Chile-Cumin Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt and Cucumber


Hi. Can we get on the same page about something? Sometimes I just want to post a recipe, with the implied imperative: you should make this! Sometimes there isn’t much else to say. Cool?



(Okay, but I will say that making your own pita to serve with this is fun. I got a real thrill out of watching them puff up like this, and then deflate. Delicious.)


Chile-Cumin Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt and Cucumber (recipe adapted (to simplify) from Seamus Mullen via Bon Appetit)

Chile Sauce

  • 3 pasilla chiles, seeds removed, chopped
  • 1½ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • ¼ cup Sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Meatballs and Assembly

  • ¼ small onion, chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (plus extra for garnish)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon dry)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
  • ¾ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ¾ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more
  • 1 large egg
  • 1¼ pounds ground lamb
  • 1 tablespoon rice flour or all-purpose flour
  • 2–3 tablespoons olive oil

For serving

  • ½ English hothouse cucumber, thinly sliced and tossed with some lemon juice, olive oil, and salt
  • ½ cup plain sheep’s-milk or cow’s whole-milk yogurt (I like to add some salt and a minced clove of garlic to the yogurt)
  • Crushed red pepper flakes

Chile Sauce

Toast chiles, red pepper flakes, and cumin seeds in a dry small skillet over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until fragrant and cumin seeds are golden, about 3 minutes. Let cool. Working in batches, finely grind in a spice mill, then transfer to a blender.

Add vinegar, paprika, and garlic to blender and blend until smooth. With the motor running, gradually stream in oil and blend until combined. Transfer to a large bowl and season with salt.

Chile sauce can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.

Meatballs and Assembly

Pulse onion, chopped garlic, parsley, oregano, sage, fennel seeds, coriander, cumin, and 1 tablespoon salt in a food processor, scraping down sides as needed, until finely chopped. Add egg, lamb, and flour and pulse until evenly combined. Form lamb mixture into 1 ½” balls.

Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Working in 2 batches and adding another 1 Tbsp. oil to skillet if needed, cook meatballs, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides and cooked through, 5–8 minutes. Transfer meatballs to paper towels to drain.

Transfer all meatballs to bowl with chile sauce and toss to coat.

Spoon yogurt into bowls. Evenly divide meatballs among bowls; top with dressed cucumber and parsley and  sprinkle with red pepper flakes.

This becomes a meal if you serve it with some pita, and maybe a bowl of hummus.

15 comments to “Chile-Cumin Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt and Cucumber”

  1. SO SAUCY. I love all the vinegar in the sauce too. Did not realize how magical vinegar could make sauces until trying chicken adobo.

  2. Those meatballs look DIVINE!

  3. They look delicious!

  4. Totally on the same page. Don’t let the lack of a narrative prevent you from posting. I’m here for the food! (But I do appreciate the thoughtful writing, too.)

  5. I’d love to make these, but my local lamb provider only sells lamb in 1 lb packages. Any recommended tweaks if I only have 1 lb of lamb?

  6. totally cool. eager to try this. I fell in love with dinner and a love story’s lamb meatballs or keftas or whatever she called them, and this looks like an awesome new option in the spicy herb-y middle eastern inspired meat theme.

  7. Hi Meghan- Just wing it! They’re meatballs, you won’t go too wrong. Even if you kept the rest of the ingredients as is, you’d be fine.

  8. Delish. Perfect combination of delicious stuff.

  9. can’t wait to make these for Sabbath dinner this week, to celebrate the last week of school! Shiv’s become an expert at flipping tortillas, but we’ve never done pita, so that should be a good adventure. xx

  10. Hi! How many does this recipe serve? Just invited 9 people for dinner with the intention of going nuts with this and would love guidance on portions. Thanks! Love your blog :)

  11. Hi Lauren- I never know how to talk about servings. It depends? For Bryan and I, this recipe made 4 servings. We ate it with pita and some hummus. I would probably say it is 4 lunch servings, or light dinner servings. If I were having 9 people for dinner I would double the recipe, and serve it with pita, rice, hummus (or another spread), and some salad (like a Jerusalem salad).

  12. I stumbled upon this blog yesterday and HAD to make these meatballs last night. They were amazing! Didn’t have it in me to make the pita myself, but it was so good. Will need to fit this into a more regular rotation.

  13. I absolutely LOVED this! I made it with a mix of veal and beef because I just didn’t have access to ground lamb and they were outrageously delicious! I loved the tang in that pasilla chile sauce. Thanks for sharing =)

  14. This is a very saucy recipe! I personally love the chile sauce! But everything about this is perfect! The meatball looks really great and the cucumber is a great addition to the recipe. Love it!

  15. I made this tonight and it was a show-stopper. I know it’s obnoxious to post a list of things I left out/exchanged but in case it’s helpful to others: I couldn’t find pasilla chiles so I used 2 anchos, I didn’t have cumin seeds so I used ground cumin and didn’t toast it, and I didn’t have sage or fresh parsley so I just left it out. It was amazing like this and I bet it would only be more amazing with all the fresh herbs!

What do you think?