Smoky lamb meatballs with Israeli couscous salad

Aliya LeeKong, chef at New York City's Junoon and author of "Exotic Table," shares a hearty, flavorful Middle Eastern meal.

Smoky lamb meatballs
Servings:

Serves 6-8 (yields 60 1¼-inch meatballs)

Ingredients

    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra to coat pan
    • 3 shallots, finely chopped
    • 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
    • 2 pounds ground lamb, room temperature
    • 1 cup plain bread crumbs
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 2 teaspoons ground black cardamom (see sidebar)
    • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
    • 2 teaspoons chili powder
    • 1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
    • 1 tablespoon salt

Preparation

Baking Directions:

These meatballs prep up pretty quickly and make an easy weeknight meal (especially if you freeze them), paired with some salad, sautéed greens, or even a garlic and olive oil pasta. I use two secret ingredients here to achieve smokiness. The first, black cardamom, is used throughout North and East African cooking, in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine, and even in Sichuan cooking. It has a darker, woodsier flavor than green cardamom and pairs beautifully with lamb. The other, smoked Spanish paprika, is a staple in my spice pantry—it imparts great smokiness without heat. Enjoy!Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add the butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When the foam subsides, add the shallot and garlic and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, until the shallots are translucent. Set aside to cool. To a large mixing bowl, add the ground lamb and make a well in the center. Add the cooled shallot/garlic mixture and the rest of the ingredients. Carefully mix to ensure even distribution. I like to make a claw with my hands and fold over the meat mixture repeatedly. You don't want to mash or overmix because it will make the meatballs tough. Using wet hands, roll even-sized pieces of the mixture into balls. I make my meatballs about 1¼" in diameter, so if you make yours larger or smaller, adjust the cooking time appropriately. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and place meatballs into the pan. These brown pretty quickly, so I cook for about 30 seconds to a minute on each side. Work in batches so you don't overcrowd the pan (you want browned meatballs, not steamed), and place browned meatballs in a baking dish. Once all the meatballs have been browned, cover the baking dish with foil and place it in the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until cooked through, firm, but tender. Serve warm alongside your favorite dipping sauce.

Israeli couscous salad with lemon, fennel, and basil
Servings:

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

    • 3 cups vegetable stock or water
    • 2 cups raw Israeli couscous
    • 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
    • 1 fennel bulb, shaved thin, fronds reserved
    • 1 shallot, minced
    • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
    • Juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon
    • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
    • Small handful of basil, hand-torn
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preparation

Baking Directions:

To cook the couscous, bring the vegetable stock or water up to a boil over high heat. Season with salt, add the couscous, cover, and bring back up to a boil. When it comes up to a strong boil, remove from the heat and let sit covered 8 to 10 minutes, until the couscous has absorbed all of the water. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and fluff with a fork. Cool completely.To the cooled couscous, add the shaved fennel along with 2 tablespoons of chopped fennel fronds, the minced shallot, lemon zest, lemon juice, sherry vinegar, and torn basil. Drizzle a bit of extra-virgin olive oil on top and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix, taste, and adjust seasoning, including the lemon juice.Chill before serving.

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