Spiced Lamb Meatballs with Tomato and Yogurt


If you know me, you know that I love lamb. LOVE it.  It’s pretty much the perfect meat to me.  A flavor so much lovelier than beef, but definitely not overly gamey.  Greeks tend to cook the crap out of their lamb and make it well done, and when I order it in a restaurant, I tend to order it closer to medium rare.  But you know what?  It’s good both ways.  I think one is more comforting and rustic (the Sunday roast leg of lamb for Greeks, or the lamb on a spit at Easter) and one is  a little more sophisticated and highlights the flavor of the lamb a little more.  Basically, you can’t go wrong.

When I got an email from Annie at Lava Lake Lamb asking me if I wanted to sample some of their lamb, you know I was on board.  But, this is not your ordinary lamb. Lava Lake Lamb is an artisanal producer of 100% grass-fed, certified organic lamb.  The lamb are sustainably raised on a family-owned ranch in Idaho. They are free to graze (never on feed lots), drink their mothers’ milk, and eat a variety of fresh range grasses and herbs.  And don’t think you can’t taste what the lambs are eating, because you can. This lamb tastes like LAMB.  If you’ve ever had an organic chicken vs. one from the grocery store or eaten Iberian ham (where you can taste the acorns the pigs have eaten) then you know what I am talking about.  Not only are you what you eat, but what  you eat tastes like that that thing ate, too!

Lava Lake was kind enough to send me three different cuts of lamb, and the first I decided to use was ground lamb. Ground lamb is great in burgers, meatsauces, and moussaka, among other things. I decided to go with some spiced lamb meatballs, kind of a throwback to Greek, Middle Eastern, and Turkish cuisine. You know I am a sucker for Greek yogurt, so that had to go there somewhere, and I love tomato sauce with my rice (definitely a Greek thing), so I added that too.  These meatballs were so delicious. Nice and spicy, perfectly textured, and of course…lamb-y.

If you can, I would highly suggest ordering some grass-fed, organic lamb from Lava Lake Lamb.  I’ve actually been trying to think of a place where we could possibly keep a deep freeze (not easy in a third floor condo), just so I could buy a half lamb and keep it in there.

Check back here soon to see how I use the other lamb from Lava Lake!

Spiced Lamb Meatballs with Tomato and Yogurt over Basmati Rice

Serves 4
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1 lb. ground lamb
1/2 small onion, grated or finely minced
1 clove garlic, finely minced or pressed
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
fresh ground pepper
olive oil for pan frying

Tomato sauce
2 tsp. olive oil
1/4 cup diced onion
1 (15 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
heaping 3/4 tsp. oregano

Yogurt sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup brown basmati rice
2 cups chicken broth
2 Tbsp. toasted pine nuts

Mix all the ingredients together for the meatballs except the olive oil (being careful not to overmix, which could result in a tough meatball) and form into meatballs. At this point, I like to refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes or so (or longer, if you want) to marry the flavors and firm up the meatballs.

To make the rice, heat the butter in a medium saucepan with lid over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic, cooking until tender.  Stir in the rice and cook for a few minutes to toast up the grains and coat them with the butter.  Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Cover with a tight-fitting lid, reduce the heat to low, and cook for about 40 minutes. No peeking! Once done, take off the heat and let sit for a few minutes before fluffing with a fork and stirring in the toasted pine nuts.

To make the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a small saucepan and then add the onions, cooking until tender. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce to a simmer and allow the mixture to cook as you are making the rest of the meal.

Add olive oil to a skillet over medium-high heat (I like using a nonstick skillet for this). In batches, fry the meatballs until cooked through. Place on a paper-towel lined plate and keep warm until all the meatballs are cooked.

Once all meatballs are cooked, drain or wipe out the pan slightly (leave a little fat in there, but not as much as the oil and lamb have made). Turn the heat off, and then add the garlic clove (the residual heat will be more than enough to make it fragrant).  Stir in the yogurt until just warmed through and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To plate: Top the rice with the meatballs and a few spoonfuls each of the tomato and yogurt mixture.

Spiced Lamb Meatballs with Tomato and Yogurt

  • You don’t have to convince me how wonderful lamb is! This whole creation of yours looks divine Elly! Love it all! Look forward to seeing what else you do with the rest of your lamb bounty fro Lava Lake.

  • I’ve fallen in love with lamb recently. These sound great!

