The best meatballs, contrary to what many think, are not purely meat. A meatball with no filler tends to be tough and dense as meat proteins crosslink and tighten up during cooking. It's by adding something—say, a mixture of bread and milk called a panade, or other cooked grains or legumes—that you get the tender results of the ideal meatball.
In this recipe from the superb book Tender, Nigel Slater goes running with this idea, using not only cracked wheat to bulk out the meat, but also grated raw beets. I was skeptical but drawn to their incredible rich, red color. The result was absolutely wonderful, with the earthy beets marrying perfectly to the flavor of lamb, with plenty of freshness from the herbs. It made a small amount of ground meat go much, much further.
Adapted from Tender.
- Yield:serves 4
- Active time: 30 minutes
- Total time:50 minutes
- 1/2 cup cracked wheat
- 1/3 of a medium cucumber, grated (about 1/2 cup)
- Kosher salt
- 9 ounces grated raw beets (3 to 4 small)
- 1 small onion, grated (about 1/2 cup)
- 14 ounces ground lamb
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 3/4 cup yogurt
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil (like canola or vegetable)
Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, cover the cracked wheat with 1 cup boiling water, then set aside to swell. Put the grated cucumber in a colander set over a bowl and sprinkle generously with salt. Allow it to drain for at least 15 minutes.
Combine the grated beets and onion in a large bowl. Add the ground lamb, garlic, dill, parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Squeeze any excess water from the wheat and add it to the mixture. Mix well. Form the mixture into small meatballs about the size of a golf ball.
Squeeze the water from the cucumber and combine it with the mint, capers, and yogurt. Taste and season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet, over medium heat until shimmering. Add as many meatballs as can fit without crowding and brown them well on all sides, about 6 minutes total. As they finish, move them to a rimmed baking sheet. Once all meatballs are browned, transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with the yogurt sauce.