The best lamb meatballs

August 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

Recently the new Cooking Channel has been showing reruns of the show attached to this recipe’s inspiration’s cookbook, Jamie at Home. I never knew that there was such a show, and in fact, as I’d never watched Jamie Oliver cook on television before, I was a bit hesitant to watch — what if I hated the show? Thankfully the show is absolutely delightful, even though I’ve clogged up probably half of a certain someone’s DVR with Jamie at Home (the show) and Cats 101! Of course, it eventually reminded that I’ve been promising a certain lamb recipe for months now and have only now delivered it, despite declaring it one of my favorite dishes thanks to its great flavors and ease of adaptability.

Since I treat the original recipe as a jumping-off point, I’m only going to give the recipe for the lamb meatballs and the quick-pickled red onions, and then some suggestions for toppings – each time I make this I simply toss on whatever vegetables or herbs were cheap and looked fresh from the grocery store. I bet if there’s nothing that catches your eye, chickpeas (garbanzo beans) could work well too. I do, however, always serve the lamb meatballs with warmed pitas and some natural yogurt or crumbled feta. The lamb meatballs are kebab-inspired, so you can pretty much add any vegetable or cheese or herb that reminds you of the Middle East. So, without further ado, here is a delicious way to prepare lamb without too much fussing around!

First, to make the spice mixture, combine one tablespoon dried thyme or two heaping tablespoons of fresh, (dry is nice, but fresh is best for this recipe, if you aren’t a thyme-killer like I am. I just got a new plant, hopefully it will survive!), one heaping tablespoon crushed red pepper, one tablespoon of cumin, and the zest of a lemon. Also a pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of pepper (not shown). Set aside a few pinches of the spice mixture in a small ramekin or dish for sprinkling over at the end.

Toss in a pound of ground lamb and smush around. Don’t forget to wash your hands afterward too.

Then, thinly half a red onion. I should probably point out here that these photos only show a half-recipe, but the process remains the same, uh except for the onions. I have no idea why I made double the quantity of quick-pickled onions I needed. Transfer the onions to a bowl and squeeze over half the lemon to cut through the sting a bit.

Then, in a nonstick skillet, heat up a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil to medium-high.

I decided to chop up some parsley and some English (hothouse) cucumbers to go along with the pita and lamb meatballs while the oil was heating up, but feel free to use whatever you like – salad greens work well too.

Make meatball shapes from the lamb by gently pressing  it together, and then placing them in the skillet. Cook them on each side for about three to four minutes for medium-rare (I only recommend this if you grind your own lamb, or you trust the butcher who ground it for you. For medium, it takes about four to five minutes per side). You may want to shake the pan a bit after cooking both sides to brown the edges a bit.

Once the meatballs are done, set them aside on a plate and tent with some parchment paper or aluminum foil to keep warm. Keep cooking meatballs until done – it takes about three batches for me, but it depends on your skillet size.

If you want to heat up your pita breads, either warm them in an oven or toaster oven, or you can heat them up in the skillet after all the lamb meatballs are cooked, to soak up the juices, for about thirty seconds per side.

Top the pitas with the salad-y toppings (in this case, parsley and cucumbers), red onions, lamb meatballs, and some natural yogurt or crumbled feta. Sprinkle over the reserved spices, squeeze over a bit of lemon from the reserved half, and serve hot!

The best lamb meatballs

Heavily adapted from Jamie at Home

Serves four


  • One tablespoon dried thyme or two heaping tablespoons of fresh
  • One heaping tablespoon crushed red pepper
  • One tablespoon of cumin
  • Zest of a lemon
  • Sea salt and fresh-ground pepper
  • One pound ground lamb
  • One red onion, thinly sliced
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for the skillet
  • Four pita breads

Topping suggestions

  • A handful of parsley, chopped
  • Thinly sliced English cucumber rounds
  • Fresh salad greens
  • Natural yogurt or crumbled feta
  • Soaked dried chickpeas (garbanzos), or canned

1. Combine thyme, crushed red pepper, cumin, lemon zest, a few pinches of sea salt, and a couple of pepper grinds in a bowl. Set aside a few pinches of the spice mixture for garnishing at the end. Add in ground lamb and combine. Slice lemon in half, and reserve.

2. Slice red onion thinly, move to a separate bowl, and squeeze over half the lemon.

3. Heat up a tablespoon or so of extra-virgin olive oil in a large nonstick skillet to medium-high. Meanwhile, slice up any topping ingredients, such as parsley or cucumbers.

4. Form meatballs and cook in batches, three to four minutes per side, for medium-rare, four to five for medium. Shake the pan around to brown sides, if necessary. Set aside cooked meatballs on a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

5. If desired, warm pita in a low oven, or after all lamb is cooked, warm pita in the skillet for about thirty seconds per side.

6. Top pitas with red onions, lamb meatballs, and any other desired toppings. Over each serving sprinkle over some of the reserved spice, squeeze over a bit of lemon juice, and enjoy right away.


Oliver, Jamie. “Grilled lamb kofta kebabs with pistachios and spicy salad wrap.” Jamie at Home. New York: Hyperion, 2007 (44).


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