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Middle Feastern Delights

Filled with lots of tangy citrus and yogurt flavors and plenty of cool cucumbers, the foods of the Middle East seem particularly suited for warmer weather.

I first encountered spiced ground lamb as a Turkish kabob, but I discovered that the whole operation with the stick seemed like just a bit too much fuss for regular use.

Why not just make spiced lamb meatballs? They're fun to make, not too fussy and are even very nice when munched as cold leftovers for your midnight snacking needs.

Lamb Balls, Raw
Lamb Balls, Cooking
Lamb Balls, Cooling

This Cucumber-Yogurt Raita goes very well with lamb. You'll find it's similar to a Greek Tzatziki, but tzatziki typically uses garlic instead of citrus. If you'd like something more Greek-y, drop the cumin and substitute puréed garlic for the citrus juice. Voila!
Spicy Lamb Balls w/ Cool Cucumber Raita (Makes 25 meatballs)
For the Spice Blend
1 Tbsp whole coriander
1 Tbsp whole cumin
1/2 Tbsp whole black peppercorn
1/2 Tbsp whole fennel seed or anise

For the Lamb Meatballs
2 pounds lamb
1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 tsp kosher salt
1 small onion, minced (optional)
1 tsp olive or canola oil

1. Grind the spices in a spice grinder. (If you're using pre-ground spices, simply blend them together and use 3 tablespoons of the mix for this recipe.)
2. Mix together the lamb, egg, salt, onion (if using) and the ground spice blend in a large mixing bowl.
3. Form golf-ball-sized spheres with the meat mix and set them on a plate while you heat the skillet.
4. In a large (17") skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add about half the lamb balls and cook about 1 minute before gently rolling each ball over with a pair of tongs.
5. Continue cooking the lamb balls for about 5-7 minutes, rolling each ball every 60 seconds to an uncooked side. Remove the cooked balls and drain them on paper towels.
6. Cook the second batch of lamb balls the same way you cooked the first batch. Serve hot or warm with cucumber raita (below).

Cool Cucumber Raita
1 small cucumber, peeled (or half of an unpeeled hothouse cucumber)
1 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1-2 Tbsp chopped mint, cilantro or parsley (optional)

1. Shred the cucumber on a grater and squeeze out all the excess juice you can.
2. Blend squeezed cucumber shreds with yogurt, citrus juice, salt, cumin and herbs (if using).
3. Taste, and if the mixture seems too tart, add a dash of sugar. Serve immediately with the lamb balls. This raita is also terrific with a variety of Indian curries.

This recipe also makes great sandwiches, so if you're in the mood for hand-held food, stuff two to three warm lamb balls into toasted pita halves. Add a bit of shredded lettuce and tomato slices and drizzle with the cucumber sauce.

J loves this meal quite a lot, so we eat it with some frequency. Favorite accompaniments include tabbouleh, hummus, fresh cucumber-tomato salads, pickled beets (locally, the good fellas at Rick's Picks and Wheelhouse Pickles both make some terrific pickled beets) or pickled ramps and tahini sauce.


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