You might say I am a tad obsessed with harissa these days. Harissa roasted chicken. Harissa Bloody Mary. And now these harissa lamb meatballs. Sorry, not sorry.
To take a step back for just a second, harissa is a North African condiment made from chilis, peppers, herbs, oil and other ingredients depending on the region, family, etc. It is very popular in Israel, where it was introduced by Moroccan, Tunisian and other Jews of North African descent. As Israeli food has gained a following in America, it’s a condiment that is increasingly easy to find in major supermarkets.
I made an enormous batch of these meatballs for a recent shindig we hosted, and there was not one meatball left over, so I figured they might be a hit. For the party I served them with toothpicks, refreshing the platter as the evening went on. But I have also served them on top of a bed of freshly fluffed couscous and a little extra fresh herbs for a satisfying, but not too heavy, dinner.
These can be made the night before, and they reheat very well on the stove over low heat.
For the sauce:
1 to 2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves
Pinch caraway seeds
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
3 heaping Tbsp. of harissa paste (you can add more to your taste)
1-1/2 cups of water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
For the meatballs:
2 pounds ground lamb
3 Tbsp. minced mint
3 Tbsp. minced flat leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large eggs
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. fresh lemon zest
Vegetable oil for frying
1. To make the sauce: Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Saute onion until translucent and soft, around 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, pinch of caraway seeds and tomato paste, and saute another 2 minutes.
2. Add canned tomatoes, harissa and water, and bring to a low simmer. Cook 30 to 40 minutes, covered over low heat. The tomato sauce will be done when the tomatoes have broken down and the sauce has reduced slightly and is a deep color.
3. To make the meatballs: Combine ground lamb, mint, parsley, garlic, eggs, salt and lemon zest in a large bowl. Using your hands, combine until mixed throughout, but take care not to overwork the meat.
4. Form tablespoon-sized meatballs, using your hands or a cookie scoop. Roll gently and place on a plate until ready to fry.
5. Heat vegetable oil (or other neutral oil) over medium heat in a large saute pan. Fry meatballs in batches until brown, rotating them to ensure they have been browned on all sides.
6. Remove from pan. You may need to add a little more oil in between batches.
7. Add the lamb meatballs to the sauce (as well as additional liquid from frying) and allow to simmer another 15 minutes.
8. Serve with couscous and chopped fresh herbs if desired. Serves 6.
Shannon Sarna is editor of The Nosher. Her first cookbook, “Modern Jewish Baker: Challah Babka Bagels and More,” was published in 2017 by Countryman Press.