lamb meatballs with feta and lemon Recipes

lamb meatballs with feta and lemon

Despite trying to provide ample evidence here, nobody believes me when I say that I get no special pleasure out of weeknight cooking — and guys, it’s like my chosen career, which doesn’t bode well for those of us who are no place near a kitchen all day. In an ideal world it would be relaxing, a way to unwind as we talked about our days while snapping ends off asparagus and rinsing rice before we cooked it. We’d make food that surprised and delighted us, food that exceeded our humble weeknight expectations every time and righted all of the day’s wrongs. And then the dishes would magically wash themselves. In reality, weeknight cooking is usually about practicality; hurried and hastily chopped, and all too often with a 4.5 year-old having a hangry meltdown at my feet because he didn’t want baked potatoes with broccoli for dinner, he wanted spaghetti and meatballs. Please send in the violins.

what you'll need
lamb, tomato pasta, breadcrumbs, egg, feta

Nevertheless, despite how wide the gap is between this ideal and my relative reality, I do try to close it, with varying degrees of success. And although I have little interest in helping preschoolers fulfill their life goal of subsisting exclusively on pasta and pizza, I am not immune to the occasional politely worded request. It’s from these two places that we had lamb meatballs last night and everyone was, for once, happy.

brown the small meatballs

return the browned meatballs to the sauce
lamb meatballs in a lemony tomato sauce

Not just any lamb meatballs, though. My usual approach builds them in a falafel-like manner with cumin, coriander, Aleppo pepper and sesame seeds (I talk about in my book; Molly Wizenberg did so here) but I’m trying to step back from the cumin-frenzy we’ve been in since the new year (see also: Avocado Cups with Black Bean Confetti Salad, Three Bean Chili, Sizzling Chicken Fajitas and Stuck-Pot Rice with Lentils and Yogurt, seriously) and tried to brighten them up for spring with Greek-like spring flair: lemon, feta, olives, oregano and mint.

lamb meatballs with feta, olives and lemon
lamb meatballs with chopped salad and orzo

One year ago: Essential Raised Waffles
Two years ago: Warm, Crisp and a Little Melty Salad Croutons
Three years ago: Ribboned Asparagus Salad with Lemon
Four years ago: Classic Cobb Salad, Lime Yogurt Cake with Blackberry Sauce, Blue Cheese Scallion Drop Biscuits and Creamed Chard with Spring Onions
Five years ago: Cinnamon Swirl Buns, Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper and Pasta with Favas, Tomatoes and Sausage
Six years ago: Caramelized Shallots, Peanut Sesame Noodles, Almond Cake with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote and Cauliflower, Bean and Feta Salad
Seven years ago: Tequila Lime Chicken and Green Onion Slaw and Chicken Empanada with Chorizo and Olives

Lamb Meatballs with Feta, Lemon and Mint
Riffed a bit from these meatballs

Notes: I made half the meatballs and all of the sauce because I wasn’t really paying attention. (See also: weeknights!) You won’t have such a huge excess of sauce, promise. You can cook the olives right into the sauce, but as I have an olive-averse child, I kept them aside as garnish for grown-ups.

New note, 5/16/14: In response to several commenters mentioning softness, two things: First, I should have noted from the outset that I adore a tender, soft, moist meatballs, which these were intended to be. However, from what I’m reading, those of you that are browning your meatballs first are finding that they hold up in the sauce (what I usually do), and those that are not are finding that they fall apart a bit. If you’re not going to brown the meatballs first, I’m going to suggest that you instead use only 3 tablespoons water. The recipe is now updated accordingly. I hope that helps going forward and apologize for any trouble this caused.

Yield: About 36 small meatballs (I use a 3T scoop to yield 1.5 to 2-inch meatballs)

3 to 8 tablespoons water
2 pounds ground lamb
1 large egg
1 1/4 cup (about 70 grams) breadcrumbs, fresh or plain, such as Panko
1/2 cup (55 grams) crumbled feta cheese
3/4 teaspoon table salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 small garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons (35 grams) tomato paste
Zest of half a lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
A couple glugs of red wine or white/dry vermouth (optional)
1 28-ounce (795 grams) can of crushed or pureed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Zest of half a lemon
3/4 to 1 teaspoon table salt
Pinches of red pepper flakes (to taste)
1/3 cup (about 45 grams) pitted, chopped kalamata olives
1 tablespoon thinly sliced mint leaves, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup (30 grams) crumbled feta, for garnish

Make meatballs: If you plan don’t plan to brown the meatballs, use only 3 tablespoons water. If you do, use all 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup). In a large bowl, combine all meatball ingredients except oil; I like to do this with a fork. Using wet hands, form mixture into small (1 1/2 to 2-inch diameter) meatballs; I have taken to using a large (just shy of 3 tablespoon) cookie scoop for easy sizing.

Brown meatballs: Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and heat it through. Evenly space meatballs in pan and very carefully turn and roll them so that all sides become brown. Don’t worry if they don’t remain perfectly round; mine never do. Don’t worry if some pieces become stuck to the pan; they will deliciously infuse the sauce in a minute. Drain meatballs on a paper towel-lined plate.

[If you prefer not to fry your meatballs before cooking them in the sauce, you can cook them right in the sauce — it will take about 10 minutes longer.]

Make sauce and finish cooking meatballs: Pour out all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet and return to medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add wine or vermouth and scrape up any bits stuck to the pan. Cook until the liquid almost disappears. Add tomatoes, oregano, lemon zest, salt, pepper flakes, olives (if you’re using them now), mint and parsley. Bring mixture to a simmer and return meatballs to the pan. Cover with a lid and cook at the lowest simmer for 20 to 24 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through. Squeeze lemon juice over meatballs and sauce.

Serve: Sprinkled with additional olives, feta and herbs. We had this with orzo and a Greek salad.

In a pressure cooker: I made these on the stove, but as they were riffed from a pressure cooker recipe (from the wonderful Lorna Sass, no less), it would be rude not to add her approach, which is to chop everything more coarsely (the pressure cooking will break down the bigger chunks for you), make the sauce directly in a pressure cooker as described above and drop the meatballs in to cook them without browning them first. Once at high pressure, she recommends cooking them for 5 minutes. More here.

