Getting Out Of The Way Of Good Meatballs

In my mind, somewhere in that lofty realm of perfection we call, “ideas,” there were succulent lamb meatballs. Lebanese style. They were just waiting to exist, waiting to be. I could see them, taste them, smell them.

Meanwhile, way down here in this particular corner of reality known as our kitchen, there was a collection of grocery bags, spices, a square wooden spoon, a kitchen knife, a can opener, and a cast iron pot heating on a gas stove.

And there I was, in the middle, lodged between some Platonic ideal of lamb-y deliciousness and a counter top spattered with items, willy-nilly style.  I realized I had to keep an ideal in view while miring my hands in delicious details. I could make these meatballs happen—I could make them be. I had to try hard and do something! Or, more likely, some things.  Lots of things.

It is natural to conflate the concept of Try hard with Do more! Lebanese lamb meatballs? I should use a lot of spices, peruse several online recipes, and really labor over this meal. More equals better results, right?

Not every time. In spite of myself I did the minimum and limited my intervention in matters. I was careful to do not a jot more. Cinnamon, allspice, kosher salt, and pepper. No more spices! I arranged the meeting of a few ingredients that brought out the natural goodness of things. Fresh mint and parsley. Stop! I worked with it, not against it. Blend san marzano tomatoes for the braise. That’s all the acidity needed.

I got out of the way and good things happened—Lebanese lamb meatballs came to be.  It was good to try hard by doing less. With every bite I could taste what I did and, more importantly, what I did not do.


Braised Lebanese Lamb Meatballs (Oct. 2016)

Prep time: 15 minutes Braise time: 3 hours

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup chopped parsely
  • 2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tbsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 28 ounce can San Marzano tomoatoes

Combine and mix lamb, egg, bread crumbs, parsley, mint, allspice, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Form into four to six large meatballs.

Heat pot (black iron if possible) to medium-high. Place meatballs in dry pot (no oil). Let fry until brown and caramelized. Roll the meatballs to new side and repeat until most of the meatballs have that nice brown, caramelized exterior.

Remove meatballs. Use spatula or square wooden spoon to scrape and loosen what is stuck to the pot. Put in wine. Let heat reduce the wine for about two minutes.

Put in chopped onion.

Reduce heat to lowest setting. Place meatballs in pot.

Blend san marzano tomatoes and pour over meatballs.

Cover pot. Adjust heat to get the braise to bubble up, just above no bubble and well below a simmer. Low and slow! You may have to check every few minutes at the beginning to ensure heat is not above a slow braise.

Approximately three hours, or until cooked to preference.

Serve over jasmine or basmati rice. Pour braise over dish to liking. Best served in wide mouth bowl.