Lamb Meatballs with a Broken Yogurt Saffron Sauce

March  1, 2010
4 Ratings
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

At 2am I got out of bed and went to the kitchen to write down a recipe idea for a lamb, blood orange, feta and mint tapas. Yes, 2am, if I have an idea and I don't write it down it is apt to disappear. I will stop anything I am doing to write down a recipe. I went back to sleep and on Sunday I started working on my new idea. Made it, loved it and its many layers of flavor. I photographed it and went about my day. The recipe makes 16 meatballs so there were leftovers and now it was dinner time. This was a spur of the moment creation that happened at the stove and it, at least to us who ate it, is amazing. The blood orange zest, mint and feta all stand out and hit the palate in different places and at different times. This uses whole milk yogurt and I usually don't care if people substitute but this is probably one time I would think twice and not use lowfat yogurt. Normally I would have sauteed the meatballs in the same pan as I was going to make the sauce but in this case I think by precooking them it keeps all the flavors from becoming muddled. I served it with a simple cous cous and some braised kale with pine nuts and raisins. —thirschfeld

What You'll Need
  • For the meatballs:
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest or blood orange when in season,, finely grated, about 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin, crushed in a mortar and pestal
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup Manchego cheese, grated
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • For the broken yogurt sauce:
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons each of ground cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, cayanne, black pepper and seasalt
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon tumeric
  • .
  • 1 onion, sliced thin, approx 1 cup
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pinch saffron, a healthy pinch, crumbled
  • 2 teaspoons Double concentrated tomato paste, the stuff in the tube
  • 1 cup whole milk yogurt
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and white pepper
  • 1/2 cup sheeps milk feta, crumbled finely
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh mint, minced
  1. For the meatballs:
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. To make the panada, in a large mixing bowl combine the milk, bread crumbs, zest and cumin and set aside. In a small saute pan, set over medium heat, add the olive oil and sweat the shallot and garlic until translucent. Season with salt and pepper remove it from the heat and let it cool a little and then add it to the bread mixture. Add salt and pepper, about a 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt and then combine the panada with the lamb, egg and Manchego. Using your hands mix it until the mixture becomes sticky and has absorbed all the egg.
  3. Place parchment paper onto, or lightly oil, a sheet tray. I used a number 40 scoop to make the meatballs but a walnut sized piece would be about the same size. Roll the meatballs in your hands until they are smooth and round. Place all the meatballs onto the sheet tray and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. This can be done in advance and the meatballs can be stored, covered, in the fridge.
  1. For the broken yogurt sauce:
  2. To make the Ethiopian spice mix combine all the spices, paprika and turmeric in a mixing bowl and mix to combine. This makes more than enough spice and it is a great addition to lentils and many other dishes. Remove 1 tablespoon of the mix and place the remainder in a jar with a lid and store.
  3. Place a 10 inch saute pan over medium high heat. Add add the olive oil and onions and saute until the onions just start to brown. Add the garlic and once you start to smell the aroma of the garlic add 1 tablespoon of the Ethiopian spice mix then the saffron and tomato paste. Stir to combine the ingredients and then add the yogurt and cream. Let itcome to a boil, this should break the yogurt into tiny globules, and then add the meatballs. Stir to coat the meatballs and reduce the heat to a simmer stirring occasionally to keep the sauce from scorching on the bottom of the pan. Simmer until the meatballs are warmed all the way through. Place the meatballs onto a warmed platter and top them with the sauce and then sprinkle with crumbled feta and mint. Serve.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Ida-Maria Skavhaug
    Ida-Maria Skavhaug
  • QueenSashy
  • Kitty T.
    Kitty T.
  • gingerroot
  • TheWimpyVegetarian