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184 comments on lamb meatballs with feta and lemon

  1. Carrie

    Yum, those look excellent! Meatballs are a big hit for my 4 year old daughter, I’ll have to give this a try to break away from the standard Italian meatballs. I have ground beef in the fridge, I think that will work just as well, perhaps just a little milder taste?

  2. I think meatballs are pretty much the one food that everyone, no matter how young or old they are, loves equally. I like this greek riff on them very much not least because feta makes everything better.

  3. These sound delicious! I can’t wait to try them, especially since you’ve got all my pantry staples in the ingredients. Your dinner time frenzy made me laugh. I’ve got a three year old who also suffers from the dinner time meltdowns. Ahh…the day will come when we can listen to music, slowly sip our wine, and have delightful conversations in the kitchen without losing thought mid sentence because of constant interruptions. Of course, then we will wonder why they never talk to us anymore (I also have a twelve year old)!

  4. Love these! I’ve recently rediscovered meatballs as a weeknight option, though I don’t have the patience/time to make the balls so I just make meatloaf instead. It might be worth to make and freeze the balls, then reheat in the sauce, too.

  5. Jen

    Since we are huge fans of meatballs at our house (in fact, we just had buffalo chicken meatballs last night that I pulled out of the freezer from a couple months ago), these are definitely going on my list. And I see no problem with all that leftover sauce! And we will also leave the olives out and use them as a garnish, except it’s because we have two olive-averse adults and one olive-loving child in our house. Weird.

    I make a different type of lamb meatballs, made with raisins, feta, and walnuts. I bake them and serve with pesto. Delicious also!

  6. lia

    Moncia. I sub ground organic gluten free steel cut oats for all of the breadcrumbs in any recipe. A much healthier choice for people who can’t eat gluten.

  7. Louise

    I love your dream that weeknight cooking can be relaxing after a long day of riveting or computer programming or bringing criminals to justice! I enjoy cooking, but no matter how hard I try, I’m not able to relax into the moment at the end of a busy day. Especially when you’re hungry and others around you are hungry and waiting. But with your help at least the food is delicious and, on the right day, might inspire the sort of pleasure we all seek from our stoves and whisks. Thanks for your lovely cooking.

  8. Wendy Koz

    Thank you thank you, for yet another dinner inspiration! You have, I think, one tiny typo in your post: just above the picture of the cooking meatballs, I think you meant to say “I am not immune” instead of “I are not immune”? I’m looking forward to trying this as soon as I can (says this fellow mother of a 4.x year-old who would prefer to live on pizza and pasta!).

  9. Chris

    For the anti-olive crowd, would capers be an okay substitution? That’s what I usually do when a recipe calls for olives.
    – a greek girl who hates olives and comes from a family of olive-farmers.

  10. Kristen

    I look forward to making the meatballs soon, but more importantly, the pic with the TUBE of tomato paste just changed my life! I’ve wasted so much canned tomato paste when I’ve only needed a couple tablespoons for a recipe. I am so excited to buy it in a tube now!

  11. Charlotte

    I have in my fridge some ground lamb waiting to be made into meatballs and you post this recipe – how lovely. And I was looking at your picture of Jacob and wondering how he got to be 4.5 already (wasn’t it yesterday you posted about him being born?) and then I remembered that my own boy is now a great hulking 8 yr old. Geez – blink and they grow up.

  12. Amy

    Deb, we recently found our our 21-month daughter is allergic to eggs. Do you know of any tricks to making meatballs without egg? I’m using a ground flax/water concoction for most substitutions. Thanks muchisimo!

  13. Oh, boy does that sound familiar! I use to make a Turkish version of these when my kids were younger. Now that my kids are teens 2 out of 4 have palettes that have been altered (dare I say seriously stunted) by their peer groups, and not for the better! Maybe I’ll try again :)! Gotta keep trying!

  14. Bridgit

    Sounds delicious! I’m intrigued by the pressure cooker idea. You mention slow cooker in the instructions. Is that suppose to be pressure?

  15. Judy

    When my daughter was little, my husband and I both worked. It took us at least an hour to leave work, fight through 25 miles of rush hour traffic to get to her daycare, and then another 6 miles to get home. By then it was close to 5:30, and she was starved! One of us would take care of any potty issues, then set her up with a large sheet of paper taped to the table and her crayons. Meanwhile, the other parent would quickly defrost some frozen veggies [she especially liked peas, green beans and snow-pea pods] under running water to just cooler than room temp, toss in some carrot and cuke sticks from the fridge [I always kept a bag of them there for her], and pour her some milk. While we subsequently made dinner, she happily colored her own place mat and ate a very healthy serving of vegetables.

  16. Leslie

    Do you think I could half the recipe? I’m going to try with “fake” ground beef–which I NEVER eat because I know it’s not really good for you–because these look so good!

    1. deb

      Leslie — I did halve it, however, it’s weird to beat an egg and only use half, but this is what you must do. (I find when I use a whole egg for 1 pound, it feels too firm to me.) Save the other half for an omelet or the like.

      Sarah — I’d probably go with dark meat turkey if you have a choice.

      Judy — That’s very sweet.

      Bridgit — Yes, now fixed, thanks.

      Amy — I haven’t tried the flax/water thing but if it helps with binding (what the egg is used for here) I see no reason not to try it here.

      Karen — Yes, I’m lobbying to have it added to Webster’s. :)

      Chris — Yes, or you can completely skip them.

      Are/am typo — Thank you, now fixed.

      Wheat free options — I’d use gluten-free breadcrumbs if you have them or can get them. There are some other tips about using oats or rice. I haven’t tried it but it sounds like it might work. The breadcrumbs are mostly about softening the meat so I think you can fiddle a bit.

      Molly — It’s amazing. I cook in black tank tops. I really need to raise the bar!

  17. Lauren

    Yay Molly! (#2) That is one amazingly cute cookin’ shirt that Lorna is sporting! I am delighted to find a lamb recipe that is easy and fast and promises to have a lot of the fat removed. Also it is perfect for we “singles” in the group, since it probably can be frozen for an extra dinner or two. Bless you for the light lemony touch…will it ever REALLY be spring in the Northeast???????

