Lamb Meatballs With Tahini Sauce & Red Onion Salad

June 22, 2021
7 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland Prop Stylist: Ali Slagle Food Stylist: Pearl Jones
  • Prep time 25 hours
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

I try to sneak the flavors of lamb shawarma into as many meals as I can, and this meatball scratches that itch without much effort. Warm spices, zippy tahini dressing, bright sumac, and a red onion salad all come together in a pillowy pita. The real bonus is that everything is just as delicious when you turn the leftovers into a cold sandwich the next day. The mixture of crackers and water is called panade, and it helps the meatballs stay tender and moist. And we keep things interesting with a combination of cooked (onion, spices) and raw (parsley, more spices) aromatics for layers of flavors. Everything is thoroughly mixed until springy and sticky, then allowed to rest before cooking until deeply browned.

Also try my Turmeric Fish Balls With Peanut Sauce & So Many Herbs—and learn more about how to make juicy, flavorful meatballs with any minced meat here, so you can take meatballs off-script. —Sohla El-Waylly

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Lamb Meatballs With Tahini Sauce & Red Onion Salad
  • Lamb meatballs
  • 1 cup (2 ounces) Ritz crackers
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled, and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1/2 cup (lightly packed) roughly chopped parsley leaves and tender stems
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon Kashmiri red chile powder (or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Neutral oil, such as safflower or grapeseed, for brushing
  • Tahini sauce
  • 1/2 cup well-stirred tahini
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more) kosher salt
  • Red onion & parsley salad
  • 1/2 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup (lightly packed) torn parsley leaves
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon ground sumac
  • 1/4 teaspoon (or more) kosher salt
  • Fixings & assembly
  • 1 large beefsteak tomato, roughly chopped
  • 1 small Persian cucumber, roughly chopped
  • 4 pitas, warmed
  • Hot sauce, for serving
  1. Make the lamb meatballs: In a large bowl, crush the Ritz crackers with your fingers into coarse pieces, ranging in size from large cornflakes to panko-sized bits. Add 1/2 cup of water and mix with your hands until moistened and incorporated, but still lumpy. Let rest for 5 minutes.
  2. In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Cook the onion, garlic, black pepper, coriander, and cumin, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until tender, translucent, and fragrant. Scrape into the bowl with the Ritz cracker mixture.
  3. To the Ritz cracker mixture, add the lamb, parsley, egg, turmeric, red chile powder, salt, and cinnamon. Using your hands, knead for 3 to 5 minutes, until well combined, slightly sticky, and springy. (Alternatively, mix the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed for about 1 minute, until well combined and springy.) Wrap and chill in the refrigerator for ideally 24 hours (if you’re in a rush, you can shorten that to 3 hours; if you want to plan ahead, you can refrigerate for up to 3 days).
  4. Heat a grill to medium or a broiler to high with a rack 6 inches from the heat source. Portion the lamb mixture with a #16 disher or a 1/4-cup measure (you should get about 14). Wet your hands, then roll the portions between your palms to form smooth balls. Rub or brush the meatballs all over with the oil.
  5. Grill or broil the meatballs, carefully flipping once with a spoon or offset spatula halfway through, for 16 to 18 minutes, until browned on all sides and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a meatball registers at least 155°F (it’s okay if they are cooked to a higher temperature), or no longer look pink in the center when split in half. Let the meatballs rest for 5 minutes before serving.
  6. Make the tahini sauce: While the meatballs rest, prepare the tahini sauce and red onion salad: In a medium bowl, whisk the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, oil, and salt until well combined. Whisk in 4 to 5 tablespoons of ice water until the consistency is smooth and as thick as pancake batter. Taste and add more salt if needed.
  7. Make the red onion and parsley salad: In another medium bowl, massage the onion, parsley, lemon juice, sumac, and salt with your hands until the onions have wilted. Taste and add more salt if needed.
  8. Prepare the fixings and assemble everything together: Serve the meatballs on a platter alongside the tahini sauce, red onion salad, chopped tomato, chopped cucumber, warm pitas, and hot sauce.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Renea Nielsen
    Renea Nielsen
  • grumpytechie
  • sara
  • sarafin1
Sohla El-Waylly is a Food52 Resident, sharing new riffable recipes every month that'll help you get creative in the kitchen. Watch her cook on YouTube in her new series, Off-Script With Sohla. Before she started developing fun recipes for home cooks, she worked as a chef in N.Y.C. and L.A., briefly owning a restaurant in Brooklyn with her husband and fellow chef, Ham El-Waylly. She lives in the East Village with Ham, their two dogs, and cat. Find out what else she's up to on Instagram @sohlae

7 Reviews

grumpytechie October 21, 2023
This recipe is so bananas good. We scale it up and freeze the remaining meatballs so my spouse and I (who work long days) have easy meals. We adapted it to be GF because I have celiac, and typically I use a blend of GF breadcrumbs and GF cracker crumbs as the starch, and we use leaner meat like ground turkey and chicken. Turns out amazing every time.
Anyway, I never comment, but this recipe, as a basis and method for meatballs, is amazing and delicious and has literally made getting dinner on the table light years easier.
Renea N. July 2, 2022
We've probably made this recipe 15 times in the last year and it's always such a winner. This is probably the best meal I've found on Food 52. Thanks SOHLA EL-WAYLLY!
sara August 10, 2021
if you wanted to make them gluten free, would GF oats work here like they do in meatloaf or do you need a special type of GF cracker?
sarafin1 June 30, 2021
Really amazing recipe. I actually made them with Impossible Meat(TM). They ended up marinating in my fridge for over 24 hours, so I was worried the faux meat wouldn't hold up, but it totally did! I used Panko bread crumbs and roasted in the oven on parchment paper. Worked great. Served with some Moroccan couscous.
Juliet S. June 19, 2021
These are... alarmingly good
Mmgourley June 15, 2021
I followed the recipe (and video) as written (refrigerating for 24hr) and they were fabulous - good seasoning, just a slight kick but still a delicate flavor. Followed Sohla’s recommendation of mixing for 5 minutes. It’s well worth it and gives you a good arm workout. They came out tender and the balls were very easy to roll coming out of the fridge. I did make the balls smaller, approximately the size of fish balls for hot pot. Be sure to keep a close eye on the grill, I got a good char on them.
Rather than accompany with the tahini and red onion salad, I grilled vegetables (zucchini, mushroom, broccoli, cherry tomatoes) and served with a little orzo.
A wonderful summer meal!
Next up - Sohla’s fish balls!
pinkglitterybrain June 11, 2021
Made this yesterday and everyone loved them! I fried them like in the video. They cooked quickly and were a beautiful color.
The trick to wet your hands before rolling the balls with your hands was a huge help :)