You can add any spices and aromatics you fancy to these juicy no-carb meatballs. I’ve included two hefty teaspoons of turmeric (because scientists keep discovering the amazing health benefits of this interesting yellow root) plus lemon zest for zing, and the usual warming spices I love so much – cumin, coriander and smoked paprika. These are quick and easy to make because there’s no arduous peeling, chopping or frying of onions involved, nor any whizzing-up of breadcrumbs.
|Lemon & Turmeric Meatballs in Lettuce Cups, with a Creamy Tahini Sauce|
Chives add a mild oniony bite, and a few dollops of Greek yoghurt keep the meatballs nice and soft. If I wasn’t on a low-carb regime, I’d serve these heaped over hot couscous perfumed with fresh mint and coriander, or perhaps with my aromatic naartjie couscous or Citrus Couscous Salad. But I have to say they’re also very good in crisp little iceberg lettuce cups piled with chopped cucumber, fresh mint and a creamy tahini sauce.
I particularly love the combination of hot and cold in this dish. The meatballs must be very hot when you add them to the lettuce cups, and the tahini cream sauce very cold. The sauce is mild, delicate and creamy, containing Greek yoghurt and – something that is so allowed on my diabetic regime – a little cream to round out the flavours. I like tahini, but I often find traditional Mediterranean tahini sauces (basically, sesame-seed paste whisked with water, garlic and lemon juice) thin and somewhat bitter.
The only important watchpoint is to use fresh tahini that is still fairly runny. Tahini tends to stiffen in the jar as it ages, and it also oxidises quite quickly, even if you’ve stored it in the fridge. If you can’t easily spoon it out of the jar, throw it out and buy a fresh jar.
If you’re not a fan of tahini, serve these meatballs with hummous, or tzatziki, or garlicky home-made mayonnaise.
This recipe makes a large quantity – around 48, depending on the size you roll them to. Put the raw meatballs into a lidded plastic box, and they will keep in the fridge for two days. Alternatively, you can freeze them – still raw – then defrost them overnight in the fridge before frying them. You can make these using beef mince alone, or a combination of pork and mince (I often add ground pork to meatballs because it adds a special juiciness), or even with chicken mince.
Lemon & Turmeric Meatballs in Lettuce Cups, with a Creamy Tahini Sauce
For the meatballs:
1 kg beef mince, or a combination of beef and pork mince; or chicken mince
finely grated zest of a big lemon
4 Tbsp (60 ml) Greek yoghurt
1 large free-range egg, lightly whisked
a bunch of chives, finely snipped (about 5 Tbsp/75 ml)
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed (or more, to taste)
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
1 tsp (5 ml) coriander powder
1 tsp (5 ml) chilli powder
1 tsp (5 ml) smoked paprika [optional]2 tsp (10 ml) turmeric
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin
freshly ground black pepper
vegetable oil, for frying
tahini cream sauce (see below)
2 iceberg lettuces
1 large English cucumber, finely chopped
a few sprigs of fresh mint
For the tahini cream sauce:
4 tsp (20 ml) fresh tahini
1 cup (250 ml) thick Greek yoghurt
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed (or more, to taste)
the juice of half a big lemon
3 Tbsp (45 ml) cream
salt and a pinch of white pepper
First make the meatballs. Combine all the ingredients in a big bowl, and use your hands to squish and squeeze the mixture so everything is very well combined. Be warned: turmeric can stain your hands! I use thin plastic deli gloves when I’m making these.
To test the seasoning, make a tiny patty with the mixture and fry it in a lick of oil until it’s cooked through. If you think it needs more salt or spiciness, adjust the mixture to your liking.
Roll the mixture into small neat balls, each about the size of a large marble, and arrange them on a big plate or tray. Place them, uncovered, in the fridge for 20-30 minutes to firm up.
Heat the oven to 180 ºC and place a baking sheet or roasting tray in it to heat up.
While the meatballs are chilling, make the tahini cream sauce. Place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth. If your tahini paste is a little stiff, use a blender to whizz everything together. Tip the sauce into a bowl, cover it with clingfilm and refrigerate.
|Arrange the meatballs in a circle in your pan, so
you can flip them over in the order in which
you added them.
Now cook the meatballs. Heat a little sunflower oil in a large frying pan, and when it is hot and shimmering, add eight to ten meatballs. When I’m frying meatballs, I always arrange them in a circle in the pan so I can flip them over in the order in which I added them.
Fry the meatballs for one or two minutes, or until golden and crusty on the underside, then flip them over and continue to fry for a further two minutes. Lift the meatballs out of the pan, and slide them onto the preheated roasting pan in the oven so they can finish cooking for a further ten minutes or so. Repeat this process with the remaining meatballs.
In the meantime, use a sharp knife to cut out the cores of the iceberg lettuces. Strip off and discard the outer limp leaves, and remove the inner leaves, each in one piece. Arrange the lettuce cups on a platter, and add a few tablespoons of chopped cucumber to each one.
Tuck a few hot meatballs into each lettuce cup, drizzle over the cold tahini sauce and top with a sprig of mint.
Makes about 48 meatballs, and serves 6-8.