There are Meatballs, and Then There are These Meatballs.
I mentioned in my tahdig recipe post, that when I make tahdig I like to give it my full attention and have whatever else I’m serving either warming up in the oven or being grilled by someone else. In this case, I made this lamb meatball recipe the day before, and had it warming in the oven as I made the tahdig.
This is the kind of recipe that only gets better when left to sit for a day or two. The meatballs are pretty straightforward. Cook chopped onions in butter, add them to the ground lamb, along with eggs, crushed saltines, a little heavy cream and plenty of interesting seasonings. In this case I used harissa paste, crushed fennel and cumin seeds, black garlic powder, salt, pepper, and plenty of chopped parsley.
I shared this recipe with a friend who served it to vegetarian friends. He substituted a vegan mince for the lamb and said it was highly successful. I haven’t tried it myself, but I trust his judgment and thought I’d pass along the tip.
I do want to mention that I ground my own leg of lamb for these, using the medium sized grinding blade on my meat grinder attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer. I’ve found that I really like this level of grind. It gives me a chunkier texture for my meatballs and keeps them from being at all mushy. But you could also use ground lamb from your supermarket and end up with a good result, as long as you don’t over mix them and handle them too much. I briefly broiled them in order to get them browned, but didn’t allow them to cook all the way through.
The sauce I made for these is where things get really exciting. It’s simple to make, but tastes fresh and interesting. I started out with the basics – sautéed onions in olive oil and a big can of tomatoes. Then came the fun part. I grated a peeled red beet and added it, along with a couple cups of pomegranate juice and dried fenugreek leaves, to the sauce. A little bit of fish sauce added depth to those profound flavors. After letting it cook for a half hour, basic salt and pepper seasoning finished it off.
I added the meatballs to the pot and let them simmer for 10 minutes, turning them in the sauce a couple of times. You could serve it up at that point, or do as I did and cover the pot, let it chill overnight and warm it up in a 325° oven for about a half hour before topping it with plenty of pomegranate arils and parsley.
The sauce is sweet and tart from the pomegranate juice, but earthy from the beets, tomatoes and onions. I highly recommend getting dried fenugreek leaves if you don’t already have them. Their flavor is musky, complex, and slightly bitter. I’ve been adding them to deeply flavored sauces, etc. and they add a beautiful herbal element of flavor.
The combination of lamb meatballs with this sauce is right up there. It’s just great. And it is worthy of serving with the tahdig. No more words necessary.