Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lamb Meatballs & Minted Yogurt

Really? Another one???  I thought this trend was D-E-A-D.  The newest restaurant coming to Chicagoland with the familiar, and tiresome theme- Earth & Ocean.  It joins a list of many others, although now removed is Kith & Kin, which shuttered in May of 2011.  A couple of faves in Girl & the Goat and Longman & Eagle, if you can even get reso's for the Goat.  The wild boar sloppy joe at Longman is quite tasty.  Hard to get a table there too, come to think of it.  Owen & Engine is just okay, the cask-conditioned beer thing hasn't been as popular as they might like on this side of the pond, and they serve their wings dinosaur style (not disjointed) which is a frustrating mess.  That commercial where the wing is slapping that dude's face while he's trying to eat it?  Yeah, that's about how it is trying to eat one of those damn things.  Gene & Georgetti's has been around for 75 years, and is definitely the oldest steakhouse in Chicago with an ampersand in their name.  Smith & Wollensky has better views than steaks, only because this is Chicago and there are plenty better options. I have not dined at Baume & Brix, Bangers & Lace, Butcher & the Burger, or Blokes & Birds.  Too new, too hip, or too out of the way now that we live so far from the action.  Did I miss any?? 

And now I bring you Lamb & Yogurt.  I love this flavor combination, especially enjoyable was this outdoor version.  Minted yogurt, tzatziki sauce, gyros, lamb meatballs, it's all so damn good.  Nothing beats the street vendor gyro at Greek Fest, so much crispy yet juicy meat packed in a warm pita with tomatoes, onion, and sauce, washed down with cold snuck-in backpack Miller Lites.    

This recipe yields 27 golf-ball size meatballs, for 1.25 pounds of ground lamb.  When frying, you never want to crowd the pan, as you'll need to roll them around to brown on all sides.  Use a neighboring meatball for support if needed, they're friends.  Work in batches and keep the cooked balls warm in the oven.  An easy way to keep track is to put the first meatball in the skillet at Noon (the hands on the clock, you don't have to eat these for lunch, although you could) and then go either way around the clock.  When turning them, start at Noon and go the same way so they get equal frying time.  You might need to clean the stovetop after this one. 

 Lamb Meatballs & Minted Yogurt
6 servings

for the minted yogurt-
8 oz plain greek yogurt
2 TB chopped fresh mint
1 TB fresh lemon juice plus 1/2 large lemon zest
2 TB thinly sliced green onion
pinch S&P

for the balls-
1 C of torn 1/2" pieces white bread, crusts removed (about 2 slices)
1/2 cup milk
1-1.25 lb ground lamb
1/2 C diced shallot (or one small onion)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 C chopped fresh mint (about 1 C whole leaves, loosely packed)
1 ts dried oregano
1 large egg, whisked
1 ts ground cumin
1/8 ts fresh nutmeg (or ground)
1 ts kosher salt
1/2 ts freshly cracked black pepper
flour, for dredging
canola oil, for frying

6 pitas, lightly toasted
1/4 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
handful torn mint leaves

for the yogurt-
combine all ingredients, stir well, taste for seasoning, adjust with more lemon or S&P if needed, stash in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.  Will keep up to a week. 

for the balls-
Place the torn pieces of bread in a small bowl, cover with the milk.  Smash down a bit to get all the bread soaking.  Set aside.  This is a panade, if you want the technical term, and is the best friend any meatball will ever have.  

In a small skillet, heat up a TB or so of EVOO or butter over medium heat and cook the shallot until soft, but not browned, about 3-4 minutes.   Add the garlic the last 30 seconds, stirring.  Set aside to cool.  Fire up your oven to warm, 225F.

In a large mixing bowl, add the ground lamb, egg, mint, oregano, cumin, and nutmeg.  Squeeze the excess milk from the bread and add the bread to the bowl, along with the slightly cooled shallot/garlic mixture.  Season with S&P, then combine thoroughly but gently with your hands.  You want to distribute the ingredients evenly but not mash the shit out of it.

Form about golf-ball size portions, roll in the palm of your hand and place on a sheet pan.  In a shallow dish, add a bit of flour for dredging.  Heat about 1/2 C or so of canola or vegetable oil in a cast-iron skillet or steel pan over medium high heat.  Dredge the balls in flour, shaking off any excess, place gently into the hot oil.  Fry your balls on each side until browned, about 2 minutes per side.  Remove to a paper towel lined sheet pan, place in the warm oven while you fry up the rest of the lamb balls. 

Serve the lamb meatballs in a warm pita topped with minted yogurt, diced cucumber, thinly sliced red onion, and a few torn mint leaves.  A syrah, pinot, or Bordeaux would pair nicely, or one of those Greek wines with forty-seven letters you can't pronounce. 

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