Food & Drink

In the Kitchen With: Janet Fletcher’s Lamb Meatballs

by Kristina Gill


I go through cookbook phases periodically. At times, I really want varied recipes from someone whose writing and food tastes are interesting to me. Other times, I really seek out books based on a single theme.  This week’s recipe for Lamb Meatballs in Warm Yogurt Sauce with Sizzling Red-Pepper Butter comes from the latter category. It appears in the most recent book by author Janet Fletcher, Yogurt: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. I chose this recipe because it is simple, yet a bit more complex in flavors than what we usually run on the column. It is truly versatile and can be eaten alone, or served over grains (as pictured) or egg noodles, as Janet recommends. The recipe also makes me daydream about taking a trip to the Eastern Mediterranean to eat more really great food!  Kristina

Why Janet loves this recipe: 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.


Photographs (c) 2015 by Eva Kolenko

Lamb Meatballs in Warm Yogurt Sauce with Sizzling Red-Pepper Butter
Serves 4 to 6

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

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

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. Divide the meatballs and sauce among 4 to 6 warmed bowls.

6. To make the sizzling red-pepper butter: 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.

Note 1: Toasting and 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.

Note 2: Grating versus 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.

Note 3: Maras and 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. (You can find them online here, here, and here.)

Recipe adapted and reproduced by DesignSponge  from Yogurt, by Janet Fletcher, copyright (c) 2015, with permission of Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

About Janet: Janet Fletcher is the author or co-author of more than two dozen books on food and beverages, including Cheese & Wine, Cheese & Beer, and The Cheese Course. Her weekly email newsletter, Planet Cheese, is read by cheese enthusiasts internationally, and she is a member of the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers. A longtime contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle, Janet has received three James Beard Awards and the IACP Bert Greene Award for her newspaper journalism. Her food and beverage writing has also appeared in numerous national magazines, including Saveur, Bon Appétit, Fine Cooking, Culture, and Food & Wine. She lives in Napa Valley, but teaches cooking and cheese-appreciation classes around the country.




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  • We enjoyed the Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt Sauce. I added a squeeze of lemon juice to the sauce as well. We didn’t use the red pepper sauce. I’m sure it would have been a wonderful addition, but be assured that it’s wonderful without, too! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  • I have been making this recipe consistently for friends and it has impressed/pleased every time. It goes great with so many sides! (Mashed potatoes, couscous, quinoa, naan..)

  • I made this tonight for my family. I doubled the recipe because there are 6 of us, and I like to have leftovers for school lunches. There was a ton of sauce, and the sauce didn’t think but curdled instead. However, it was very tasty, so I think next time I’ll do the yogurt sauce separately from the meatballs so that I can whisk it constantly while it heats up and thickens. Also, even though I doubled the recipe there were only two meatballs left over. Next time I’ll triple the meatball recipe and maybe double the sauce recipe. However, it was very good.