  18. Jane

    Perfect timing Deb, my husband was just saying last night that I am using far too much cumin lately (he unfortunately doesn’t love it as much as I do) so I’ll cook this for him instead of your Turkey meatballs (which we both love!) Jacob by the way is just so grown up now! He is such a cute kid.

  19. Oh my goodness, YUM! I have some “Cheat Meals” that I keep in the freezer, one of which is the Chicken Pineapple and Teriyaki Aidell’s Meatballs. I’m TOTALLY using those with this recipe, it sounds FANTASTIC.

  20. Megan

    These meatballs look very tasty, but could a different type of sauce be substituted? I’m really not a fan of tomato sauces, but it seems criminal to not use any kind of sauce to compliment the meatballs. Any suggestions? Thanks!

  21. Rachel

    I might be the only person who went to the store straight from work to make this for dinner. Big error: the first step says to combine all meatball ingredients, but in the list that includes the oil…which you later find out is for frying, not mixing in. Smells delicious, though, and I guess a little extra evoo never hurt anyone!

  22. I’m so in a dinner rut, and sick of the 4.5yo deciding he didn’t want what he requested half an hour ago, but toast with peanut butter and nutella AGAIN. Buying ground lamb tomorrow. Thank you. x

  23. Forgot to mention…for breadcrumbs I use gluten free bread slices (usually use Udi’s)…just toast it a bit and pulse it in a food processor. Alternatively, I’ve used course almond meal.

  24. I hear ya on the weeknight cooking. It’s not for the faint of heart! I’m afraid it doesn’t get any easier the older they get….they just get hangrier!

  25. Catherine

    Megan (#39)- I think tzatziki might pair well with these meatballs, especially if it is more on the lemony side. Ina Garten makes a good one, though I’d make it thinner/saucier, as her recipe is more like a dip in thickness. Additional lemon juice and/or cucumber juice should achieve this nicely.

  26. alohabrah

    I’m with the 4.5 year old…if I had to eat a baked tater for dinner I would meltdown too…but these lamb meatballs …well…now were talkin!,,

  27. Sarah

    These sound delicious, but please don’t abandon those of us who measure by weight! The thought of trying to figure out cups of feta is making my brain ache.

  28. Lynn

    Wow, I now have something new for my cook and freeze category of recipes. Looks fast to prepare cook, divide and pack in 2-serving containers for later thaw, bring to office, pop in convection oven and voila we have a (nother)late -night -at -the -office -dinner (frequently needed) Also gets points for being portable and contains all ingredients we like! Thank you so much Deb!

  29. Ana

    It sounds wonderful! Bookmarking to try.

    I know what you mean about weeknight cooking. I feel it, too, often. This is not about the cooking, but what about comes beforehand, i.e. work and tiredness, and a desire to eat asap… Sometimes it leaves me to drained out to cook. I try to cook for two nights, and also for the freezer sometimes, to help with this. Another thing is smart shopping, e.g. mackerel fillets take no time to cook and taste delicious.

  30. Can I use ground chicken instead of lamb or a combination of two? looks yummy and definitely want to try, but what I have in the fridge at the moment is ground chicken….

  31. Katie C.

    For people with dinner time get it on the table issues: make a double batch of the meatballs and freeze one batch before cooking. It’s a great time saver. I’ve done the same with the meatballs that go in Italian Wedding soup and they defrost just fine. I also have to say that a lot of people just don’t understand how easy and inexpensive it is to make sauce from scratch which allows you to control the salt and other incomprehensible ingrediants that somehow end up in the jarred stuff.

  32. Lee

    Mmmm! These look wonderful. All of my favorites in one dish. May I suggest, for those who prefer not to fry, that you can brown meatballs in the oven by placing them on a rack on a cookie sheet and putting them in a very hot oven – 400 degrees or so, for about 10 – 15 minutes.

  33. Aaron Foster

    I tried this recipe the other day, and i have to say…. IT WAS ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE!!! The flavors went so swell together. Great choice of cheese to go on it. I was thinking fresh mozzarella or fresh provolone. But the taste of the feta with lemon and the marinara together was like an orgasm for my taste buds. If you haven’t already tried these, cancel your plans for dinner tonight and make these for your spouse or family. You will warm up their soul with one bite. Thank you for the recipe and keep posting! :)

  34. Ari

    What would you suggest if we needed to make them dairy free? My initial thoughts are, just a bit more lemon and/or chopping some of the olives and adding them to the meatballs themselves for the salty/briny taste?

  35. J

    I have a very basic question. I don’t have a microwave, so sometimes am hesitant to freeze things for later. If I froze a portion of this, would I just pop it in the fridge in the morning, and it’d be thawed enough to throw in a pot to heat up by evening?

    1. deb

      J — My fridge doesn’t usually defrost things in 8 hours, but it has more to do with how much is in the container/how big it is.

      Ari — I think you could skip the feta. It adds flavor but the meatball structure works without it.

      Asmita — Ground chicken should work fine but you might need a splash less water; I find ground chicken to be especially soft.

      Sarah — Weights now added.

      Catherine — It was a gift from a friend of my mom’s. She lives on the UWS, probably bought it around there. I realize that doesn’t actually help at all. :)

      Rachel — Oops! So sorry about that. Now fixed.

  36. ila

    For a one-pot minimum-cleaning operation you could brown the meatballs ( browning makes them so much tastier) in the pressure cooker, remove meat balls, soften onion etc in same pot, add sauce ingredients, cook for the required minutes ( under pressure, of course), then return meatballs to pot and finish for a few minutes. Sauce will be less dense than cooked in open saute pan ( no evaporation) but this method saves time.

  37. Jill W

    Jen, I feel ya on the hangry 4.5-year-olds at your feet…I have two of them! And what IS it about wanting pasta/spaghetti every night? My personal (un)favorite is, after working to put a delicious, healthy dinner on the table, one (or both) of them will sit down, look at their plate, and say, “this is NOT my favorite.” GRRRRRR. Anyway, thanks for your wonderful recipes – I’ll try this one soon as meatballs of any kind usually go over well at our house. And BTW, I recently made the harrissa dressing out of your cookbook (you did it with roasted veggies – I put it on a kale/farro/feta/dried cherry/pepino salad)…SO VERY YUMMY!

