Lamb, sumac & lemon meatballs

I’ve written before about how much I love making and eating meatballs – friends and family often say its my signature dish.  For a while I was even called ‘the meatball lady’ by a small three year old.

Looking through my recipes I’m surprised that to date I’ve only posted one for meatballs as they’re a regular feature at no 41.  Meatballs are an easy way of combining textures and flavours and I like to experiment with what I find in the fridge, pantry or herb garden (I say garden but you know I mean flowerbed or scraggy pot at the front door).

I’m not sure how this combination came together.  My meatballs have always been pork or beef based so lamb was a new direction.  The flavours were inspired by recipes from Comfort & Spice and Ottolenghi and adding bulgur wheat came from thinking about what I might serve them with.

Sumac powder comes from crushing the dried berries of a shrub that is grown in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.  It has a citrus taste and is used in Middle Eastern cuisine as a souring agent instead of lemon.  If you can’t find it, substitute with more lemon zest.

Lamb, sumac & lemon meatballs
For the meatballs
  • ⅓ cup bulgur wheat
  • ½ cup water
  • 500g minced lamb
  • 1 tbsp sumac
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped lemon zest
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • oil to shallow fry
For the tomato sauce
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced or finely chopped
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  1. Soak the bulgur wheat in the water for 20 to 30 minutes until most if not all of the water is absorbed. Drain.
  2. Put the lamb, bulgur wheat, sumac and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl with a pinch of salt and a good few twists of pepper. Add the beaten egg, mix together thoroughly and shape into small meatballs - walnut sized - squeezing them tightly.
  3. Fry the meatballs in a little oil to brown them and set aside (don’t put too many in your pan at once, and treat them gently or they may break up - you may want to firm them in the fridge for 20-30 minutes first).
  4. For the tomato sauce, fry the chopped onions and garlic until soft in a pan large enough to hold all your meatballs (I find a saute pan is better than a saucepan). Add the tin of tomatoes, and heat until bubbling. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Add your cooked meatballs to the tomato sauce and cook for 20-25 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through (keep an eye on the sauce as it gets quite thick and you don’t want it to stick, add a touch of water if necessary).
  6. Serve in toasted pitta breads with wilted greens and garlicky greek yoghurt.
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2 Responses to Lamb, sumac & lemon meatballs

  1. I love meatballs and often make them but I’ve never added bulgur wheat – that sounds a great idea. I do use a lot of sumac, though; I think it adds a real depth of flavour as well as that sour quality.

  2. Nicola says:

    Thank you Phil. Sumac is my new find – I love the colour as well. Bulgur wheat gives such a different texture to meatballs too.

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