  • I am sold!!! This looks so delicious. And the lamb sounds wonderful. Just checked the website and now I have to clean out my freezer to accommodate the 5lbs of ground lamb 🙂 Thanks for sharing and I can’t wait to see the other meals

  • Oh, that looks goooooooooooooooooooood!!! Love the yogurt over the top.

  • Elle

    This looks delicious!

    I too am a lamb lover – it might help though that my dad has a small farm where he raises his own lambs.

    My dad only has about 20 sheep/lambs as this is only his hobby (he does have a real daytime job). Makes me sad when I see his neighbour (a *real* farmer with several hundreds of lambs) – most of his lambs never make it outside the barn and they are most certainly not grass-fed or organic. Interesting to see how his lambs born at the same time as my dad’s grow up so fast and are *ready* to be slaughtered after only a few months while my dad’s grass-fed and natural lambs take 6 months or more to reach the same size. The difference in taste is huge though.

    Sorry I’m rambling but like I said I’m a lamb lover and I just wish more people would appreciate the taste of a good organic lamb!

    • I’m with you, Elle. Seeing/reading about what “real” farmers do to their animals is really scary. Not to mention what they eat and how quickly they are off to slaughter – no wonder we get sick all the time from viruses, e coli, etc.

  • I love a beautifully roasted leg of lamb but can easily be won over by these meatballs.

  • I love lamb too, and I’ve been trying to cook with it more. This looks fabulous! I really like how you’ve used two sauces over top.

  • mmm this dish must be absolutely DELICIOUS !!!!
    I love it!

  • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite

    I love the sound of this. Lamb sometimes gets a bad rap but I find feeding it in small bites like this to people who say they “don’t like lamb” helps them come around! Have bookmarked this for the future!

  • Lamb meatballs, never had a chance to try them…yours look delicious with the yogurt on top…yummie!

  • Oh I LOVE lamb and all things spicy. these sound and look so delicious!

  • Great, great dish Elly! Love the flavors here and reminds me of a dish I enjoyed in an amazing Turkish restaurant a couple of times but haven’t had in years … it was ground lamb formed into slices of gyro served with a tomato sauce and a yogurt sauce over top. Mmmm!!

  • We love lamb too, and I am so glad to see recipes using lamb. I am so glad that you found a place to buy your lamb. As a farmer I would encourage those who live near by to order lamb for the place you suggest. But to help our local organic, sustainable farmers. Please. Please by local. It is so important that you go to the farm and make sure you like what you see. If you don’t neither do the animals. Sorry to be such a downer but any chance I can get to promote buying local I do:)

    • I’m totally with you, Jennifer! We have some CSA shares and local farms around here (well, as “around” to a very metro area as you can get), but I haven’t seen any with lamb, at least not yet!

  • Oh this sounds amazing with both the tomato and yogurt sauce, I just saved the recipe 🙂

  • Elly, your cooking instincts were bang-on! This is very remiscent of a Yiourtalou dish with ground meat, tomato sauce and cooling Greek yogurt.

  • Liz

    I featured this recipe in my own post about women passionate about doing something. You can see the post here.

  • That looks really tasty I like the sound of using yogurt like this.

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    • I had fun making this recipe although I did have to make a few changes because of the ingredients not in my pantry. I plan to make this dish again.

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  • Denise

    This recipe is fabulous. Thanks for sharing. I added some mint to the meatballs and yoghurt sauce, and used some excellent tomato purée (I’m in Italy!) to make the red sauce very thick. Also added 2 spoonfuls of tomato purée to the broth for the rice. Really excellent.

    • elly

      Happy to hear you enjoyed it, Denise!

      • Denise

        I’m here again to tell you this recipe has become a staple for me, or at least its basic concept. Yesterday I tried a variation with ground beef instead of lamb, and I substituted the spices and herbs with some fresh basil from the garden. I also add egg and breadcrumbs to the meatball mixture, like I always do. It was delicious.
        I can never get enough.
        Thanks again

        • elly

          Glad to hear that, Denise!

  • Chelai

    Made this for hubby’s birthday. He loves lamb and really liked this dish. Thanks!

    • elly

      So happy to hear you liked it Chelai!

  • Christine

    I just want you to know that I have made this recipe 4 or 5 times and am addicted to it. I’m also a long time fan of Lava Lake, and was happy to see others are loving them too.

    • elly

      So glad you like it!