  38. Charlie

    Great looking dish. Your sautoir appears to have a bump in the center. All the oil is pooling around the outside in the first few pics of the blog entry. I usually can’t help from noticing junk like this. Sorry.

    Beautiful recipe though… really scrumptious.

  39. lynn

    This recipe came to me via email while I was in the grocery store, so of course, I had to stock up on the items I needed. I’ve now just finished simmering them on the stove. They are perfect! So soft and flavorful, just as written! The lemon zest, mint, and feta pack these with flavor! I’m not sure whether to have these little gems with pasta, or in a whole wheat pita pocket: mediterranean meatball sub-style. I think with the added garnishes and that squeeze of lemon, these are begging for a sandwich.

  40. Kristin

    I recently made a similar lamb meatball recipe that was published in the NY Times magazine. That recipe recommended browning the meatballs under the broiler rather than frying. Since I hate the mess of frying meatballs, I tried it, and they turned out perfect. The fat renders from the lamb into the pan and browns the bottom, the broiler browns the top. So much easier and less mess. I tried it with your turkey scallion meatballs this weekend. Perfect as well (and delicious).

  41. Laura

    Thanks for the inspiration, Deb!

    To decrease hands-on time for meatballage, I adore the America’s Test Kitchen strategy that they adopted for their “spaghetti and meatballs for a crowd”. Rolling those buggers out and popping them on a wire rack in a hot oven allows me to get other things done while they brown rather than babysit a greasy skillet. You can still infuse their lovely Maillard-reactioned outsides into your sauce by finishing them in the skillet/saucepan.

    For those hangrys, my first step when starting dinner is to cut and put out fresh veg, sometimes with hummus. If they (3 little boys) want to “spoil their appetites” on veg, I’m all for it. When really pressed for time, I dump frozen veg right into small tupperware or jar and tell them that their “treasure chests” are available. If they’re under foot in the kitchen, take 90 sec, stash them in another room, and send those pirates on a hunt for their treasure chests. It’s all in the marketing!

  42. Laura P.

    Oh, this looks delicious! I find meatballs fiddly to deal with for a weeknight meal, with the shaping and the two-step cooking process, but I may well make these Sunday night for my husband’s last home-cooked meal before a business trip!

  43. Rob Akkermans

    Hi there,

    I recently discovered your site, and everything looks extremely delicious.
    However I’ve got a question about some recipes. I’ve been looking around,
    and noticed there aren’t really a lot of dishes that are light on the stomach (I am Dutch, so I don’t know the correct English translation).

    I started this diet this week, and I can only eat the lighter things. Only problem is, I am not too creative with salads and things like that.
    My question now is, if you can give me some tips or links of recipes, or even create some (out of the goodness of your heart)?

    Thanks :)

  44. Trystate

    Lorna Sass! Long, long ago, when we still lived in NYC, I made her delicious pressure cooker risotto with oil cured olives, mushrooms & leeks all the time. You’ve inspired me to look up the recipe.

  45. Monica

    Hi, I see you love potato salad. I have a TON of sweet potatoes from my farm share…problem is that I signed up to bring potato salad to a cook out. Since there are no potatoes to be found in my farm share, I wanted to use the sweet potatoes I do have. Any ideas…suggestions to reimagine the potato salad with sweet potatoes?

  46. Pru

    Do you have any genius sauce ideas for those of us that just hate tomatoes? I know, I know. But I really hate tomatoes. I usually make a mustardy sauce for pork meatballs, but that seems like it would be all wrong here.

  47. Pamela

    Rachel, I also went straight to the store from work to get the ingredients. AND I added the EVOO to the meatball mixture, too. :-) oops! I made these tonight and I wanted to stress the importance of a jumbo egg: I used a small one and shoulda gone with two, because about half my meatballs disintegrated into the sauce. No matter, I’ll serve it over pasta and it’ll be delicious, as it was tonight. I just wanted to give a heads-up.

  48. Andrea

    I made these today, yes, on a weekday, and yes, it took me awhile but it wasn’t hard, just time consuming with the browning of the meatballs but it was worth it! I ended up using juices from 2 lemons because I LOVE lemons and I added arugula to it just so I could say I fed my kids greens tonight.

  49. Kristina

    I love this post for many reasons. First I love how you point out that cooking these meals does not make your kitchen a fantasyland or like something that could be featured on The Food Network. You explain that your cooking is practical, quick, and usually rushed as you have a hungry child yelling. So it is amazing to me that this amazing meal can be done in that environment and inspires me to try to cook up new and more complex things. But I also love the recipe itself. Having a father who was born in Greece and a big food loving Greek family, this recipe looks amazing to me. I love lamb and feta cheese is an essential for me with anything I am cooking. This recipe looks delicious and is definitely something I am going to try to cook very soon. Thanks for all of the tips!

  50. Megan

    Catherine, thank you for the tzatsiki idea! Would you cook the meatballs in the sauce or combine it after cooking? Thanks!

  51. I never had a taste of lamb meatballs ever. It was my first time to taste it….. and I can’t explain,… it was too delicious. Thanks for sharing the new dish. I’m a food lover and like to make something different but delicious. Thanks!

  52. Cho

    Deb, what’s your secret for not having the meatballs stick in your pan? I find when I’m browning meatballs in my all clad, it just ends up as torn up chunks of meat that don’t resemble meatballs anymore :(

    1. deb

      Cho — I do my best to wait until they’ve really browned underneath before moving them — this is true when cooking all meats and vegetables, but especially with meatballs, because the mixture is soft and loose. They can tell if you’re in a rush! I do lose some bits regardless but when you make the sauce this way, right in the same skillet, those bits become part of it, infusing it, and it’s amazing.

  53. LAMB MEATBALLS! Oh man, yes please! Lamb is my favorite meatball meat ever. I usually have a batch kicking around in the freezer, but none are there right now. It’s clearly time to make another! I love the addition of feta too.

