• Lamb Meatballs in Warm Yogurt Sauce with Red-Pepper Butter


Lamb Meatballs in Warm Yogurt Sauce

By Janet Fletcher

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.

Recipe from YOGURT  by Janet Fletcher. Order your copy here.

Lamb Meatballs in Warm Yogurt Sauce with Red-Pepper Butter

Servings: 4 to 6


Lamb Meatballs

  • 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 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
  • 1 ⁄ 2 teaspoon medium-hot coarsely ground red pepper such as Aleppo or Maras¸ pepper (see note), or hot paprika
  • 1 ⁄ 2 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin seeds (see note)


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.

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.

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 heatswirling the pan oftenuntil the cumin darkens and becomes fragrant2 to 3 minutes. Let cooland then grind into a fine powder in a mortar or spice grinder.

Grating VS Mincing Garlic

I typically use a Microplanea rasp-style grater available at kitchenware storeswhen adding garlic to yogurt. You can also mince the garlic finely with a knifebut I find that grated garlic infuses the yogurt better. It practically dissolvesso you don’t perceive any little bits of garlic in the yogurt. Howeverfor a dish with sautéed garlicsuch as Orzo with Spicy LambChickpeas& Yogurt (page 72)I prefer to mince itas grated garlic produces too strong a flavor.

 Maras & Aleppo Pepper

Aleppo pepper is from Syria (though also grown in Turkey)Maras pepper is from Turkeybut both of these coarsely ground red peppers have a fruityearthy 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.

Reprinted with permission from Yogurt, by Janet Fletcher, copyright © 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

 Photographs copyright © 2015 by Eva Kolenko.

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