Middle Eastern Lamb Meatballs with Minted Yogurt Dip and Cucumber Pomegranate Salad

Recently, I took a trip to NYC with my mother and her best friend Grace. I hated leaving Jon behind, but of course, I loved coming home to him and a home-cooked meal. And it goes without saying that he outdid himself as always, preparing Middle Eastern Sesame Lamb Meatballs with Minted Yogurt Dip and Cucumber Pomegranate Salad.

Every single flavor in this dish was a perfect complement to the next; every texture completely appropriate within the context of the dish. I LOVE pomegranate, and their placement within the tangy cucumber salad was perfect. Though it appears like a complex dish to make, Jon assures me that it is not. He prepared the meatballs the night before so they only had to be cooked the night I returned.

If you’ve never dabbled with middle eastern flavors, I encourage you to try this dish. It’s not intimidating, but it will give you a good sampling of the flavor to expect in more robust dishes.

All recipes were adapted from http://www.epicurious.com and the site’s “Easy Weeknight Meals” section.

Middle Eastern Sesame Lamb Meatballs

  • 1/3 cup minced onion
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mint, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • a pinch cinnamon
  • 1 pound ground lamb (10% fat)
  • 1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg, beaten lightly
  • 2 tablespoons dried currants
  • 1/4 cup black sesame seeds*
  • 1/4 cup white sesame seeds, toasted lightly

Minted Yogurt Dip

  • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

To make the meatballs:
In a small non-stick skillet cook onion and garlic in oil over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in mint, salt, allspice, and cinnamon. Add lamb, bread crumbs, egg, and currants and combine well. Form level tablespoons of lamb mixture into 1 1/4-inch meatballs, arranging on a tray as formed.

In a small bowl roll half of meatballs, 1 at a time, in black sesame seeds until coated, transferring to a rack set in a shallow baking pan. Coat remaining meatballs with white sesame seeds in same manner, transferring to rack. Meatballs may be prepared up to this point 1 day ahead and chilled, covered loosely.

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Bake meatballs in upper third of oven 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden and just cooked through.

To make the yogurt dip:
In a fine sieve set over a bowl drain yogurt, covered and chilled, 3 hours. Discard whey in bowl and transfer yogurt cheese to bowl. Yogurt cheese may be made 2 days ahead and chilled, covered.

Into yogurt cheese stir mint and salt. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Cucumber and Pomegranate Salad

  • 2 cucumbers, peeled, halved, and seeds removed
  • Seeds of 1 pomegranate
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions, green parts only
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preparation: 

Cut the cucumbers into slices 1/4 inch thick. Put the cucumber slices in a bowl with all but 4 tablespoons of the pomegranate seeds. Add the scallions, cilantro, lime juice, and olive oil. Toss and season with salt.

To serve, divide the salad among bowls and top with the crumbled feta, a tablespoon of pomegranate seeds, and a few grinds of pepper.

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