My father’s goal for the past decade or so has been to cook his way through the book “660 Curries.”
“I don’t think I’m past about 60 recipes,” he says. “So I have 600 to go. But I’m getting there.”
The problem is, he’s stuck on one recipe in particular, one he tried back in 2009. It’s called creamy lamb meatballs, and it’s amazing. Every year we buy a lamb from a local farm in Barnstable, Border Bay Junction Farm, where the lambs are raised on pasture and mother’s milk. And every year, we use most of it to make these lamb meatballs. Usually, my dad does the work and we do the eating. But the other day at a family dinner, I got him to share his recipe, so that I in turn could share it with you. In the background of the recording you’ll hear my young daughters along with my sister, my husband, and my mother. Let’s get started.
“So the first thing we have to do is to get together our fennel seeds and our cumin,” my dad says. “And if we grind them up as opposed to just using powder, we can get a nice little bit of texture—if we don’t grind them all the way. We don’t want to grind them all up, so we’ll just pulse it a little bit, then we’ll check… Oh, it’s starting to smell really good, that’s the best part of grinding up these spices!”
Next my dad minces some garlic and ginger and dices an onion. He gets out a bowl and adds the ground lamb and spices and some salt, and mixes everything together with his hands.
“All right,” he says, moving on. “So now we are going to got it all really mixed up in bowl here, and we’re just going to shape it into little meatballs. Mine are little a bit bigger than what they call for—golf ball size.”
We warm up some butter and olive oil in a large cast iron skillet and put the meatballs in.
“We’re just trying to brown them all over,” my dad explains. “And we have, as all kitchens must have, a pair of forceps, which is the perfect tool for flipping your meatballs. And it’s starting to smell pretty good.”
The kitchen is filled with the intoxicating smell of lamb and fennel. Once the meatballs are browned, my dad pours a cup of half-and-half into the pan and the sizzling suddenly goes quiet:
He continues, “And then what we do is take garam masala, which we have to spoon out a little bit. I sometimes add a little more than they say. They say to add about a half a teaspoon, but I actually add more than that because I’m a garam masal fan. I try to sprinkle it on the half-and-half, instead of meatballs, so a bunch of it doesn’t stick to 2 or 3 meatballs. Then it takes a second for the heat to come back up. Once it gets going we’ll simply spoon the garam masal and half-and-half mixture over meatballs. Just keep going for a few minutes until everything is ready, then start to consume these wonderful things.”
The half and half mixture boils and gets thicker, and finally, it’s time for a taste.
“Oh man!” My dad is pleased. “Fat, spice—oh, it’s the half and half mixed with the lamb fat—works for me!”
And me. We eat the lamb meatballs and their sauce spooned over rice, and they are, as usual, delicious. My dad’s cookbook says these creamy lamb meatballs—or goshtaba—are traditionally served at weddings and I can see why—for my family, they’re always a cause for celebration. While I wish my father luck with getting through the other 600 curries in his cookbook, when I’m around, I hope he just keeps making this one.
CREAMY LAMB MEATBALLS
This recipe comes originally from the book 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer, but my dad has tweaked it a bit to make it his own. Whatever you do, don't try to skip the half and half—buy some pastured cream and embrace the fat! That's why it's so good.
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 half-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced very small
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 ounces ground lamb
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon garam masala
Pulse the fennel and cumin seeds in a spice grinder until they are mostly ground but still have a bit of texture to them. Add this mix to a large bowl along with the ginger, onion, garlic, lamb, and salt and mix well. Use your hands to form roughly ten golf-ball size meatballs.
Warm the oil and butter over medium heat in a large cast iron skillet. Add the meatballs in a single layer and cook, turning frequently, until browned all over—about 5-8 minutes. Pour in the half and half and sprinkle the garam masala around, trying to aim mostly at the half and half and avoid the meatballs. (So you don't get any big clumps.) Raise the heat to medium high and simmer vigorously, uncovered, spooning the mixture over the meatballs every minute or so. The meatballs are ready when they are barely pink inside and the sauce has thickened, after about 8-10 minutes. Scoop out and serve hot, with spoonfuls of sauce, over rice.
This episode of the LFR originally aired May 24, 2016.