  54. Catherine

    Megan- I would serve it on top of, or beside the meatballs; cooking the tzatziki could curdle the yoghurt. As for finishing the meatballs, braising in some stock (in lieu of Deb’s tomato sauce) should be fine.

  55. Catherine

    Megan- (editing) Deglaze the pan with stock and/or wine, vermouth, etc. Then sort of braise the meatballs in the stock/wine/etc. mixture until they’re cooked through. I’d ditch the braising liquid (sad, I know) and then do the sauce for serving.

  56. Lauren

    I made these last night, cooking the meatballs in the sauce. I forgot to add the feta to the meatballs, but they were still sublime. I will definitely make this again.

  57. Trisha

    I made this last night and it was amazing! I wouldn’t normally go to all this effort for a weeknight meal (unless I did all the prep on Sunday for reheating on a work night) but it wasn’t hard work – especially since I broiled the meatballs to brown them while a prepared the sauce as other readers had suggested. Well worth the effort and the cost of a pound of ground lamb!l

  58. Made this last night with ground chicken and it was a huge hit. Leftovers for lunch for all 5 of us. Next time will try with ground lamb. Great post!

  59. Leigh

    Thrilled to try this tonight! Do you have any suggestions for a good side? I’m thinking Israeli couscous but am not sure what ingredients to pair with it. Any suggestions, Deb?

    PS – Devoted follower of SK! Let’s just say I have made many a friend with that chocolate babka of yours. :)

  60. Helen

    My mother makes a really easy lamb/feta hamburger. Starting with a pound of ground lamb, make 4 very thin patties on cling wrap or tinfoil. Place a slice of feta on 2 of the patties, then cover the slices with the other patties. This yields 2 good sized hamburgers stuffed with feta, which you then either brown in a pan (tricky) or bake in the oven on the tinfoil. Spices are optional.

  61. Tobie

    Do you think preserved lemon would be good in this sauce? I’ve just made a few jars of it and am looking for recipes.

  62. Deb; I just spent the last 2 hrs. making this fabulous looking dinner (including being my own prep chef and dishwasher) . I don’t know how you do it with a 3yo underfoot, even tho he is so cute. I am exhausted! I am freezing half the lamb balls for pita sandwiches with tazaki! Directions are perfect and easy; I baked the balls on parchment at 350 for 40min. I made your Greek salad and am cooking some barley.
    Thank you for all your posts; the chocolate banana chunk bread is at the top of my baking list. I buy extra bananas just to be able to make it.mmmmmm

  63. Lauren Averill

    Oh….my……gosh……My husband and I followed the recipe EXACTLY, and everything came out perfectly. The sauce was neither too little or too much, the flavorings in both the meatballs and sauce were superb, and believe me, we will cook this again and again. One thing I can honestly say, Deb, is that we ALWAYS love your recipes and your dishes end up on our “Ooh, let’s make this again” list!! Thank you so much!

  64. Megan

    Delicious! I made the whole thing–orzo, chopped salad, and all, last night and Big and Little Guy were thrilled. We’ll have the leftovers on Monday with farro. I am the world’s worst meatball fryer, the worst, but you were right, once I made the sauce everything was fine, even the ones that completely fell apart when I turned them (is there a secret?). Thank you so much for another Friday night dinner that didn’t come from the WF prepared foods department.

  65. Maria

    My friend and I made these, plus the salad, for a girls’ night yesterday. Delicious! We used thyme instead of oregano in the salad and it worked really well. Will definitely make both again.

  66. Kelley

    I made this for dinner last night. I halved the recipe and only used half an egg per Deb’s directions and half my meatballs fell apart. Next time I’ll use the whole egg. The sauce had more of a ragu feel to it, and it was delicious over orzo. I omitted the mint because my grocery store didn’t have any that was fresh. I added the olives to my sauce and it came out too salty/briny. I’ll cut the olives by half in the future. I also don’t understand how this is a typical weeknight meal – it took an hour and 10 minutes to get dinner on the table.

  67. We’re a little nervous about this one and had a few ideas for substitutions we’d like to run past you. We were thinking of leaving out the mint and the red pepper flakes. The kalamata olives are delicious so they stay. This seems like it will leave out quite a bit of flavor, so to make up for it, we’re thinking of substituting blue cheese for the feta. Will this tank the intended ambiance?

  68. Kelly

    I made this tonight and it was really disappointing. Like the other Kell(e)y says, the sauce is way too briny with the olives in it! It completely overwhelmed the dish. I can’t tell you how heartbreaking it is to spend $47 and hours of my weekend on a dinner where my boyfriend won’t even the main course. Like almost everyone, my meatballs fell completely apart (I even doubled the egg reading everyone’s comments). I looked at the original recipe — why did you increase the breadcrumbs by so much? I suspect that is why they fell apart. Is it a typo? Also, there was too much lemon flavor. The juice of 1 lemon + the zest in both the sauce and the meatballs was too much — the acid from the lemons combined with the intense olive flavor made this dish really unpleasant to eat. Additionally, because the directions say to simmer covered the whole time the sauce was really watery.

    I’m a fan of many of your recipes, but this one was one of my worst kitchen disasters of all time.

    1. deb

      Kelly — Sorry it wasn’t to your liking; I know not every recipe will make everyone happy. I didn’t use the original recipe, just the flavors for inspiration. This is my standard meatball formula and I like it because it makes very tender meatballs, albeit fragile ones.

      Hamilton — No reason you cannot leave out the mint or red pepper flakes. Neither will make or break the recipe.

  69. Shelley

    I made this tonight. I served the olives on the side because my husband doesn’t like them (he is weird). I thought this was so delicious and I will add it to my list of delicious deb dishes.

  70. Brenda

    I loved this recipe exactly as written. So unctuous and comforting. Cannot stop eating them, thank you for posting!! Perfection!

  71. Kate

    Delish! My only problem was that after simmering the meatballs for 25-30 minutes, they still weren’t completely done. I suspect the problem was that I made them too big, but we just stuck them under the broiler for about 10 minutes and all was good!

