Lamb Meatballs with Quince & Black Olives
Lamb with quince is a truly classic combination and features heavily in the cuisines of Morocco, Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, the Republic of Armenia, and throughout the Middle East. I recently had a stew with both that was the inspiration for this recipe – that perfect combination of sweet, tart, and textures along with the slow-cooked lamb was heavenly.
If you haven’t tried quince, it’s a hard, yellow, apple-looking fruit that is pretty tart. The ones in the East are sweeter and more palatable raw, but both truly mellow and deepen in flavor with cooking. I’ve been told beating them with a rolling pin helps bring the juices to the surface if you happen to be cooking them down for a jam or jelly. They are also positively delicious poached in wine with spices and sugar and served with a bit of cream.
I went for a meatball here because there was a game on and my husband and his friend were playing guinea pigs. These are, without a doubt, man-friendly. The quince jam adds the perfect touch of sweetness and acidity, and I threw in the black olives for a briny touch. I like to use both dried and fresh mint here because they offer different flavors, and I served these with a kicked-up, Greek yoghurt dip of sorts to add a bit of spice. I personally prefer my meatballs a bit softer and melt-in-your-mouth rather than firm, so these meatballs are super moist and tender with a bit of char from the browning. Enjoy!
3 shallots, chopped into chunks
5 garlic cloves
2 lbs ground lamb
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tsps salt
2 ½ tsps cumin
¾ tsp paprika
½ tsp cayenne
½ tsp black pepper
2 ½ tsps dried mint*
½ cup black olives, pitted and finely chopped
1/3 cup quince jam
¾ cup plain breadcrumbs
2 egg yolks
8-10 mint leaves, finely chopped
handful of parsley, finely chopped
3 tbsp vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 375° F.
In a food processor, pulse shallots and garlic until finely minced / almost a paste.
To a large mixing bowl, add the ground lamb and make a well in the center. Add shallot/garlic mixture and rest of the ingredients except the vegetable oil. 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 over mix as it will make the meatballs tough.
Using wet hands, roll even-sized pieces of the mixture into balls until all of the mixture is finished. I make my meatballs about 1 ½ inches in diameter, so if you make yours larger or smaller, adjust the cooking time appropriately.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil 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 as not to overcrowd the pan, and place browned meatballs in a baking dish.
Once all have been browned, cover baking dish with foil, and place in the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until cooked through but tender.
Serve warm alongside your favorite dipping sauce.
*For the dried mint, rather than putting it straight from the jar, I like to crush it between my palms and then dust it into the bowl. It helps to bring out the natural oils..