Through a quirk of my interesting work life, I found myself at a photoshoot staring at a table of lamb. A lot of lamb. I was helping an amazing meat cutter friend who prefers to butcher on set to make sure the meat is as beautiful and stunning as possible. Kari had procured 2 ½ whole lambs to make sure we had enough perfect cuts. The shots were gorgeous but at the end of the day, once most of the pretty, perfect chops and cuts had been poked, prodded and propped, we were left with a lot of excess meat. After a few long days of shooting, we were all gassed and Kari simply looked at me and said “deal with this.” So I did.
I weighed, wrapped and labeled a table full and made sure everyone on set got a nice amount to take home. I selected my cuts and gave a few stray packages to friends. That left several bags of trim, scraps and odd bits and on a terribly exciting Saturday night, I dug out the grinder. I screwed the plates in place, hit the power and went at it, keeping an eye on the fat to lean ratio and adjusting when needed. When I looked up an hour later, I had 19 pounds of ground lamb in neat, labeled 16oz packets. Whoa. I immediately put 18 pounds in the freezer to deal with later. With the remaining pound, I made meatballs.
As a country, we don’t eat much lamb. Beef, chicken, pork? Certainly, but lamb is somewhere toward the bottom, likely near duck and other delicious things we should eat more of. Sure, there are cultural pockets here and there where lamb dominates – mainly Greek and Middle Eastern – but overall? Not so much. I think the other meats are just more ingrained in our history, rich tales full of cattlemen and pig farmers and a deep, deep love of steak and bacon. It’s who we are. Mary might have had a little lamb, but the rest of us have a burger. We should work in a little variety. Eat More Lamb. Words to live by.
These meatballs are interesting in that rather than breadcrumbs, they use bulgur wheat, something more commonly found in Middle Eastern salads like tabbouleh. Even more interesting, the bulgur is added to the ground lamb dry. It’s kind of an odd method but it works as the wheat absorbs the flavors and juices while cooking. Pretty darn delicious, if you ask me, and not the least bit dry. Nestled into an interesting sauce and served over rice, it makes for a pretty fantastic meal.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: OOPA! Meatballs are a pretty darn near perfect food and can be made with nearly anything. The combination of lamb, bulgur, tomatoes and various spices is like a big hug from a Greek Grandma with the added bonus of filling the house with the most amazing smells. Make this recipe, eat some now and freeze the rest for later. This is the kind of thing you want to have stashed away for a rainy day.
On the blog three years ago: Peterson Garden Project – the Sophie’s Choice of seedlings
On the blog two years ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie & Lard Pie Crust
On the blog one year ago: Ricotta Cheesecake
LAMB BULGER MEATBALLS IN TOMATO SAUCE (Voli Me Plyguri – adapted from this recipe)
“Voli” are marbles and I like to make these meatballs on the small side. You can use any mix of ground meat that you like. Though I prefer lamb, pre-packaged “meatloaf mix”, usually a combination of beef and pork, works well and is easy to find.
For the meatballs:
1 pound ground lamb
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, divided
4 scallions (whites & greens), finely chopped
½ cup coarse bulgur
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
for the sauce:
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ cup dry red wine
1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 cup low-salt chicken stock (or water)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
good pinch crushed chile flakes
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
few grinds of ground pepper
steamed rice for serving
- For the meatballs: In a large bowl, combine the lamb, scallions, bulgur, egg, 2 Tablespoons olive oil, garlic, cumin, salt, a good pinch of pepper and all but 2 Tablespoons of the parsley.
- Mix just enough to evenly combine (careful, over-mixing makes a tough meatball), cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.
- Shape 2 Tablespoon sized portions of the meat mixture into balls. Place on a plate, cover and refrigerate.
- In a large, deep skillet over medium to medium-high, heat the remaining 2 Tablespoons of oil and brown a single layer of meatballs on all sides. You may have to do this in batches.
- Transfer the browned meatballs to a plate and set aside while making the sauce.
- For the sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium-high and sauté the sliced onions in the olive oil for 4-5 minutes, until soft, translucent and beginning to brown.
- Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the wine, bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute.
- Stir in the tomatoes, cinnamon, chile flakes and a good pinch each salt and pepper; bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low.
- Simmer, uncovered, until thickened about 20 minutes.
- Carefully add the browned meatballs; the sauce should come just up to the top of the meatballs. Stir gently to coat.
- Cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce has thickened.
- Taste the sauce for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed. Garnish with the reserved 2 Tablespoons parsley and serve over steamed rice.