers with a smashed-chickpea salad that’s bright with sumac and lemon, and the combination is delicious. I like them with anything, though most often a pile of roasted vegetables. They would be perfect with couscous, or stuffed in a pita with shredded cabbage and chopped cucumber and some yogurt or tahini sauce, or even just heaped on plain rice with a cucumber salad on the side.  The main thing to know is, they would be perfect.

Falafel-Spiced Lamb Meatballs
Adapted slightly from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman

Deb’s recipe calls for browning these meatballs in a pan and then finishing them in the oven, and while that certainly yields a stunner of a meatball, both in flavor and beauty, I regularly take a lazier route: I only bake them. Then I can basically walk away, and ta da, the meatballs cook themselves. Cleanup is also very easy, thanks to the parchment on the sheet pan.  Do what you will.

2 tablespoons (15 grams) sesame seeds
1 pound (455 grams) ground lamb
2/3 cup (40 grams) fresh breadcrumbs
¼ cup (60 ml) water
1 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
Pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes
Olive oil, for cooking

Preheat the oven to 425°F. If you plan to skip the stovetop browning and only bake these, line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment.

Put the sesame seeds in a small skillet, and place the skillet over medium heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the seeds smell toasty and are beginning to turn golden.  I never pay attention to exactly how long this takes, but it’s not terribly long.

While the sesame seeds toast, put the lamb through cayenne in a medium bowl.  When they’re ready, add the toasted sesame seeds.  Mix with a fork (or with your hand, my preference) until evenly mixed. Form the meat mixture into 1½-inch, or golf-ball-sized, balls.  (This is easiest to do if your hands are wet; that will help to keep the meat from sticking to you.) If you plan to brown the meatballs on the stovetop, arrange them on a tray or large plate; if you plan to only bake them, arrange them on the prepared sheet pan.

At this point, if you’re lazy like me, put the sheet pan in the oven and walk away. After about 10 minutes, pull out your thermometer (all hail the Thermapen! Possibly my single favorite kitchen tool!) and poke one or two of the meatballs: when they’re ready, the internal temperature will be between 160 and 165 degrees.  If they’re not hot enough, slide them back in, and check again shortly. Again, I never seem to keep track of how long they take to cook. Somewhere between 12 and 15 minutes, I think?

If you’re a better person and plan to brown your meatballs as Deb directs, heat a generous slick of oil in a large ovenproof skillet or sauté pan. Brown the meatballs in batches, taking care not to crowd the pan or nudge them before they’re good and brown. Be gentle as you turn them: they’re soft! Transfer the meatballs to a paper-towel-lined tray or plate, and continue cooking in more batches until they’re all browned. Then discard the oil, wipe all but a little of it from the pan, and return all of the meatballs to the pan. Slide into the oven, and bake until a thermometer reads an internal temperature of 160 to 165 degrees, or about 10 to 15 minutes.

Yield: about 4 servings, or roughly 25 meatballs

Note: These meatballs freeze beautifully.  I like to cook about half of them right away and then freeze the remaining half on a sheet pan lined with parchment.  When they’re frozen solid, I transfer them from the pan to a plastic storage bag. They thaw quickly - and actually, I’ve even baked them while they were still slightly frozen. It took a bit longer, but no harm done.


Anonymous Jay said...

I like the best of both worlds idea when it comes to be meatballs- I brown them in a cast iron- remove excess oil- and everything goes into the oven.

1:59 PM, March 10, 2014  
Blogger Laurea Lapp said...

But it is a beautiful picture of raw meat and seasonings!

2:21 PM, March 10, 2014  
Blogger amanda b said...

I have a cheese problem, so naturally my favorite meatball idea (not mine) is to surround little cheese cubes with the meat, brown them and then bake...it's melty goodness!

3:35 PM, March 10, 2014  
Anonymous Kate @Almond Butter Binge said...

Oh man, I LOVE baking meatballs. Pan-frying is for suckers. I need to try your version of these :)

4:03 PM, March 10, 2014  
Blogger Eileen said...

Hey, I have no problem with seeing meatballs in their raw & unmolded form! Especially when they sound as good as these. I do the freezer meatball trick too--super useful for crazy days.

4:34 PM, March 10, 2014  
Blogger Rachel said...

I'm a vegetarian, but your writing kinda makes me wish I weren't. I'm sure I'm not the first to say so.

4:55 PM, March 10, 2014  
Blogger christa said...

These sound good, but I still hold the turkey meatballs with pine nuts, raisins and cilantro from your book as Numero Uno Meatballs! And that garlic-y yogurt sauce...mmmm MMMMM!

