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 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.
Spiced Lamb Meatballs with Tomato and Yogurt over Basmati Rice
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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
2 tsp. olive oil
1/4 cup diced onion
1 (15 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
heaping 3/4 tsp. oregano
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.