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Lynda Balslev: Lean into fall with these braised lamb meatballs

Lynda Balslev
Columnist
Meatballs are like a warm hug. They are unpretentious, homey and unfailingly comforting — just like that sweater you're about to put on.
Photo by Lynda Balslev for Tastefood

It’s officially autumn, so wave farewell to summer, wrap yourself in something cozy, and make some meatballs. Meatballs are like a warm hug. They are unpretentious, homey and unfailingly comforting — just like that sweater you’re about to put on.

Meatballs are also universally pleasing. Most cuisines seem to have a version of a meatball, with “meat” being the variable term. The iterations are numerous and diverse, yet consistent: from the traditional meaty marriage of beef and pork, to fishy concoctions such as Danish fiskefrikadeller or Brazilian bolinho de bacalhau, to vegetarian no-meatballs constructed of lentils and beans. Falafel, anyone?

The common denominator in these finger-licking morsels is a marriage of flavor and economy; they are an efficient and tasty way to stretch meat and repurpose trimmings and leftovers, while landing in a favorite comfort food group for adults and children alike. Everyone, it seems, loves a good meatball.



These are of the meaty ilk. They are lamb-heavy with a little beef added to keep the lamb in check. An unapologetic shower of spices and herbs delivers a whammy of flavor and fragrance, while a nugget of salty, creamy feta tucked into the centers oozes cheesy goodness throughout the meat. Fall never tasted so good.

Braised Lamb Meatballs With Smoky Tomato Sauce

Active Time: 30 minutes



Total Time: 1 hour, plus chilling time

Yield: Makes about 20 meatballs; Serves 4 to 6

Meatballs:

1 1/2 pounds ground lamb

1/2 pound ground beef

1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion

1/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, plus more for garnish

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

3 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 to 4 ounces feta, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus more for garnish

Sauce:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion

2 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with juices

2 large roasted red peppers from a jar, drained and finely chopped

1 tablespoon harissa sauce (or chili paste)

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the meatball ingredients except the feta in a bowl. Using your hands, gently mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed without overworking the meat.

Shape the meat into 1 1/2- to 2-inch balls. Make a small indentation in the center of each with your thumb and insert a feta cube, then close the meat around to seal it. Place the meatballs on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs in batches, without overcrowding, and brown on all sides, turning as needed, 5 to 7 minutes. (The meatballs will not be cooked through at this point. They will continue to cook in the sauce.) Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining meatballs.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons drippings from the pan. Add the onion and saute until soft, scraping up any brown bits, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, coriander and paprika and stir to create a slurry and to slightly toast the spices. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Return the meatballs to the sauce without completely submerging. Place in the oven and cook until the meatballs are thoroughly cooked, 20 to 30 minutes.

Serve warm, garnished with crumbled feta and chopped fresh cilantro leaves.

Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area

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