Meatballs. Yes, please. There must be many hundreds of different varieties. Never met an omnivore who doesn’t love the meatball concept. And lamb kofta meatballs — these bite-size beauties — will show how much you love your party time pals and family.
Let’s start with a savvy word of warning. Served with little bites of warm flatbread and a cool, garlicky yogurt dip, these petite lamb kofta meatballs are irresistibly good. So, why the warning? Well, it’s mighty tempting to fill up on them before your main event around the table. Some discipline is called for here.
Although I tag them as lamb koftas, there is also a little good (and fairly lean) ground beef in them. For me, the beef provides a balance to the natural fattiness of the lamb. As important, it adds just enough, slightly chunky texture. I like that a lot in a meatball, just as I like it in a good burger patty.
The spices in your lamb kofta meatballs
Lamb and mint. Now there’s a marriage that’s stood the test the time. And to make the very best of that happy union, add some chili (cayenne pepper here), onion, cinnamon, parsley, paprika, and lime juice. When that mix is gently formed into rounds about two-thirds the size of a golf ball, you can fry them hot and fast in a little olive oil.
Result? Lightly charred outsides with a pleasing bit of crunch, and soft, juicily spiced centers. These lamb kofta meatballs are little bombs of deliciously contrasting flavors and consistency.
Choosing your lamb and beef
I’m happy using good, fairly plain lamb sausages with the meat squeezed from their skins. More often than not, these lamb sausages already lightly feature herbs like rosemary and oregano, and maybe a little spice — typically cumin. That’s fine because you’re going to be building on those pretty subtle flavors.
Alternatively, you could go for some ground shoulder of lamb from your trusty butcher. Shoulder is a grand choice because it’s typically more tender than leg of lamb. It also has more fat, and that’s what boosts its flavor.
I use lamb sausages that I’m already familiar with and am more than pleased to cook and eat just as they are. Also, they usually add to my shopping convenience — and tend to be kinder to my wallet.
As for the ground beef, your choice here wants to be a good deal leaner than you’d probably choose when making burger patties. Given that the lamb (whether ground or from sausages) is already going to be nicely fatty, you want the beef to have a fat content of about 10% — some, but not a lot.
Little Lamb Kofta Meatballs
For the koftas
- 3 red cayenne peppers very finely diced, seeds and all
- 18 ounces lamb sausages stripped out of their skins
- 8 ounces ground beef with about 10% fat content
- 1 yellow onion medium-sized, peeled, and finely grated
- 1 ounce fresh parsley very finely chopped, stalks and all
- 1 ounce fresh mint leaves finely chopped
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground paprika
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground sea salt
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground black pepper
- 3 level tablespoons olive oil for fast-frying the koftas
For the garlicky yogurt dip
- 18 ounces full cream, triple thick plain yogurt go high-end here – it’s worth it
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and crushed to a fine paste
- 1/3 medium-sized English cucumber peeled and seeds scraped out, diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt to taste
For the flat breads
- 4 pita breads lightly warmed and cut into eighths
The yogurt dip
- The yogurt dip gets a fab flavor boost if it’s allowed to sit for a while in the refrigerator before serving. So, let’s start with that.
- In a mixing bowl, add all the ingredients and stir well. Test for saltiness, and if need be, add more to your taste. It should have a good ‘burn’ from all that garlic. Grand. That’s exactly how it should be. Put it in the refrigerator. And that’s it, dip done. Time to make the koftas.
The kofta meatballs
- First, a quick word about the grated onions. Make sure they are thoroughly drained. Use a fine sieve to press out as much of their juice as you can.
- In a good-sized mixing bowl combine all the koftas’ ingredients except the ground beef (add it after the first mixing) and mix together really well. Best way to do this is with your fingers. Why not add the beef just yet? Well, it takes a fair bit of mixing to get all the other ingredients combined. And if the beef goes in from the start, you’ll lose too much of its texture as you mix everything together. So, only mix in the beef at the end – and then so that it’s just barely combined with the rest of the kofta mix.
- Set the bowl to chill in the freezer for 10 minutes. Yep, the freezer – it’s faster than the fridge. This chilling matters because it firms-up the fat, and that makes it a whole lot easier to make your little koftas.
- Time to get rolling and cooking. Use your hands to form the mixture – as fast as you can – into rounds about two-thirds the size of a golf ball. Don’t compress them too much, but rather focus on getting them just nicely rounded.
- Now for an important flavor test. Make one burger-like patty from the kofta mix – about two inches across and 3/4 inch thick. Heat the olive oil in a good-sized skillet on a high heat. As it just starts smoking, drop the heat to medium-high and fry the ‘test’ patty for about 90 seconds each side. You’re looking to get a deep-ish golden char on both sides. As soon as that happens, turn off the heat, remove the patty with a slotted spoon, and set it on some kitchen towel to remove any excess oil.
- Let it cool a little, and then taste it. You might find it needs a little more chili, or salt, or perhaps even a little more of that flavor-sparking lime juice. If so, add accordingly to the kofta mix and gently work it in with your fingers.
- Now get the skillet back onto a sizzling high heat and quickly roll in half of the little koftas one at a time. If you tilt the skillet a little, you can roll each kofta in the hot oil as they hit it. Now it’s a roll and hot-fry process for about three or four minutes until you get that nice golden char all over the koftas. Remove them from the skillet and roll them on some kitchen towel. Repeat the whole process for the other half of the koftas. Done.
- Heat the pitas for 20 seconds on high in the microwave. Then cut them into eighths. You’re ready.
How to serve
- Spoon the chilled yogurt dip into four little bowls on four dinner plates, with a teaspoon alongside each bowl.
- Divide the koftas across four similar bowls and set one bowl on each plate. Add some slices of pitta around the bowls and serve with napkins.