Nopi’s Lamb Meatballs with Warm Yogurt and Swiss Chard
A great meatball is a fine thing.
Especially one bobbing in a rich, creamy sauce that transports you from the first indulgent taste to a faraway land.
That’s what you’ll get with “Lamb Meatballs with Warm Yogurt and Swiss Chard.”
Ottolenghi, of course, is the masterful owner of a slew of restaurants in London and the author of several cookbooks that pretty much land on the best-seller’s list every time he publishes one.
Scully is his head chef of Ottolenghi’s fine-dining establishment, Nopi.
The book contains more than than 120 recipes, combining Ottolenghi’s Middle Eastern roots with Scully’s Malaysian heritage.
Unlike his other cookbooks — “Plenty” (Chronicle Books), “Plenty More” (Ten Speed Press), “Ottolenghi” (Ten Speed Press), and “Jerusalem” (Ten Speed Press) — this one includes dishes that are more ambitious and complex, including “Quail with Burnt Miso Butterscotch and Pomegrante and Walnut Salsa” and “Venison Fillet with Date Labneh, Blackberries, and Peanut Crumble.”
But if you look closely, you’ll also find a good number of recipes that are simpler yet still enticing, such as “Paprika Oven Fries,” “French Toast with Orange Yogurt,” and this one for meatballs.
These lamb meatballs pack a flavorful punch with cinnamon, coriander, dried mint, allspice, garlic and pinenuts. If you don’t have dried mint, you can some finely chopped fresh mint leaves instead.
These are not light, fluffy balls, but meaty, denser ones. They get seared before they finish cooking in a bath of Greek yogurt fortified with Swiss chard leaves and onion that have been kissed with chile and lemon. Go for the full-fat yogurt for this dish, too, as you’ll want its luxurious body and flavor.
The dish can be made a day ahead; and it’s even more flavorful the next day. If the sauce separates when rewarming the next day, Ottolenghi and Scully recommend to just lift out the meatballs, add a spoonful of stock or yogurt, and whisk in before returning the meatballs to the pan and continuing to heat.
Because you only use the leaves of the chard for this dish, they suggest shaving the white stalks raw into a salad or blanch the stalks and serve with olive oil, lemon zest, garlic and chile flakes. I chopped up the stalks, then sauteed them in olive oil until al dente, before folding them into an omelet for lunch the next day.
The pomegranate seeds or arils are optional. But do use them if you can because they not only add brilliant pops of color to the dish, but a nice sweet-tart fruity accent.
The best way to remove the aris from a whole pomegranate without staining your fingers and clothing? I learned a great trick from Chef Ryan Scott of San Francisco’s Market & Rye, when I moderated his cooking demo recently in Yosemite. Cut the pomegranate in half through its equator. Hold one half, cut side facing down, over a bowl of water, while whacking it with the side of a wooden spoon. The arils will dislodge and fall out into the bowl of water and sink. Any pith will float to the top, making it easy to remove by scooping out with your fingers. Drain the arils through a sieve, and they’re ready to use.
This dish with its heavenly sauce cries out to be served with a big mound of fluffy, fragrant basmati rice.
Dig in and enjoy an exotic taste of Persia in your own home.
Lamb Meatballs with Warm Yogurt and Swiss Chard
2 1/4 pounds ground lamb
5 1/4 ounces fresh bread crumbs
2 1/2 ounces pine nuts, toasted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried mint
4 teaspoons ground allspice
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 red chile, seeded and finely diced
10 1/2 ounces (about 1 bunch) Swiss chard, white stalks removed (and saved for another use) and green leaves coarsely shredded
1 1/4 cups chicken stock
2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 1/4 cups whole milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed to a paste with 2 teaspoons water
1 egg, lightly beaten
Seeds of 1 medium pomegranate (optional)
3/4 ounce cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
Place the first six ingredients in a large bowl with half of the allspice, half of the garlic, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Mix well, then shape into 2-inch meatballs, weighing 3 1/2 ounces each. You should make about 24 balls.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium saucepan with the onion and the remaining garlic. Fry over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the onions have softened but not taken on any color. Add the chile and chard and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the chard has wilted. Stir in the remaining allspice, along with the chicken stock and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat.
Place the yogurt, cornstarch paste, and egg in a large mixing bowl with 2/3 cup of water. Whisk well to form a smooth paste. Gradually spoon the hot chard mixture into the yogurt, stirring well after each addition, until the two mixtures are combined. Add 2 teaspoons of salt, along with a good crack of black pepper; stir, and set aside.
Pour the remaining oil into a large, high-sided saute pan and place over medium-high heat. Add half the meatballs and fry for 4 minutes, turning a few times so that all sides get browned. Remove from the pan and repeat with the remaining batch, adding a little bit more oil if you need to.
Wipe out the pan and pour in the yogurt sauce. Bring to a very gentle simmer over medium-low heat — it should barely be bubbling — stirring continuously in one direction to prevent the yogurt from curdling. Return the meatballs to the pan — they should just be covered with sauce — and cook over low heat, covered for 20 to 25 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve at once, while the pomegranate seeds and cilantro sprinkled on top.
From “Nopi” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully
Another Yotam Ottolenghi Recipe to Try: Squash with Chile Yogurt and Cilantro Sauce
More Meatballs to Entice: Pistachio and Pomegranate Meatballs