A gem of a recipe from the Eastern Mediterranean kitchen, these succulent meatballs bathe in a sauce that will have you scraping the bowl. I have seen similar recipes for whole lamb shanks or chunks of shoulder, but meatballs cook more quickly. They are browned first, and then simmered in broth, but the magic happens just before serving, when yogurt and a beaten egg are whisked in to thicken the juices. Sizzling red-pepper butter provides a final flourish. Serve with bulgur or rice pilaf, or with egg noodles.


  • Lamb Meatballs
    • 1 lb. ground lamb
    • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
    • ½ cup fine fresh bread crumbs
    • ½ cup finely minced yellow onion
    • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
    • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
    • ½ teaspoon toasted and ground cumin seeds (see note)
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • Yogurt Sauce
    • 2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
    • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
    • 2 cloves garlic, grated or finely minced (see note)
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
    • 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
  • Red Pepper Butter
    • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
    • ½ teaspoon medium-hot coarsely ground red pepper such as Aleppo or Maras pepper (see note), or hot paprika
    • ½ teaspoon toasted and ground cumin seeds (see note)


1. To make the lamb meatballs: Combine all the ingredients and mix well with your hands. Shape into 24 balls, dipping your hands in cold water as needed to keep the mixture from sticking.

Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat. When the oil is hot, add the meatballs; they should fit in a single layer. Fry gently, turning the meatballs with two soup spoons so they brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a plate. Pour off and discard any fat in the skillet.

Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the broth. Stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet and simmer until they dissolve. Return the meatballs to the skillet, cover, and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, and then transfer the meatballs to a plate using a slotted spoon.
2. Yogurt Sauce: In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, egg, garlic, dill, and mint. Slowly whisk in about 1 ⁄ 2 cup of the hot broth to warm the yogurt, and then pour the yogurt mixture into the skillet. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the sauce visibly thickens and just begins to simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Return the meatballs to the skillet and turn to coat them with the sauce. Cover and simmer gently until hot.
3. Red Pepper Butter: Divide the meatballs and sauce among 4 to 6 warmed bowls. Put the butter in a small saucepan or butter warmer and set over medium heat. When the butter melts, add the red pepper and cumin and swirl the pan until the butter foams and sizzles and the pepper’s aroma rises. Drizzle each portion with some of the red-pepper butter. Garnish with chopped dill.


Toasting & Grinding Cumin Seeds
Ground cumin is much more fragrant if you make it from whole seeds that you toast and grind only as needed. Put the seeds in a small dry skillet and cook over moderate heat‚ swirling the pan often‚ until the cumin darkens and becomes fragrant‚ 2 to 3 minutes. Let cool‚ and then grind into a fine powder in a mortar or spice grinder.
Grating vs. Mincing Garlic
I typically use a Microplane‚ a rasp-style grater available at kitchenware stores‚ when adding garlic to yogurt. You can also mince the garlic finely with a knife‚ but I find that grated garlic infuses the yogurt better. It practically dissolves‚ so you don’t perceive any little bits of garlic in the yogurt. However‚ for a dish with sautéed garlic‚ such as Orzo with Spicy Lamb‚ Chickpeas‚ & Yogurt (page 72)‚ I prefer to mince it‚ as grated garlic produces too strong a flavor.
Maras & Aleppo Pepper
Aleppo pepper is from Syria (though also grown in Turkey)‚ Maras pepper is from Turkey‚ but both of these coarsely ground red peppers have a fruity‚ earthy flavor and a medium-low to medium level of heat. Keep in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator or freezer up to 6 months.


Janet Fletcher


4 servings




European : Mediterranean