For Easter I wanted to make lamb, but I couldn’t decide if I wanted to do lamb chops or a lamb roast. I was flipping through April’s Bon Appetit and came across a gorgeous photo of lamb meatballs in a chile sauce on a bed of yogurt and cucumbers. Decision made! I always like to do a flavorful spin on a traditional holiday recipes, and these spicy meatballs definitely surprised my palate. They are nicely browned on the exterior, unbelievably tender in the center, and bursting with salty, smoky, and spicy flavors. The yogurt and cucumbers provide a fresh and cooling contrast. However, I did think between the dressing for the cucumbers, the tartness of the yogurt, and the zippy chile sauce, there was a lot going on, maybe too much. Next time I make this, instead of the cucumbers in dressing and plain yogurt, I will substitute tzatziki sauce and plain, sliced cucumber for garnish.
adapted from: Bon Appetit
3 guajillo chiles (or pasilla chiles), seeds removed, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/4 cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon brown sugar
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
meatballs & assembly
1/4 small onion, chopped
7 garlic cloves chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 1/4 pound ground lamb
1 tablespoon rice flour or all-purpose flour
4-5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 English hothouse cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
a few splashes of vinegar (sherry, red or white wine)
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup plain sheep’s milk or cow’s whole-milk yogurt
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
crushed red pepper flakes, for serving
special equipment: a spice (or spare coffee) grinder or a mortar & pestle
Toast chiles, red pepper flakes, and cumin seeds in a dry small skillet over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until fragrant and cumin seeds are golden, about 3 minutes. Let cool. Working in batches, finely grind in spice mill, then transfer to a blender.
Add vinegar, paprika, and garlic to blender and blend until smooth. With motor running, gradually stream in oil and blend until combined. Transfer to a large bowl; season with salt.
Do ahead: chile sauce can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.
meatballs and assembly
Pulse onion, chopped garlic, parsley, oregano, sage, fennel seeds, coriander, cumin and 1 tablespoon salt in a food processor, scraping down sides as needed, until finely chopped. Add egg, lamb, and flour and pulse until evenly combined. Form lamb mixture into 1 1/2 inch balls.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches and adding another 1 tablespoon oil to skillet if needed, cook meatballs, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides and cooked through, 5-8 minutes. (If they are well browned but not cooked through, you can throw them in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes until cooked through.) Transfer meatballs to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Transfer all meatballs to bowl with chile sauce and toss to coat.
Toss cucumber in a medium bowl with lemon zest, lemon juice, vinegar, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon yogurt into bowls. Evenly divide meatballs among bowls; top with dressed cucumber and mint and sprinkle with red pepper flakes.
Do ahead: meatball mixture can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.