Lamb Meatballs with Spinach and Orzo

April 17, 2017
9 Ratings
Photo by Aran Goyoaga
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Serves 4-6
Author Notes

It took me a while to appreciate the rich, almost grassy flavor of lamb, but cooking with ground lamb is a treat. Don’t be intimidated! It pretty much behaves just like beef. These meatballs have a flavor both deep and bright, but also with plenty of zip from fresh lemon zest and crumbled feta. Our trusty Dutch oven lets us cook both the meatballs and the orzo at once, and the resulting dish is creamy, meaty, and richly satisfying. —Molly Gilbert

What You'll Need
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
  • 9 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, plus more for topping
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
  • 2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups orzo
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, with a rack in the center position.
  2. In a large bowl, gently combine the lamb, spinach, onion, feta cheese, egg, bread crumbs, garlic, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the salt, and pepper until well mixed. Form the mixture into 1½-inch meatballs, being careful not to squeeze the mixture too vigorously (working gently ensures tender meatballs).
  3. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium (5- to 6-quart) Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the meatballs and cook, turning, until browned all over, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside on a plate to rest.
  4. Add the orzo to the Dutch oven and stir to coat with the oils in the pan. Stir in the broth, then return the meatballs to the pan.
  5. Cover the pot and bake until the orzo has absorbed most of the liquid and a thermometer inserted into the largest meatball reads 160°F, about 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the orzo is completely tender, about 10 minutes. If it doesn’t look like the liquid is totally absorbed but the orzo is well done, give the pot a gentle stir to incorporate the liquid.
  6. Serve warm, topped with some feta and the mint.
  7. FUN HACK! MEATBALL SHORTCUT I’ve included instructions to brown the meatballs first, before adding the orzo, because I like the dark color and caramelized flavor it imparts, but if you’re short on time (or patience), you can definitely skip this step—just add the raw meatballs to the orzo immediately after adding the chicken broth, then proceed with the recipe as written.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • 16bitclaudes
  • Shannon Jilbert
    Shannon Jilbert
  • OPTOMontheEdge
  • MP Carter
    MP Carter
  • FrugalCat

23 Reviews

16bitclaudes August 13, 2023
This made a nice change for a weeknight! I did make a few deviations: my lamb mince was 20% fat so I definitely didn't require the amount of olive oil called for. I didn't use any in the meatball mixture and only added 1tbsp to the pot - I'm glad I made this change otherwise it would have ended up feeling very greasy.

I also ended up adding less feta and more spinach to the meatballs (simply because I didn't have that much cheese left in the fridge) and this didn't seem to do things any harm.

My orzo was unfortunately on the blander side but I am pretty sure this was due to my weaker chicken stock rather than any fault with the recipe - the meatballs and a scattering of extra feta and fresh herbs on the top more than made up for it! I'd happily make it again with a better stock. :)
Shannon J. July 22, 2023
This is an amazing and easy recipe. It makes enough meatballs for two dinners.
jeanna M. February 2, 2023
One of my go-to recipes for a hearty meal for my family, and they love the flavor profiles.
OPTOMontheEdge January 25, 2023
What a tasty treat. I subbed quest fresco for the feta and it turned out beautifully. My only complaint is that the recipe calls for 1.5lbs of ground lamb, when you can really only find it in 1lb packages. But the recipe was easy to follow, and delicious to eat.
Susan January 16, 2019
This is a family favorite. Only thing I change is I use fresh spinach and run it through my food processor till it is fine. I use about 6 large handfuls. Other then that I wouldn’t change a thing and the family Gobbles it up !
China M. May 16, 2019
Thanks for sharing this! I wanted to use some fresh spinach and it's great to know someone else already tried it.
MP C. August 6, 2018
Yum yummy! I used about a cup of chopped fresh baby spinach in place of the frozen, otherwise spot on delish!
FrugalCat July 15, 2018
Heavenly. Went with white onion (don't like cooking with red onion) and used parsley instead of mint. I've tried it with both regular and whole wheat orzo.
Debra February 15, 2018
I don't eat lamb. Will this work with a mix of ground beef and pork?
Jennifer S. October 8, 2017
Tried this again and it worked better this way: leave the spinach and feta out of the meatballs. Add the spinach when you take the lid off the pot (just give it a stir) and throw on all the feta after cooking. This way the meatballs stay together but you still get all the flavor.
girlwithaknife September 24, 2017
Lamb is hard to find relative to beef: any chance the recipe would work with beef?
girlwithaknife September 28, 2017
I ended up making this with a pound of ground turkey. Adjusted ratio of ingredients. I baked half the meatballs separately while the orzo was baking to save them for another dish. For the orzo I combined 1c pasta with 1.5c broth and baked for just over 10 minutes- I've never had better orzo, just perfect! The meatballs were a little dry but I think it was because I used turkey. Planning to put the rest in an avgolemono soup, though, so I think it'll still be great!
Christy September 4, 2017
So delicious! I made this twice. The first time I used goat cheese instead of feta cheese thinking it was close enough. The second time I used authentic feta cheese, which was so much better.
Renette Y. August 29, 2017
Just literally made this for dinner and it was delicious. I did find it a little greasy/fatty. Any suggestions on how to cut through the grease?
Sandy W. September 19, 2017
I no longer fry meatballs - I bake them on a broiler rack so excess fat drips into the lower pan. About 30 minutes at 350F. Much less grease, but they still brown. Since there's not really a lot of grease in the bottom, I add a little water to prevent burning and spattering.
Renette Y. September 19, 2017
Thanks! That's a great idea,
Amanda B. August 6, 2017
Made this with a few minor substitutions and it was SO delicious.

