Lamb Meatballs Simmered with Tomatoes & Chard

When a copy of Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet by Padma Lakshmi came my way, I expected to look through it then pass it on. We don’t watch much television, and it seemed an unlikely cookbook for me to keep. Surprisingly (thanks, Leslie!), it’s filled with accessible dishes by someone who’s clearly familiar with the pleasures of the table, and loves to cook as well as eat. If there was only one recipe I would take away from this cookbook, this one for lamb curry would be it.

I think of this as a Marco Polo dish — locally grown ingredients combined with spice route seasonings — and it’s as satisfying to make as it is to consume. The recipe might appear lengthy but there’s very little to mind once everything’s in the pot. Hand-formed meatballs of ground lamb are slowly simmered in a fragrant tomato sauce. The original recipe calls for spinach, here chard from the garden takes its place. By the end, the meatballs have become tender, nestled in among the now softened ribbons of chard and enriched by homemade yogurt. Since fresh tomatoes are scarce here this late in the season, tonight’s batch was made with a few storage tomatoes augmented with canned ones from last season’s harvest. Replacing the meatballs with hearty chunks of potatoes or winter squash turns it into an equally flavorful vegetarian version.

Lamb Meatballs Simmered with Tomatoes & Chard

Meatballs:
1½  pounds ground lamb
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
½ cup minced fresh cilantro
¼ to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup minced yellow onion
1 teaspoon salt

Simmering Sauce:
3 tablespoon cooking oil or ghee
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1–3 whole dried red chilies
3 cloves
4 star anise pods
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup diced yellow onions
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 cups chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
1 teaspoon curry powder
1–2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup chicken stock
3–4 cups hot water
½ cup chicken stock
1 bunch fresh chard
½ + 1 cup plain yogurt
Sea salt

– In a large bowl, combine ingredients to make the meatballs, kneading the mixture to a uniform consistency. Rub a few drops of cooking oil into the palms of your hands so the meat will not stick, and form meatballs about 2 inches in diameter, making about 12 to 14 meatballs. Place in single layer in large food container, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

– Remove stems from chard, chop coarsely and set aside. Chop leaves into thin ribbons, making a chiffonade, and set aside.

– To make the sauce, heat cooking oil or ghee in a large, wide, deep skillet, over medium heat. Toss in the cumin, chilies, cloves and star anise. After the spices begin to color, about 2 minutes, add the chard stems, garlic, onions, and ginger, and stir for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onions become glossy. Stir in the curry powder and tomato paste, cooking for a minute. Add ½ cup of the yogurt and continue cooking for another minute or so. Add the fresh tomatoes, and stir until they lose their shape.

– Add the stock and 3 cups of the water, and bring the sauce to a simmer. Gently lay the meatballs into the sauce, spooning a bit of the sauce over them to moisten. If needed, add more hot water until meatballs are barely covered. Cover the skillet, and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer the meatballs on low heat for 40 minutes, gently stirring often to make sure they remain bathed in the sauce and do not stick to the bottom of the pan. Do not break meatballs.

– Reduce heat to low, add the fresh chard, and cover the pan. Once the chard has wilted and reduced, about 4 minutes, lift the lid and slowly stir in the rest of the yogurt. Add salt to taste and continue simmering for 10 to 15 minutes more on very low heat until yogurt begins to separate. If desired, remove whole spices before serving with plain steamed rice or flatbread.

Recipe adapted from “Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet” by Padma Lakshmi.

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9 Responses to Lamb Meatballs Simmered with Tomatoes & Chard

  1. E. Baron says:

    Thank you! It solves two issues for me: I have a freezer partly full of beautiful organic lamb, and I’m trying to incorporate more anti-inflammatory spices like curry spices into my diet. Cooking curries is not my forte, so I’m in need of good recipes. I’ll try this one this weekend, no doubt with some of my own substitutions. Thanks!
    Eleanor

    • leduesorelle says:

      You’re very welcome, Eleanor! We’ve access to gorgeous farm-raised lamb here, don’t we? I always have some in the freezer. Thanks for the tip about curry spices. Once you’ve done this recipe, you’ll see easy it is to adapt. We’ve been perfectly satisfied with this dish done with only the chard and tomatoes. Let me know how yours goes!

  2. Norma Chang says:

    The dish looks utterly delicious. I am thinking, this would be great with brown basmati rice and a green salad.

  3. Sara Zoe says:

    It was amazing! Just the kind of January Marco Polo food I love – knowing I didn’t want to fish out the whole spices, I toasted then ground them (left the star anise whole). I also just used canned puréed tomatoes (no stock or water) and was too hungry to refrigerate the meatballs – I especially love the warmness of all these rich spices.

    • leduesorelle says:

      Ah, you figured out the spices! I try to pick them out sometime in the cooking process, but yours is a better solution. I usually make this in winter, so had always used canned tomatoes; the fresh ones are nice when they’re available. I was just thinking how good this will be made with the spinach we got from Meadow’s Mirth at last weekend’s Winter Farmers’ Market…

      • Sara says:

        Yup, it was spinach! There was plenty of leftover sauce so today’s iteration will be with more spinach and some tofu braised in that sauce.

  4. ulla says:

    I love and own Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet, and, as you say, the lamb meatballs is the best recipe in there. There are other great discoveries as well. I lent it to an acquaintance a year ago and have been missing this particular recipe ever since! I’ll get the book back eventually and though I’ve made this dish at least 10 or 15 times, that simmer sauce was too much for my brain’s hard drive to store. Thank you for posting an adaptation on your blog…which is lovely, by the way!

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