  72. MIssy

    I made these over the weekend and they were terrific! Huge hit for our family. I didn’t serve them with orzo – just the salad since we’re trying to avoid carb overload – and it was still a very satisfying meal. We had some of the leftover meatballs mixed up with fried eggs for breakfast this morning, too.

    I accidentally omitted the lemon juice and the oregano from the sauce (we didn’t miss it). I also halved the meatball recipe and I accidentally used a whole egg, but that wasn’t the end of the world. And now we have a second batch of sauce to make them again soon! Thanks for the great recipe.

  73. Jill W

    Just reporting back…made this last night and it was delicious! I made it after a long day at work and picking up my 4-year-olds at preschool, and it wasn’t difficult at all. My kind of week day yummy dinner! And everyone ate every bite – success! Thanks Deb!

  74. Jill W

    By the way – I followed a tip from another post above and baked the meatballs at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, and they didn’t fall apart at all after adding them to the sauce. I used a medium sized ice cream scoop to scoop and form them, then placed them on a cookie rack sprayed with PAM and placed over a cookie sheet in the oven. They came out perfect! And because I have preschoolers, I put the chopped olives on the side for my husband and I to add, and that worked well.

  75. Karin K

    I made these lamb meatballs and made a massive mistake. I accidentally threw in the lemon juice when it was time to simmer the meatballs.

    Now the dish is done, but the meatballs are mushy. I’m guessing the acid in the lemons broke down the meat?

    If anyone has any suggestions how to get the meatballs for firm up — even though they have already been cooked — please let me know.

    I might just turn the 2 lbs of meatballs into a meat sauces instead.

    Thank you! Karin

  76. Yep. These are going to be made next week- they seem the perfect, perfect weeknight fare to me!! I don’t think I’ve ever made my own meatballs before, actually- so this is probably a good place to start.

    1. deb

      Maureen — It’s this one from Amazon (which has a great price on it right now). It’s a really good pot to have.

      Also, YIKES. Someone just pointed out that the entire batch of response comments below had landed on the wrong post, which means a whole bunch of you probably thought I was really rude to not response. Better late than never:

      Yael — I’d intended for 4 tablespoons but you can dial it back if you wish.

      Megan, Catherine — I have a riff on Ina’s tzatziki here and agree it would be wonderful. You can brown the meatballs in the pan, drain them on towels, then wipe out all but a very thin film of the oil from the pan, return the meatballs to it and bake them the rest of the way in a 400 degree oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, until cooked through.

      Pru — See right above this, where I recommend how to bake them instead of cooking them in the sauce.

      Monica — I haven’t made one before but I’ll consider it a challenge accepted. I suppose I don’t find them savory enough; I prefer to pair them with sharper or spicier ingredients. You might fiddle with this.

      Rob — It’s tricky because everyone has a different definition of “light.” For some, it’s just food without bread or flour. Others, it’s got to be raw or vegetarian… etc. So I never know which definition people are looking for when they ask for diet food. Nevertheless, we’re great fans of both of these kale salads and both of these carrot soups.

      Tess — I adore it.

      Laura — Such a great tip. I will try this next time and report back! Thanks.

      Charlie — Yes, I like to get the pan very hot before adding the meatballs, which quickly cool it down.

  77. Mari

    We made these last night, we all loved them. I couldn’t wait to try them because I came across a bunch of marked down ground lamb. Cant wait to make them again! My son told me he would be dreaming of having them again. In my house that’s a glowing endorsement!

  78. Maureen

    Thank you for the pan info and the link. I am in Canada and does not ship here. Way more expensive on the ca site. I could get it shipped to an American friend…do you love it? :-)

  79. My husband made that NYT recipe the other day and they were delicious! I’ll have to try your variation. And what’s in the yummy looking salad? I see yellow and red peppers, maybe cucumbers and cauliflower? At first I thought it was feta but you probably wouldn’t put feta in the salad AND the meatballs.

  80. This sounds delicious – and the perfect combination of ingredients. I’m only sorry that I don’t eat milk and meat together (kosher!) as I think this is exactly the sort of thing I’m missing out on eating! I’ll still try it without the feta though.
    P.s my husband who is 28 not 4.5 also has tantrums if spaghetti and meatballs are not on the menu for dinner! Oy vey!

  81. Anne

    2 lbs made FORTY meatballs! Historically I’ve disliked lamb as I think it tastes like the smell of wet doghair but this was really delicious and does change my attitude. I wish I’d made more sauce.

  82. Teems

    This dish took a long time to shop for and to prepare , which I don’t mind, but the result was not so good for me. Agree with Kelly 118. I cut back on the added salt but between the feta and the olives(in sauce) this was way too salty for me. I did not add water to the meatballs and browned them in the oven (400F 10 minutes on parchment) and they did not fall apart. Also, if you have your scale out for everything else, why no weight for the onion?

  83. Megan V.

    Hello again! I noticed another Megan on here so I put my last initial on…I was asking about the tsatziki sauce and haven’t made the meatballs yet. A previous post mentions that lamb is a bit “gamey”. I’ve never actually had it, and can’t seem to find it without going to butcher shops, which are few and far between down here as well as being out of my price range. For those who know what both taste like: could ground deer meat be a suitable replacement for the lamb? Thanks!

  84. Mary Lauer

    I made this today but as a meatloaf, sans tomato sauce because I am the world’s laziest person. I ate it with a squeeze of lemon and kalamata garnish because I didn’t think soon enough to mix them in. So delicious I can’t stand it!!

  85. Mary Lauer

    I forgot to add, I did not out the water in. I never need to add moisture to my meatloaf recipes. Maybe due to my sourcing directly from the farm? I dunno.

  86. Went to make this dish, was tired and distracted, forgot to add the mint to the meatballs but had already rolled the balls. Then had an epiphany: I stuck a whole mint leaf inside each ball and buried it in the meat before I browned them. It was wonderful to taste the mint as I bit into the meatball and surprised my guests.

  87. Vanessa

    Made this tonight and it was great! I love the lamb, feta, mint, olive combination. I ended up making only a half batch of meatballs (1lb of lamb) for budget reasons. I used a whole egg and cut everything else by approximately 1/2. It worked! Yum and thanks!

