Meatballs of some sort exist in the cuisine of every culture worldwide. These lamb meatballs would probably be considered Moroccan cuisine, with the cool cucumber and yogurt melding with the spicy heat of chile peppers and the aromatic seasonings of cumin, fennel and coriander. It appears to be a classic in New Zealand also however. I’ll just call them ketogenic meatballs for now and let the countries debate the origin. One thing you can certainly call them with confidence is great!
The inspiration for these ketogenic meatballs is from the April 2015 edition of Bon Appetit magazine where they were highlighting a tapas recipe from a New York City restaurant called El Colmado. Although developed as a shared dish for a tapas bar, if you make enough of them they can serve as a main dish on a ketogenic diet. Zucchini noodles or shirataki noodles make a good low carb bed for the meatballs.
If you are not living a ketogenic or low carb lifestyle, you can certainly add couscous or pasta to round out the meatballs.
The meatballs are smokey and full of flavor, the yogurt is a nice cooling element, and the cucumbers and the mint make for a nice and fresh contrast.
This is a beautifully balanced dish although the preparation does take some time so I would save it for weekends. Alternatively, if you want to make this dish for guests just make the chile sauce the day before and the lamb meatballs earlier in the day. The chile sauce makes quite a bit, so your hard work can also carry over to another meal.
Recipe for Ketogenic Meatballs with Lamb, Yogurt & Cucumbers
- 3 pasilla chiles, chopped or ground
- 1½ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- ¼ cup Sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- ½ cup olive oil
- Kosher salt
- ¼ small onion, chopped
- 8 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
- ¾ teaspoon fennel seeds
- ¾ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more if needed
- 1 large egg
- 1¼ pounds ground lamb
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (can use almond meal)
- 4–5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- ½ English hothouse cucumber, thinly sliced
- ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1½ tablespoons Sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup plain full fat Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
- Crushed red pepper flakes (for serving)
Directions for Chile Sauce
Toast chiles, red pepper flakes, and cumin seeds in a dry small skillet over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until fragrant and cumin seeds are golden, about 3 minutes. Let cool. Working in batches, finely grind in spice mill, then transfer to a blender.
Add vinegar, paprika, and garlic to blender and blend until smooth. With motor running, gradually stream in oil and blend until combined. Transfer to a large bowl; season with salt.
Do Ahead: Chile sauce can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.
Directions for Meatballs and Assembly
- Pulse onion, chopped garlic, parsley, oregano, sage, fennel seeds, coriander, cumin, and 1 Tbsp. salt in a food processor, scraping down sides as needed, until finely chopped. Add egg, lamb, and flour and pulse until evenly combined. Form lamb mixture into 1 ½” balls.
- Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high. Working in 2 batches and adding another 1 Tbsp. oil to skillet if needed, cook meatballs, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides and cooked through, 5–8 minutes. Transfer meatballs to paper towels to drain.
- Transfer all meatballs to bowl with chile sauce and toss to coat.
- Toss cucumber in a medium bowl with lemon zest, lemon juice, vinegar, and remaining 2 Tbsp. oil; season with salt and pepper.
- Spoon yogurt into bowls. Evenly divide meatballs among bowls; top with dressed cucumber and mint and sprinkle with red pepper flakes.
Do Ahead: Meatball mixture can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.
Now, if you like meatballs in general, but want a recipe that is quick and easy for weeknights, see this other idea for ketogenic meatballs. If you used the prepared meatballs suggested in the post, the prepared shirataki and the leftover sauce from this recipe you have a meatball dinner that takes about 5 minutes to prepare.
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