These Might Just Be The Best Meatballs Ever.

Is that kind of a bold statement?  I don’t care.  I’m not going to take it back or apologize for it, because these meatballs are It. It being delicious, lush and better than any other meatball I’ve ever had.

So there.

My dear dear friend Monique gave me the Ottolenghi cookbook for my last birthday, and I’d been dying to dive into it for a while.  Monique and I have several things in common, one of which is our absolute fervor for food, and another one being having Lebanese fathers*, so when she told me I was going to love the London restaurant’s gorgeous book of recipes, I didn’t doubt it for a second.  I’ve Post-It-ed exactly sixty-five recipes to try, and the following was my maiden voyage.

The reason I chose the beef and lamb meatballs as my first Ottolenghi recipe to try was simple: I thought Keith would like it.  I of course cook for myself, but when there’s someone else who’s going to be eating for your food, I think it’s only polite to take their tastes into consideration.  Besides, I happen to love Keith very much, so I try to avoid presenting him with foods he dislikes, no matter how much I enjoy them, like olives, fish and mushroom-heavy dishes.  The only time I don’t think about for whom I am cooking is when I’m feeding more than six people.  Then I focus more on pleasing myself, because it’s sometimes too stressful to account for so-and-so’s aversion to onions and such-and-such’s fennel-phobia.  I do, however, accomodate vegetarians and those with food allergies.  I just don’t have patience for picky eaters at my dinner table.

Jeez, I’m totally off-topic.

What’s interesting about this is how beautifully the tahini sauce in which the meatballs are baked adds an intense richness to the already-luscious lamb.  It’s not even remotely overwhelming, but completely complimentary instead.

Also complimentary is the lemon zest and parsley garnish, which I forgot to sprinkle on until after I had snapped this photograph, so I’ll leave you to imagine cheerful specks of bright yellow and green dotting the dish.

One last thing before I get to the recipe: these meatballs smell amaaaaazing, and not even just at the baking stage.  I made both Keith and Melissa stick their noses into the bowl of raw meat and inhale before I shoved them out of the way so that I could do the same.  Then when they come out of the oven… mm mm mm.

Beef + Lamb Meatballs Baked in Tahini, from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Makes four to six portions, though four of us devoured these without any leftovers.

for the meatballs:
¼ cup stale white bread, crusts removed
¾ pound ground beef
¾ pound ground lamb
3 garlic cloves, crushed **
¼ cup flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 ½ teaspoon ground all-spice
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg
2 tablespoons olive oil

for the tahini sauce:
2/3 cup tahini paste
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup white wine vinegar (I had only champagne vinegar, so that’s what I used)
1 garlic clove, crushed
A pinch of salt

for the garnish:
grated zest of ½ a lemon (I love lemon, so used a whole one)
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

  1. First make the tahini sauce.  In a bowl, mix together the tahini paste, water, vinegar, garlic and salt.  Whisk well until it turns smooth and creamy, with a thick sauce-like consistency.  You may need to add more water.  Set aside while you make the meatballs.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400°.  Soak the bread in cold water for 2 – 3 minutes until it goes soft.  Squeeze out most of the water and crumble the bread into a mixing bowl.  Add the meats, garlic, parsley, salt, spices and egg; mix well with your hands.
  3. Shape the meat mixture into balls, each roughly the size of a golf ball.  Pour olive oil into a large frying pan and heat it up, being careful that it doesn’t get too hot or it will spit all over while frying.  Fry the meatballs in small batches for about 2 minutes, turning them around as you go until they are uniformly brown on the outside.
  4. Put the meatballs on a paper-towel-lined plate to soak up the excess oil, then arrange them on a single layer in an ovenproof baking dish.  Place in the oven for 5 minutes, then carefully remove to pour the tahini sauce over and around the meatballs.  Return to the oven for another 10 minutes.  The tahini sauce will take on a bit of color and thicken up, and the meatballs should be just cooked through.  Transfer to individual plates (or a serving dish) and garnish liberally with lemon zest and parsley.  Serve at once.

Note: The Ottolenghi cookbook is published with Metric measurements.  I own a digital scale and so didn’t have any problems, but converted the measurements as closely as possible for an American cook.  If you would like the original measurements, leave me a note in the comments and I’ll reply there.

* I suppose mine is technically Lebanese-Armenian, or Armenian-Lebanese.  No matter.
** I always put twice as many cloves of garlic than suggested, but then type up ingredients exactly as they were originally printed.  It’s a preference.