Used two pounds of lamb and just went a bit generous on the other meatball ingredients (also used two medium eggs rather than one egg). Meatballs did not fall apart at all. Had goat cheese on hand so used that instead of feta, worked just fine and I tend to prefer goat cheese anyway. Also added a splash of white wine into the broth, because wine just makes everything better.

The flavor of the orzo as it picks up the lamb grease and brown bits left behind from browning the meatballs is just phenomenal. If I'd change anything it would be to add some heat via crushed red pepper or maybe a couple dashes of cayenne... but I generally just enjoy spicy food.

Absolutely would make again!!!
judy June 1, 2017
made this for dinner tonight. Delish!. Used arborio rice instead of orzo. couldn't find orzo. so I don't know if it made an overall difference. Didn't matter, my family devoured and went back for seconds. I placed the spinach on a vegetable steamer then squeezed it dry by pressing it agianst the bottom of the steamer with a potatoe masher. Steamer is metal and the masher is an older grid style. Anyway, it worked beautifully. Never did that before, but it sure was a shortcut to drying out the frozen spinach. Necessity being the mother of invention, I only did it that way because the microwave is not working. Now I will always do it that way. worked great. Leftovers tomorrow night. Served this with roasted eggplant and zucchini. Thanks for a great recipe!
heatheranne May 7, 2017
Anyone else find that they had too much liquid left after cooking? Not a huge deal, and it was still really tasty (I love lamb!), but it was pretty soupy.
Jennifer S. May 3, 2017
So delicious! The meatballs sort of fell apart but it didn't matter. This is a great short cut version of the traditional stewed lamb and orzo, and with the addition of feta might be even better. We'll be making this again.
Yvette April 22, 2017
I made this for dinner last night as well and it was fantastic. I wish I had more feta to sprinkle on top - will remember for next time. About 30mins hands on work in the kitchen making the meatballs etc. before popping it all in the oven - and then it turned out beautifully. This recipe will be in heavy rotation for sure.
rlsalvati April 22, 2017
Made this for dinner last night, my husband and I both loved it. The meatballs were tender and delicious; the broth-baked orzo with soft bits of feta and the hint of lemon--so good. We get ground lamb from our CSA, in pound packages, I went with the 1 lb. package and cut back a bit on the salt and breadcrumbs. Also used a bag of fresh spinach from the CSA rather than frozen, destemmed and cleaned, wilted in the microwave, squeezed of excess water and chopped. Frozen spinach would have been so much easier! I was worried about the meatballs fitting in my 5-quart dutch oven, I browned them in several batches, but once I added the orzo and broth they all snugged in on top and everything was fine.
Ellen L. April 21, 2017
Hey Molly-- another meatball hack/shortcut that I use out of laziness is instead of browning the meatballs in a skillet, I lightly oil the raw meatballs and lay them on a baking sheet and brown them using my broiler setting in the oven.