5:18 PM, March 10, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think baking this as a meatloaf would work? I will never find time for rolling meatballs...

7:06 PM, March 10, 2014  
Blogger Topham Beauclerk said...

Sounds good! But how does one "put the lamb through cayenne"? Cryptic. Thanks.

7:59 PM, March 10, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Topham - Add the ingredients from the list in order, beginning with lamb and ending with cayenne : )

9:51 PM, March 10, 2014  
Blogger belleau kitchen said...

even your photography of meat in a bowl looks mouthwatering... so glad you're posting more regularly too!

2:33 AM, March 11, 2014  
Blogger london bakes said...

I love the sound of this recipe for a start but, even more, I love how you write the recipe. I feel like I'm right there with you and I can't wait to dive into a batch of these.

2:38 AM, March 11, 2014  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

She also has a fantastic recipe on her blog for kefta kebabs that are OUT OF THIS WORLD: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2008/08/kefta-and-zucchini-kebabs/. The combination of flavors with just a little heat from the cayenne is so delicious! I broil the meatballs instead of grilling on kebabs, so they are fast and easy.

6:23 AM, March 11, 2014  
Anonymous Brandi said...

I'm always trying to turn awesome meatball recipes into meatloaf, too. You can do it: just make it into a loaf and cook it for about 1-1 1/4 hours, until it registers 155 degrees. Or even do the free-form meatloaf thing, which makes it more like a giant meatball. Not as cute, but boy, sometimes you just got to get everybody fed. This meatball iteration looks like a real winner!

7:02 AM, March 11, 2014  
Blogger Ellen said...

I've always wanted to know, from a more credible cook than I - what's the best bread/technique for fresh bread crumbs?

7:20 AM, March 11, 2014  
Anonymous Kristin said...

Funny you should mention sumac as an ingredient. A good friend of mine went to Turkey last Fall, and she gave me a "wheel of spices" for Christmas that she bought there, which includes sumac. I wouldn't have known what to use it in - can't wait to try it in these!

7:54 AM, March 11, 2014  
Blogger RandiMichelle said...

These sound delicious. What do you serve them with?

8:36 AM, March 11, 2014  
Blogger Stacy Rushton said...

I do believe she means for us to mix together all of the ingredients from the lamb through to and including the cayenne.

9:34 AM, March 11, 2014  
Anonymous Heather Smoke @ Curly Girl Kitchen said...

I think that "put the lamb through cayenne" means, mix the lamb and all other ingredients listed down to cayenne together.

9:42 AM, March 11, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looking forward to trying these as my kids love meatballs of any sort. I also bake my meatballs - which has become an easy task with the purchase of a meatball pan - basically a nonstick roasting pan with a grooved rack. Normally, I am loathe to own kitchen gadgets that only serve one purpose, but this pan has made meatballs a go to weeknight meal.

9:48 AM, March 11, 2014  
Anonymous meg said...

It's been ages since I've had lamb meatballs (and oddly enough, they were from A Homemade Life--superb!). We do have some lamb knocking around in our freezer, though. Maybe this is a good time to throw some together.

9:51 AM, March 11, 2014  
Anonymous Erin said...

Why are your posts so fun to read? They always are, and I open every single one of them as they appear in my inbox (a high accolade these days). Thanks for all good stuff for all the years I've been reading.

9:59 AM, March 11, 2014  
Blogger Monica said...

These sound delicious! Have you tried the Turkey and Zucchini meatballs from the Jerusalem cookbook yet. So amazing with the Sumac Sauce.

10:12 AM, March 11, 2014  
Blogger Moony said...

I used to do all PLUS I added a good handful of fresh cilantro and mint minced and then mixed together with the meat.

10:17 AM, March 11, 2014  
Anonymous Tina said...

Absolutely going to make these. I'm a huge fan of ground lamb and the only thing I do with it is make Greek meatballs from Balanced Bites. Okay, while they are delicious, I need a change. Thank you for making my mid-week so much better (since I will be making on Wednesday)!

11:13 AM, March 11, 2014  
Anonymous Katherine @ Torchlight said...

Two of my favourite blogs come together! You referencing Smitten Kitchen! And meatballs. All is well.

12:01 PM, March 11, 2014  
Blogger Sue said...

Any suggestions for substitutions if I don't have aleppo pepper? Is it similar to cayenne?

12:08 PM, March 11, 2014  
Blogger Rocky Mountain Woman said...

I envision these in pita with vegetables and tahini...

oh yeah....

