Lamb, Mint, and Almond Meatballs with Saffron-Almond Sauce

Life in the new flat is not all wine and roses. Since my move in early October, I’ve been contending with the Never-Ending Kitchen Remodel. You know, that delightful pastiche featuring those charming rascals, the Slapdash Contractors, with supporting roles played by the Goddamn Shitty Appliances. The first time I attempted to use the oven I turned on the timer rather than the heat, and couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. It ticked loudly tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick until I worked out how to get the heat on and blew all the fuses in the kitchen. Sarf-East cockney contractor Del-boy came round an hour or two later and put the oven on its own fuse. Once the oven was reconnected the timer started ticking again tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Del-boy scratched his head, muttered something about not being boffered, and skulked off. Saturday I brought home beef bones to roast for stock, at which point I learned the oven doesn’t actually work, as in doesn’t get hot. I stomped around crankily and may have whined a bit about wanting to roast things. Lovely Flatmate called the truculent nameless Polish contractor, who looked in the oven and said, “I can’t fix. You need specialist.”

So, still no oven. The timer works though. There it is now, tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick.

In the scheme of things, this is not a grand calamity, even though it means NO EXPAT THANKSGIVING (*sob*). I can cook lots of perfectly nice things without an oven. These meatballs, for example. They’re sort of a riff on albondigas – the saffron almond sauce is pretty classic, although I’ve adapted it to give it more of a North African twist, which suits the lamb. There’s a little bit of honey sweetening the sauce, setting off the warm smoky spices in the meat. I added some chopped sultanas (golden raisins, my American friends) to the meatballs, which I quite like, but this is entirely optional. Although I envisioned these as tapas, I ended up eating them for dinner with rice, so they work either as a starter (serve with flatbreads) or as a main dish. Also (and I realize this is not exactly news to some of you), meatballs freeze well. After you’ve shaped them, arrange them on a tray lined with waxed or parchment paper and put them directly in your freezer. Once they’ve frozen you can scoop them into a plastic bag to be cooked in the future with, er, romesco sauce. That post is coming up soon. Ingredients:

For the meatballs

600 g (about a pound and a half) ground lamb (lamb mince)

1 large egg

35 g (about an ounce and a half) ground almonds

A piece of white or wheat bread, crusts removed

1/2 large or one small sweet white onion

A handful of mint leaves, chopped

½ teaspoon sweet paprika

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon coriander

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

25 g (about an ounce) sultanas (golden raisins), chopped (optional)

For the sauce

½ large or one small sweet white onion, grated to a fine pulp with a box grater

50 g (about 2 ounces) ground almonds

250-300 ml white chicken stock

½ teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

2 teaspoons honey

A generous pinch of saffron

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

For the garnish

1-2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves

Toasted slivered almonds (optional)


If you have a food processor, whiz together the onion, mint, ground almonds, and bread until blended. Add the egg, meat, seasonings, and sultanas (if using) and pulse a few times until combined, but not so much that your meat becomes paste. Perhaps, however, you’ve misplaced the blade attachment to your food processor in a recent move. In that case, prep by grating the onion against a box grater and finely mincing the mint and the bread on a board. Combine these with the remaining ingredients in a bowl and mix together well with your hands.

Form into firm balls about two inches in diameter by rolling between your palms. You can freeze whatever you’re not using right away. (Remember, when you want to cook them, don’t defrost, but rather brown directly in the pan before heating them through or you will wind up with soggy formless mush.)

To cook, glug some olive oil into a pan and arrange the meatballs in a single layer. Gently brown them by shaking the pan occasionally, about 7-10 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a paper towel-lined plate.

To make the sauce, pour off most of the fat from the pan, and sauté the grated onions over medium heat until they become transparent. Stir in the ground almonds and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until they become pale golden. Stir in the cumin and paprika and sauté for a few moments more, and then add the stock. Crumble in the saffron with your fingers and reduce heat to a simmer. Use a wooden spoon to break up any lumps and simmer for about 10 minutes more, to allow the saffron to bloom and the mixture to reduce slightly. Stir in the honey, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Return the meatballs to the pan and toss gently, so they’re coated with sauce. Simmer uncovered for another 10-15 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through, adding more liquid to the sauce if necessary. Serve hot, garnished with fresh mint and toasted slivered almonds (optional).

This recipe makes about six dozen two-inch meatballs, enough for 6-8 main dish servings, or quite a lot of tapas.

28 thoughts on “Lamb, Mint, and Almond Meatballs with Saffron-Almond Sauce

  1. Oooh, nice meat balls. I love the combination of lamb, honey, raisins and those warm spices (also the pan, i goddamn love the pan). I feel for you re the oven and new kitchen. I too had an oven cock-up when we moved into our new place. Although, to be fair, in my case it was because I had tried to switch on the wrong knob…

  2. Susan, those meatballs look so good! I must find time in the next week or so to cook this dish, without the sultanas, though. 🙂

    So sorry you can’t cook a turkey at home. I won’t be cooking one this year. What I’ll miss most is the way heavenly way the kitchen smells on Thanksgiving Day.

    Happy Thanksgiving!


    • Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Daisy! I miss Thanksgiving smells too. I hope yours is wonderful, wherever you spend it. And please do let me know if you end up cooking this!

  3. Oh no! No expat Tgiving?! I am sending you big, consoling HUGS! There is nothing I love more than baffling local butchers abroad (you want a TURKEY? NOW?!), and waving my Sweet-Savory American Freak flag in the faces of Europeans. I feel you!

    But this looks absolutely divine. I love the mix of flavors that you have here. Yummy, yummy. I don’t think you’ll be starving this holiday 😉

  4. thanksgiving was never a tradition for me, so perhaps I’m less sympathetic, but seems like you managed just fine without the oven anyway. in fact you managed more than just fine. meatballs look freakkiinnn amazing. never thought of using ground almonds with meatballs!

  5. I feel your pain. We had to cook with a combi microwave for 2 months while our kitchen was redone. We ate take away and I put on 2 stone. And the new cooker has this really annoying timer which you have to have on or it doesnt work – stupid thing

    • Wow. That sounds rough. I’m realizing how much I rely on my oven — say, for braising, and roasting vegetables — but it’s been a good process to force myself out of my comfort-food-comfort-zone. Or so I tell myself. 😉

  6. Thanks for posting this recipe! I made them this weekend and they were a huge hit. I only changed the recipe a little by adding yogurt to the sauce 🙂

  7. I’m not usually a message leaver, but I’ve made these before and am making them tonight for guests. It’s a great recipe, thanks very much. What would you recommend serving them with? Am planning to do couscous with raisins, dates etc… What would you do – and more importantly have you found that blade attachment yet?!

    • Kathryn, thanks so much for taking the time to comment, it really means a lot. The couscous sounds gorgeous. I’ve also done them as a tapas, so with other small dishes, and with rice pilaf. And no, I never found that blade attachment! 🙂

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