Lamb and Olive Meatballs with Yogurt and Cucumber Sauce

I bought a pack of lamb mince this week, with the idea of making meatballs to add to my (now very diminished) bento library in the freezer. I finally got round to making them tonight, and I’m so glad that I did; most went in the freezer in neat little parcels of four, but six were sacrificed to the God of Dinner (ie me).  The recipe began in my mind with this recipe for lamb and olive burgers, which I would heartily recommend and, in fact, have recommended before. I made a few adjustments and came out with a different recipe, and one I would also heartily recommend, but this time it came out of my own brain, and so recommending it makes me smug, smug, smug.

Makes 22 small meatballs, which is about enough for three people:

  • 450g minced lamb
  • 15 or so black olives (about 40g-ish), chopped into small pieces
  • 1 packed tbsp of chopped mint leaves
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice (squeezy is fine)
  • 3 tbsp water
  • about 10 turns each of salt and pepper

For the sauce:

  • 1/4 cucumber. Rubbish instruction, I know, I forgot to measure or weigh the piece I used. I think it was about two inches long.
  • 3 tsp yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic and coriander seasoning (this one)
  • tiny, tiny, ever so tiny pinch of paprika
  • tiny pinch of salt

To serve:

  • 1 – 2 of your favourite pitta breads per person
  • rocket salad
  • improvised or bottled salad dressing
  • cucumber slices (optional)

First, to prepare the meatballs. Put a griddle or frying pan on over a medium-high heat. Then put all the ingredients in a bowl, and squish them together with your hands until thoroughly mixed, and until the water has been absorbed. Take a small piece, shape into a flat round, like a tiny burger, and cook through, which should only take a minute each side. Taste for seasoning and add more if required.

Using a tablespoon to measure each one, shape the meatballs. If you find the meat sticking to your hands, keeping them wet will help, but as the mixture is so moist you shouldn’t have this problem. Line them up in nice neat rows. This is ESSENTIAL to the recipe.

OK, it’s not at all essential to the recipe, but I will be happier knowing that you’ve done it, OK?

You can freestyle the meatballs instead of measuring them out, to give bigger ones – adjust the cooking time accordingly and remember that they won’t fit in a bento box, which is the main reason that mine are so small).

I would now suggest preparing all your accompaniments before cooking the meatballs, so that they don’t go cold as you make the sauce and such like. This won’t take long.

First, get a bag of rocket salad and put it in a bowl. Add some cucumber slices if, like me, you have recently become addicted to cucumbers. Make a simple salad dressing – I went with balsamic vinegar, basil oil and wholegrain mustard – or take a bottle out of the cupboard or fridge. Don’t dress the salad in the bowl; put some on the plate and add the dressing there. Leave some plain salad to get tucked into the pitta bread, which you have lightly toasted while you were making the salad, though making is kind of an over statement. Now make the sauce, which is a proper making and not just putting something in a bowl.

Grate the cucumber over a small bowl, then stir in the yogurt. You want it to be a thick not-quite pouring consistency, so add the yogurt one teaspoon at a time and stir in after each. You can, of course, add more if required. This is a decent enough sauce in itself, a bit bland but cooling and fresh. I wasn’t happy with that, though, so I added the garlic and coriander seasoning and the tiny, tiny, ever so tiny pinch of paprika. If you over-do the paprika, you can resolve the situation (as I did) by draining out most of the paprika-ey yogurt and replacing it with plain. It adds a nice warmth and subtle flavour when used in the right amounts. It adds brown-ness and an element of ‘all I can taste is paprika’ if used in the wrong amounts. Tread carefully. I added a pinch of salt here as well, to taste, but of course you might think that it’s fine without. Perch a slice of cucumber and a sprig of mint on top if you want to look fancy, which I did, even though it was just for me. Also I was taking a photo of it to post online for the world to (potentially) see, but of course that was the farthest thing from my mind… ahem…

Get a plate ready with some dressed salad and toasted pitta, or if you want the pitta to be warm you can stick it in the toaster for the last minute of the meatballs cooking. Now, put the meatballs in the griddle or frying pan, which you left irresponsibly over the heat while you prepped the rest of dinner. You’ll have to do two batches unless you have a mega frying pan or you use two at once because you don’t hate washing up as much as I do. Leave spaces between them so you can get in and turn them easily. Cook for four minutes on one side, then turn with tongs or a spoon and cook for another three minutes. You may have to deploy an extractor fan as they cook, don’t worry about this, although if you’re engulfed in smoke you’re doing something wrong. Pop the cooked meatballs on the plate and you’re good to go. I halved mine before packing them into a pitta with salad and a healthy portion of the cucumber sauce. This ticked all the boxes for me – hot, cold, crunchy, soft, creamy, sweet, savoury, rich, fresh… I won’t labour the point any further, I’m sure you get the idea.

I always thought that meatballs were time consuming and complicated to make, but that doesn’t have to be true at all. You could start adding more ingredients to the meat, and serve some kind of cooked sauce, or rice, or potatoes, and that would be great too, but for a weeknight dinner who needs the hassle? Pitta, salad, sauce, meatballs. As one famous chef would say, ‘DAHN’.


About Rock Salt

Seasoning while rocking out since 1983. View all posts by Rock Salt

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