3:03 PM, March 11, 2014  
Blogger Evan Kendrick said...

HOW did you know I was craving meatballs?!?

3:28 PM, March 11, 2014  
Blogger Anna said...

Sorry, posted on the wrong topic! I roast them for 10 min then turn on the broiler on high for 2-3 minutes to get browned tops.

3:31 PM, March 11, 2014  
Anonymous molly said...

oy, yes. raw meat + seasonings is a hard sell.

but meatballs that crunch? and sing like falafel? of such things, transformations are made.

(thanks for this)


5:11 PM, March 11, 2014  
Anonymous Jessie Voigts said...

Whoa. Good thing I have all this stuff on hand, otherwise I'd be making a trip to the store tonight. Thank you!

6:44 PM, March 11, 2014  
Blogger Rhett said...

Yum! Yum! Yum! I love lamb! Can't wait to try these.

6:55 PM, March 11, 2014  
OpenID graceclaus said...

OH MY GOSH I LOVE THESE MEATBALLS. I've only ever done them pan-to-oven, but I'll try your method next time! (And I'm a huge fan of the chickpea olive salad on the side, but I always double the olives. I love me some green olives.)

7:13 PM, March 11, 2014  
Blogger Jesse said...

i've been wanting to try my hand at a ground lamb meatball for some time; how do you feel about the addition of feta to the meat mixture? it makes me feel a bit naughty, you know, in a good way?


10:03 AM, March 12, 2014  
Blogger Unknown said...

I made these tonight and three out of four of us inhaled them- the 8 year old just tolerated but that's par for our course. I went through and pan browned them but wish I had taken your advice and skipped it- they were so soft and I was so inept they were far from balls when done, more meatfootballs. The texture was indeed fabulous. We had them with couscous and a quick cucumber yogurt salad.

8:04 PM, March 12, 2014  
Blogger Christine said...

These ARE great. I make them the vegetarian route, adding another degree of digression, but I sub a veggie crumble + egg combo and bake them. Yum!

6:34 AM, March 13, 2014  
Blogger Gemma said...

I'm really not sure how I missed these meatballs - lamb meatballs are a big favourite (as are pork with capers, mustard,lemon zest, and parsley although I haven't made either for far too long)here and falafel-spicing... I think I need to get onto this!

9:45 AM, March 13, 2014  
Anonymous Sophie James said...

Never has a bowl of raw meat looked so photogenic and almost tartare-like. How do you manage this? There should be a law against it.I don't need more evidence that this recipe is glorious.Sophie

11:31 AM, March 13, 2014  
Anonymous Danielle said...

Parchment paper is one of the world's secret great inventions.

8:12 PM, March 13, 2014  
Anonymous Amanda Scott said...

Hi Molly! I made these last night for the family and they were a resounding success! We live in Paris and are falafel-obsessed (my week involves far too many trips to rue des rosiers) so your description of them being "lamb with a falafel flavor profile" sealed the deal. And they were delish! Thanks!

2:34 AM, March 14, 2014  
Anonymous Gaia said...

I have been reading your book for the fouth time these days and can't wait to get the new one!!

4:20 AM, March 14, 2014  
Anonymous morgansmenu said...

When a recipe calls for "breadcrumbs", do you use the kind in a can? Or panko breadcrumbs?

9:21 AM, March 14, 2014  
Blogger Molly said...

Hi, all!

So glad you feel as good about lamb meatballs as I do. I knew I liked you.

Anonymous, you could absolutely bake this as a meatloaf, yes.

Topham Beauclerk, as others suggested, I just mean to put the lamb and other listed ingredients, all the way down to cayenne, in a bowl together.

Ellen and morgansmenu, to make fresh breadcrumbs, I just take whatever day-old bread I have on hand - usually a rustic, French-style bread - and cut off and discard the crust, cut or tear the innards into rough cubes, and pulse the cubes in a food processor until you've got breadcrumbs roughly the size of a grain of rice. You can then put the crumbs in a bag and freeze them, if you like. They thaw quickly, and you can use them in any recipe calling for fresh breadcrumbs. Oh, and by "fresh," I just mean breadcrumbs that still have some softness and spring to them; they shouldn't be dry and sawdusty, like most store-bought ones.

Sue, if you don't have Aleppo pepper, you can use cayenne, yes, but use less! Cayenne is much, much spicier than Aleppo.

4:48 PM, March 14, 2014  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Bonjour, Molly! I just made these last night, following both your recipe and Deb's (I'm a Smitten Kitchen fan, too!), and they were fabulous! Our local fromagerie sells tzatziki, which was a wonderful addition to the meatballs. Great inspiration for dinner!

