4 hr total 1 hr prep
These are not straight-up Italian meatballs. The sauce has a bit of North Africa as well as the Mediterranean in it, so the dish is exotic and comforting at once. The sauce has a whiff of cumin and mint, both good friends to ground lamb. Just before I serve the meatballs, I add little blobs of yogurt, crack a few eggs into the pot, and let them poach.
Recipe from of A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories by April Bloomfield/Ecco, 2012.
FOR THE MEATBALLS:
- 2 1/2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 1/2 tablespoons Maldon or another flaky sea salt
- 1/2 pound (about 2 cups) fine bread crumbs (see note)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
FOR THE SAUCE:
- 1 large Spanish onion, finely chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon Maldon or another flaky sea salt
- 2 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
- 2 Dutch or other spicy long red chilies, pierced with a sharp knife
- One 28-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes, drained trimmed and squished with your hands
- About 1/2 cup whole-milk Greek-style yogurt
- 4 large eggs
- A small handful of mint leaves
- A small handful of small, delicate cilantro sprigs
- Extra virgin olive oil
Meat grinder or meat grinder attachment of a stand mixer (see note)
Note: When I call for bread crumbs, I mean stale bread (two days or so old) pulsed in a food processor until it’s coarse (about the size of lentils) or fine (slightly larger than grains of sand), depending on the recipe. It you don’t have stale bread, you can replicate the texture by popping the bread into a low oven for a bit, until it’s slightly dried out but hasn’t colored.
Grinding your own meat: For meatballs, you want to use light, airy, delicate ground meat, which is why I like to grind it myself. Often the ground meat you see on supermarket shelves is already overmixed, paste like and sticky. You can use either a dedicated meat grinder or the attachment for your stand mixer. Before I form my meatballs, I like to roll a tester and fry it in a pan to check the seasoning (and because it makes a nice little snack).
Make the meatballs: Put the lamb in a large mixing bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and pop it into the freezer until the edges get crunchy, about 1 hour.
Toss the lamb well with the salt, then add the bread crumbs and toss again. Use a meat grinder (or the grinder attachment of a stand mixer) to grind the mixture through a medium die into a bowl. Put the mixture through the medium die once more.
Take a bit of the mixture in your hand, give it a few firm but still rather gentle squeezes, and roll it into a ball (you’re shooting for each one to be a little bigger than a golf ball). Overworking the mixture is bad and leads to tough meatballs, but this warning often makes cooks too timid when they form the balls: the outside of each ball should be smooth, with no big cracks or crags. Gently pinch any cracks closed so the ball doesn’t fall apart in the pan. Repeat with the remaining mixture.
Add the oil to a 8- to 9-quart Dutch oven with a lid, set the pan over high heat, and swirl the oil in the pan. When it just begins to smoke, cook the meatballs in batches to avoid crowding, turning them occasionally with tongs, so they develop a beautiful, shiny, deep-brown crust on all sides. You don’t want to cook them too fast. If you see any black spots, turn your heat down a little. Keep at it until you’re happy with the color of each one, transferring them to a plate when they finish browning. It’ll take 12 to 15 minutes per batch. Drain half the fat remaining in the pot.
Make the sauce: Lower the heat to medium-high, add the onion, garlic, and salt, and cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and lightly browned and the garlic smells toasty and is a deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, and chilies and cook for a minute, stirring constantly.
Turn the heat to low, add the tomatoes, and simmer gently until the tomatoes begin to stick to the bottom of the pot, about 10 minutes.
Add 4 cups water and raise the heat to bring the sauce to a boil, then turn it down to maintain a gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes more. Transfer 2 cups of the sauce to a blender, give it a whiz until it’s smooth and airy, and stir it back into the sauce in the pot. (I always freak out at this point, because the sauce seems so bland, but don’t worry–it’ll taste amazing after you’re done.)
Return the meatballs and their juices to the pot and stir gently to coat them in the sauce. Cover the pot, tweak the heat if need be to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook for about 30 minutes to let the flavors come together.
Finish the dish: Turn the heat to low, add blobs of the yogurt, and crack the eggs here and there into the sauce. Tear and sprinkle in the mint leaves and cilantro, and add a good drizzle of olive oil. Cover the pot and turn the heat to medium. Cook until the egg whites have just set (I like my yolks a little runny), 10 to 15 minutes.
Eat it right away, from the pot or divided among shallow bowls, making sure everyone gets an egg and some yogurt.