32 Reviews

cookingisfun January 24, 2021
Love this recipe! I have made this a dozen plus times! Only thing I do differently is I cut my onions in half. I also serve it with Israeli Couscous (the large pearl size).
Phoov August 24, 2017
Just made this for dinner and it was extremely noteworthy. Excellent combination of flavors. Thanks for posting!
yquinonez March 12, 2016
Saved this recipe years ago and finally got around to it. Served with greens, cucumbers and pita bread. Really liked it! I tripled the sauce, it is not time-consuming, good option for dinner parties as meatballs can be prepared way ahead and sauce made in a cinch.
Ida-Maria S. October 16, 2015
This was amazing - thanks for sharing!!
LizCo77 January 12, 2015
Delicious! Even the cobbled together version I made. Subbing a Lebanese spice mix someone gifted me, I thought we had saffron but we sure didn't, I used half and half instead of cream, and farmers market pre-made raita instead of plain yogurt with a mint garnish. I basically did nothing right, and it was still amazing. Some roasted butternut squash mixed it with sauteed kale and pine nuts kept it excellent company. Thank you for the awesome recipe!
SusanKP September 15, 2014
I have some berbere. Is that the result of the spice mix listed for the sauce?
QueenSashy April 21, 2013
I made this yesterday for a dinner party and we licked our plates. All guested requested the recipe to take home. I made a separate bunch of meatballs (without the sauce) for the kids - the kids ate them and all came back for our stuff.
neighome June 17, 2012
I served this for a dinner party last night and it was a hit. I made the meatballs ahead, and prepared the sauce up to the point where the cream is stirred in. When it was time to serve I just had to add the yogurt and simmer. The sauce was just a slight bit more bitter than I wanted. It was easily remedied with a tiny drizzle of honey (about 1 tsp). Also, I doubled the recipe but only got 6 servings out of it. Something to consider next time. Thanks for this wonderful recipe; you made me a star!
ElizabethW April 3, 2012
A party hit!! I made this for mother's birthday -- for25 guests. It was remarkably easily to quadruple the recipe. Made the balls the night before. To save money, I used veal instead of lamb. I also feel veal makes for a lighter meatball. I also made the sauce the night before, up to the tomato paste part, then refridgerated until just before the party when i added the dairy. I cut the heavy cream in the sauce with milk. Turned out just fine! Guests couldn't get enough of it -- and it's very easy to eat standing up -- no knife required! I paired it with a fennel, blood orange, mint and hazelnut salad. I recommend it for a party entree.
Kitty T. March 27, 2011
Simply perfection. Rich and complex flavors. The meatballs were moist and flavorful and the sauce was to die for!
gingerroot August 11, 2010
This sounds (and looks) really really good. I look forward to trying this soon!
TheWimpyVegetarian August 11, 2010
I must have missed this when you first posted it, so I'm glad we're doing meatballs this week and I have another shot at seeing it! It looks just amazing with such a wonderful combination of ingredients. Great job, Chef Tom!
JoanG August 10, 2010
I love the mix of ingredients and great photo!
ody March 25, 2010
Just made this last night---it was awesome! The orange and cumin in the meatballs was a lovely touch, as was the Ethiopian spice in the sauce, with the mint and the creamy half-melted feta---mmmm. I doubled the recipe and used equal parts beef and lamb (b/c that's what I had on hand), which worked great. Also omitted the fenugreek because I don't like it. I overmixed the meatballs and lost out on texture there, but that's easy to fix in the future. I served with whole wheat cous cous and sauteed spinach---we all ended up mixing the spinach right into the meatballs on our plates; the combination worked really well.

Things I would do next time I made it: add more salt throughout; infuse the saffron in a little water; cut the cream in the sauce with whole milk or half-and-half (though I agree about the whole milk yogurt); add a little feta to the meatball mix.
Lizthechef March 24, 2010
I'm still reeling over your meatloaf, but, OK, I'll try this too! Thumbs up for sure.
testkitchenette March 6, 2010
My husband and I just finished this recipe and it was so tasty. I had to make some substitutions because my local grocery didn't have fenugreek or ground lamb at the moment. Standing in for the lamb was organic ground turkey and no fenugreek. What great layers of flavors.
Some of the components of the sauce reminded me of one of my favorite (so hard to choose) of Amanda's recipes in CfML...the caramelized onion and sheep's milk cheese and I believe yogurt as well. I will bake this over whole wheat penne tomorrow with feta sprinkled on top. Thank you for such a creative recipe and I unique way of presenting meatballs (Did you hear of the new restaurant in NYC that only cooks meatballs from around the world?) They have nothing on you!
thirschfeld March 6, 2010
Thank you so much for making this and I am so glad you liked it. It is funny as a chef, cook, and lover of food you live for a moments of spontianity and things just come together. It is one of the many reasons all of us foodies stand in front of the stove.
testkitchenette March 5, 2010
I am making this tomorrow and am so excited!
EmilyNunn March 3, 2010
Yes, you rock the party, as the kids say.
testkitchenette March 2, 2010
What an amazing way of bringing all the ingredients together! Ground lamb is on my next grocery list!
Hadyourtea? March 2, 2010
Stunning dish - I am going to make it as a starter for friends on saturday night. The sauce looks so beautiful.