Elizabeth in Paris

2:56 AM, March 15, 2014  
Blogger Julia said...

I made these today for lunch (with turkey instead of lamb, because I couldn't find it) and they were delicious!!! It was also my first time baking meatballs and what a discovery, I'm not frying them again ever!

8:13 AM, March 15, 2014  
Blogger leya said...

Can't wait to make these. Going on this week's meal plan. Yes, ma'am! As always, thanks for the inspiration.

5:48 PM, March 15, 2014  
Blogger Clare said...

Okay, two things.

First, these meatballs sound awesome, and I'm totally making them for my birthday. So, thanks for that. :)

Second, I had to laugh at the noise machine comment in your post. As a brand new mom to a 3-week old, the ocean setting on our noise machine is saving our asses and sanity right now. I thank the heavens for that handy gadget.

6:16 PM, March 15, 2014  
Anonymous Laura said...

I have that cookbook, but VERY much miss having the recipe comments like on the site. This was I get them; thanks!

6:56 PM, March 15, 2014  
Blogger Swiss said...

I love meatballs so much - I usually just bake them...A combo I recently made up is using spinach in a nutmeg flavored like Swedish meatballs....I am thinking spinach would be good for these too....I love to freeze them too...I do them in serving size bags to take to work...do not have to freeze first, I have never had them stick together.

11:29 PM, March 15, 2014  
Anonymous Kelly said...

Wow! This takes me right to 1001 & 1 Signes in Paris--great Middle Eastern cuisine. Merci!

8:00 AM, March 18, 2014  
Blogger Monica said...

You helped inspire me to make the turkey version over the weekend (I already had ground turkey on hand) but I love the idea of lamb. Makes perfect sense and I'm really eager to taste it that way! And falafel-spiced is the perfect description/title, Molly!

2:18 PM, March 18, 2014  
Blogger Karen Thomas said...

I just made the Smitten Kitchen meatballs as well. Oh man are they good! I have been hoarding the leftovers :)

5:08 AM, March 19, 2014  
Anonymous deb said...

!!! I am so thrilled that you loved them. I agree that they're really fantastic with lamb. And I really like your title better.

4:47 PM, March 19, 2014  
Anonymous Mikey F. said...

I have never in my life baked meatballs.. I must try this method, and falafel?? YUMMY!!!

2:26 AM, March 20, 2014  
Anonymous Cassidy said...

I have made the smitten kitchen version several times and it is my family's favorite recipe from the book! Can't wait to try with lamb, but we like the turkey version A LOT. I skip the smashed chickpea salad in favor of my own recipe for hummus (daughter prefers smooth texture)with a touch of sumac added, and serve with warm pita bread, tszatsiki, tomatoes and crunchy lettuce. The meatballs are so delicious.

2:46 PM, March 24, 2014  
Blogger Maria said...

We made these yesterday (although we forgot to add the egg, they seemed to bind fine). With couscous and home made tzakiki.
They're really tasty, and I *love* your bake-only approach (the thing I like least about making ordinary meatballs is the frying in deep-ish oil).

2:56 PM, March 24, 2014  
Anonymous Jenny said...

These are fantastic. I left out the Aleppo pepper and cayenne (for "that's too spicy!" children) and added a 1/2 tsp of allspice, so good with lamb. Love the all-oven method.

4:50 PM, April 01, 2014  
Anonymous Lynn said...

Holy crap, these were good! Thanks for the inspiration.

6:12 PM, April 05, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These were delicious. Thanks so much for sharing. We put them in a pita with red onion and tomato slices and tahini sauce.

7:49 AM, April 07, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These were delicious. Thanks so much for sharing. We put them in a pita with red onion and tomato slices and tahini sauce.

4:38 AM, April 08, 2014  
Blogger Emma Nowinski said...

I've been taking these out of the freezer by the dozen, thawing them a bit, then letting them bathe in a simple tomato-onion-garlic sauce (a la Wednesday Chef: "Meatballs for New Mothers") until they come up to temperature. They lamb makes the whole concoction sooooo incredibly flavorful! I'm glad my three favorite bloggers have such synergy when it comes to meatballs!

- Emma in Seattle

12:33 PM, April 18, 2014  
Anonymous nnh said...

could i substitute panko breadcrumbs? no old bread in the house... thanks!

6:34 AM, May 30, 2014  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Made these for dinner tonight with pilaf and a giant Greek salad! Totally phenomenal. Thanks!

6:42 PM, August 08, 2014  

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