Braised food

Get ready for fall with braised lamb meatballs

It’s officially fall, so say goodbye to summer, wrap yourself in something cozy, and make some meatballs. Meatballs are like a warm hug. They’re unassuming, intimate and unfailingly comforting, just like that sweater you’re about to slip on.

Meatballs are also universally enjoyable. Most cuisines seem to have some version of a meatball, with “meat” being the variable term. The iterations are many and diverse, yet consistent, from the traditional pairing of beef and pork to fish concoctions such as Danish fiskefrikadeller or Brazilian bolinho de bacalhau to meatless veggie dumplings made with lentils and beans. Falafel, anyone?

The common denominator of these finger-licking bites is a marriage of flavor and economy; they’re an efficient and tasty way to stretch meat and reuse trimmings and leftovers while landing in a favorite comfort food group of adults and kids alike. Everyone, it seems, loves a good meatball.

These are meaty ilk. They are lamb heavy with a little added beef to keep the lamb under control. An unapologetic shower of spices and herbs delivers a kick of flavor and fragrance, while a salty, creamy feta nugget nestled in the center oozes cheesy goodness throughout the meat. Fall has never been so good.

Braised Lamb Meatballs in Smoked Tomato Sauce

Activity time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, plus cooling time

Makes about 20 meatballs; For 4 to 6 people

For the meatballs

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 to 4 ounces feta cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus more for garnish

For the sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 can (15 ounces) crushed tomatoes with juice
  • 2 large roasted red peppers in a jar, drained and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon harissa sauce (or chili paste)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all meatball ingredients except feta in a bowl. Using your hands, mix gently until the ingredients are evenly distributed without overworking the meat.

Shape the meat into 1 1/2 to 2 inch balls. Make a small indentation in the center of each with your thumb and insert a cube of feta, then close the meat around to seal it. Place the meatballs on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs in batches, without overfilling them, and brown on all sides, turning as needed, 5 to 7 minutes. (The meatballs will not be cooked at this point. They will continue to cook in the sauce.) Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining meatballs.

Pour in all but 2 tablespoons of pan juices. Add onion and sauté until tender, scraping up brown bits, 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, coriander and paprika and stir to create a slurry and lightly toast the spices. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Return the meatballs to the sauce without fully immersing them. Place in oven and bake until meatballs are cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes.

Serve hot, garnished with crumbled feta and chopped fresh cilantro leaves.