    1. deb

      I want to apologize for the late response on this recipe. From what I’m reading there is a concern over the softness of the meatball. I should have mentioned in the headnotes (and now will) that I prefer meatballs soft and very tender, and moist. That said, I don’t think that’s the whole problem here. From what I’m reading, the meatballs are staying together pretty well once they hit the sauce if they’ve been browned first. It’s the folks that are skipping frying them first that are having the hardest time. Once again, I’ll clarify these concerns and make additional suggestions (less water if not frying them first) in the head notes. I hope that helps going forward.

  88. April P

    O.M.G. Wow. Made this recipe as writren. LOVE! And my husband, who’s very reserved with praise for anything said, “these are pretty tasty!” Which is high praise indeed :-) Definitely worth the two step cooking process. And the sauce is just so succulent and divine!

  89. Kim

    I just made these with some modifications, and they were GLORIOUS.

    My modifications:
    – substitute greek yogurt for water (I went with about 4 tbsp of yogurt)
    – added 1 tbsp lemon juice (and no zest) since yogurt is thick
    – no tomato paste (I didn’t want tomato-y meatballs since I’m Italian and I have tomato-based meatballs all the time

    I made a full batch, not a half batch, and used two pans for frying the meatballs. I cooked the sauce in one pan and used the other pan for orzo. Boiled orzo, then deglazed the lamb meatball pan with white wine and added red onion and garlic, then some red bell peppers, then added the orzo and some more olive oil before topping with parsley, mint, and oregano and chopped kalamata olives. Served it all with a greek salad. My husband had thirds and asked when we’re having this again and my toddler scarfed everything down.

  90. Thea

    Absolutely delicious. I followed the recipe almost exactly, only thing I left out was the red wine – added a little bit of tomato water instead. I cooked the olives in the sauce, it wasn’t too briny and I browned the meatballs, they held together just fine. Served with couscous it was a filling and tasty meal!

  91. Alison

    Made these and they were AMAZING. I love lamb, but this was my first time cooking it. Pan friend the meatballs before adding to sauce, and had no trouble with them falling apart. Served with farfalle pasta.

  92. Jen H

    How many servings do you estimate the full batch makes? I’m making this for dinner for four adults and three toddlers and am wondering whether to double the recipe.

  93. deb

    Jen — It might serve 6 to 8 (8 with a bunch of other things on the table, like pitas and salads). It might not hurt to 1.5x it, only because the leftovers are excellent and it would save you the worry over making too little.

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  95. This evening makes our 3rd time making a batch of these bad boys! They are a total win in our house, this evening we are having them with home made roast garlic gnocchi and the smells coming form the kitchen are just too good! Thank you for keeping my recipe book from getting stale, I always find inspiration on your blog :)

  96. Mel

    Made these last night with ground turkey rather than lamb (but otherwise followed the recipe as written), and WOW. This is a new favorite. Such amazing flavors!

  97. I’ve made these twice now and they were soooo good I cannot get enough!! My boyfriend is originally from Egypt and totally loved these, said they really tasted egyptian! The food there is not what I expected at all, kind of a mix between what you think of as middle eastern and Mediterranean, loads of dishes and flavours I would associate with Greek cuisine (so I guess that’s where the overlap with this dish comes in) Everything I had out here was super delicious.
    Best new recipe I have tried in a really long time, thanks so much! :)

  98. Marina

    Yum! Had my eye on these since recipe published in the spring, but only got around to making them yesterday when I was inspired by the feta and flat leafed parsley in my fridge…we loved them! I started out browning the meatballs in the pan and rapidly realised I was. It going to have the patience to do batches (Sunday =lazy) so put them on a slightly oiled baking sheet in a hot oven for a few minutes to brown them (which is actually how i usually do meatballs) and that works really well–kept the lovely, light texture but they held together well in the sauce. Best part is that I made whole recipe for just two of us so lots of leftovers….
    Thanks! Marina

  99. Brigid

    I make these weekly–they are such a great staple! I do not use the olives and do not add the lemon to the sauce. Such a great meal!

  100. Micheal

    Another wonderful and tasty recipe.

    Second the earlier comment about baking the meatballs on an oiled ( stainless steel, not coated) cookie rack placed on a cookie sheet. Better success when dealing with delicate meatballs.

    For those that have to eliminate eggs from their cooking, another binder replacement is for each egg use one tablespoon chia seeds plus three tablespoons room temperature water and let sit for ten minutes.

  101. Cat

    I loved these and so did my whole family. I used half lamb and half beef because that’s what I had. Next time I might try the cookie rack on a cookie sheet trick because they did seem to lose a bit of structural integrity while frying, but were no less delicious for it. Instead of adding olives to the sauce I added a few spoonfuls of olive tapenade I had. We enjoyed them over couscous with a green salad. So good. These will certainly join our regular meal rotation and they’re good enough for company too. I think they’d last well frozen so next time I think maybe I’ll make extra to freeze.

  102. Justyna

    I made these last night for a small dinner party – I used turkey instead of lamb and I accompanied it with your carrot salad with tahini and crisped chickpeas and some fresh baked bread – everyone loved it, really fresh summery tastes.

  103. Lily

    Hello !!

    I love, love, love your blog ! Bravo !

    this is my first time posting and I hope that you might have a minute to help me.

    I just made your lamb recipe and I doubled the quantities. (I am having 10 guests over for dinner tomorrow…Ia m in Paris by the way, so hopefully, the time difference will work in my favor ;-) … I made the meatballs twice (meaning one batch at a time and they seem to be perfect.. However, I doubled the sauce recipe and first of all my sauce looks nothing like yours …:-( and I think that I added too many Kalamata olives… Ugh… (i also used fresh tomatoes instead of canned… I blanched the tomatoes to get rid of the skin…) I also only added the juice of 1/2 a lemon total .. I was too worried that two lemons would be way too much.. in any case, all I can taste are the Kalamata olives and it seems too tangy (acid, ? too much lemon ? ) what can I do ??? ugh … feeling so sad !!! please, can you advise ?
    PS : i made the eggplant dip and the creamy houmous .. OMG !! i pealed every darn chick pea ! and it is lovely ..thanks ! Lily

  104. JohnRascal

    Made as listed (did add a tad more garlic and wine). Turned out great. I’m single and was enough for a meal and three to freeze. Served on pasta with the feta, mint and parsley garnish. Was delicious. The lamb flavor isn’t overwhelming but just enough with the mint made it great. Don’t hold back on the lemon; this makes the dish. Definitely a keeper.

