One of the great things about growing up in my family is that not only did we have normal meat and potatoes type meals, but there was a wide range of eastern european and middle eastern cooking that came out of my fathers kitchen. Dad loved lamb, and cooked with it whenever he could afford to, as did my grandfather who was Greek by birth.
I took some of the flavors from my younger days and found a meatball recipe online that brought them together. The flavors of lemon and cardamom help cut the flavor of the ground lamb a bit, and when combined with the parsley and mint make what could taste heavy instead become a light and refreshing dish. The meatballs are nestled in as simple a sauce as it is possible to make: a simple combination of tahini and lemon juice, thinned as desired with water and garnished with pine nuts and the greens from the meatballs to tie the flavors together is dead simple and full of flavor.
I served these over an ancient grain called freekah, which is similar to cracked wheat in texture but has a nutty flavor. I prepared it the way dad always did, sautéd onion in olive oil and then added the raw grain. Left the grain in the pot until it browned and was just on the edge of burning and then added vegetable broth which I brought to a boil at medium high before reducing to medium low and cooking until just barely wet before serving.
This was for me a perfect dinner, and one the family all not only enjoyed but asked to have repeated, doing this Fat Boy's heart good....some traditions are good to pass on.
Moroccan Lemon and Cardamom Meatballs
for the meatballs
- 1 lb ground lamb
- 1/2 medium red onion, very finely minced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- a 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated or finely minced
- 1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
- 1 large egg, well beaten
- a handful of fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
- a handful of fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
- a handful of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
- zest of two lemons
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 1/2 cup fresh feta cheese, finely crumbled
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp fresh cracked pepper
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp freshly toasted and ground cardamom*
- olive oil for frying
for the sauce
- 2/3 cup tahini
- juice of 1 lemon
- 3/4 tsp salt
- pine nuts
- chopped parsley, cilantro, or mint
- a sprinkling of smoked paprika, or sumac
- Set oven to 350F
- Place the lamb, onion, garlic, ginger, bread crumbs, beaten egg, fresh herbs, lemon zest, pine nuts, feta cheese, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt and pepper into a large bowl. Mix everything together using your fingertips. You want to get all the ingredients evenly distributed without compacting the meat.
- Form walnut sized meatballs from the mixture. You can do this several hours ahead of time if you want, but be sure to cover the meat completely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
- Cover the bottom of a heavy pan with the olive oil and heat until hot. Work in batches so you don't crowd the pan, and brown the meatballs on all sides. Add more oil as necessary.
- Place the meatballs on a baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes, or until cooked through. (Ground lamb should be cooked to about 170F)
- Meanwhile make the sauce by mixing the tahini and lemon juice, and then adding enough water to make a thin sauce. Salt it to taste.
- Serve the meatballs hot from the oven, nestled in the sauce. Garnish with more pine nuts, herbs, and a sprinkling of sumac or paprika.