  105. JRT

    Made 1/2 meatballs and all sauce – was perfect! added a few more pinches of chili flakes and was rather liberal with the parsley. will be making this a lot through the winter. fab!

  106. Charlotte

    These meatballs are officially in our must-make-again recipes. We made the meatballs with gruyere/comte instead of feta. I love the lemon flavor and the strong lamb flavor combined. Delicious, moist, and so flavorful. We had them with ratatouille–also a great combination!

  107. Susanne

    Made these meatballs last night and they were delicious! I used 1.5 pounds of ground lamb because the ground lamb was very expensive at the Fairway here in NYC. Anyway, I got 24 meatballs out if it. I added 1/2 cup of water to the meat mixture, then browned them in a little olive oil. I think I will bake them or broil them next time. And I’ll definitely add more mint because we love mint! Even my 6 year old liked the meatballs. Thanks for another great recipe!!

  108. Kristin

    Help!! I accidentally added 1.5 cups of water instead of 8 tbsp. Should I double the meat??? It’s now sat overnight & in general feels very mushy

    1. deb

      Kristin — If you have a little more lamb, add it. If you don’t, you could try to bulk it up with a little more breadcrumbs. Or, you could just have very soft meatballs. Good luck.

  109. Erika

    Deb — a quick question. I made a half batch of these before and they were delish! I’d like to make a full batch and freeze them. At what point should I freeze them? Prior to browning? After browning but before cooking in sauce? After cooking in sauce (in which case, do you recommend freezing IN the sauce)? Thanks in advance! Love your site.

  110. Nawana

    Long time fan of yours, having made countless of your recipes with great results. This one in particular made me GASP when I had the first bite. Absolutely delicious, and not an overwhelming ‘lamb’ flavour for those who think they don’t like it. I halved it with no trouble at all. Thanks for sharing!

  111. Megan

    I’ve made these twice now, so good. The more recent time I threw in some anchovies (don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it!) with the onion, and capers in the sauce. A win! You started a date night category–served with garlic bread and a caesar salad, this would be a perfect date night dish!

  112. CW

    These were a GIANT hit at my house. We sat through the entire meal and talked about all the ways these meatballs could be used – in a pita, in a sub, with tzatziki, as a scrub (j/k! These will in no way scrub anything… so soft, pillowy, and delicious. I am simply good at random rhyming, or not.) Love the kick of spice, lemon, feta, lamb, olives (have I listed all the ingredients yet?) I would encourage you to can your own tomatoes each summer as this will throw it right over the top…again. One note, and I have no idea if this did anything at all – but my cooking experience always calls for resting the meatball mix before cooking… I do about 20 min. *I think* this helps it hold together better and all the flavors meld (maybe someone already said this but here it is…again).

  113. Dena

    Made this recipe last night and loved it. I was a bit unsure as I tasted the sauce along the way until I added the lemon and somehow it brought everything together into magical deliciousness. I did not use the olives at all but it sounds like leaving them as a garnish is the way to go. I also like my meatballs a tad more firm so I added a bit more breadcrumb to firm up the meat mixture. All in all delicious!

  114. Lil

    Absolutely delicious! I cut the recipe in half. I did not use mint or olives, and substituted 2 plum tomatoes for canned. I happen to have everything else on hand. I thought the meatballs had a great texture. I like how soft, melt-in-your mouth they were. The key was definitely to brown them first. I followed your recipe, and they turned out great. I think others should maybe try it again who had trouble. Great recipe! I think they would work well in lamb burgers or one could substitute pork (I have friends who don’t eat lamb).

  115. Abigail M

    I made these tonight after your Instagram post, and they were incredible! Thanks for your creative, thorough, delicious recipes. I subbed the breadcrumbs for a cup of cooked white rice to make my gluten- free sweetheart happy (thanks to other commenters for that tip), and left out the olives because I forgot to buy them…other than that, followed directions and they came out so well. Yum! Thanks again!

  116. Millie

    Made these tonight with 1 lb lamb and half of everything (I happened to have 1 egg yolk left from yesterday), though I think it would have been great to make full amount of sauce and have more of it left over with the leftover meatballs. I replaced the feta in the lamb mixture with about 3 Tbsp tahini and a bit more salt, and skipped it at the end (ie, no feta), replaced the breadcrumbs with 1/2 cup oat bran, and used twice as much garlic. (mmm, garlic) Did everything else the same, and served it with white rice. It was delicious – much more tender and delicious than beef meatballs! Thanks for the inspiration, Deb!

  117. Morag

    These look amazing! My daughter has an egg allergy, though. Do you have any suggestions for an alternative binding agent? Thank you!

  118. TG

    My meatballs completely fell apart while attempting to brown them on the pan. I ended up with lamb meat sauce instead of lamb meatballs. And the dish took a really long time to make. But I adored the flavors of the end result; I followed the recipe exactly except I left out the olives. These meatballs are so good they are definitely worth another try, although next time I’m going to bake them to avoid all the stress and mess of frying.

  119. Anna Ruby

    I have made these so many times, making them once again! Such a great recipe. I like to sub in some preserved lemon for the lemon zest sometimes, and love it with orzo.

  120. HPunome

    I just made these and they’re YUMMY! Usually I have to modify recipes like crazy but this was pretty on-point. I used fresh oregano instead of dried (I just prefer fresh herbs). I accidentally only put 3 T of water in even though I was going to brown them first! Then I accidentally put 2 T of oil in the meatballs because I was in a hurry reading the recipe :( But they turned out great! The sauce was good too but I was expecting something more saucey. So I added 1/2 a can more of pureed tomatoes to make it so. Thanks!