Ground Lamb Meatballs with a Saffron Sauce
I was lucky enough to be able to witness the way cooks pounded small chunks of lamb on a cutting board in a restaurant kitchen in Old Delhi that served authentic Kashmiri foods. This pounding was the beginning of silky-smooth meatballs that later simmered in a thin broth steeped with vermilion-red cockscomb flowers (called pran in Kashmir). It’s an ingredient rarely found outside Kashmir, so to recreate the color and flavor, I have combined ground Kashmiri chiles, a hint of saffron, and black cardamom pods—a near-perfect match. The flavors of this thin curry are potent, sinus-clearing, and intense. Make sure to serve it with basmati rice to bring down its intensity to a perfect balance.
Total Timeunder 1 hour
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationmain course
Taste and Texturehot & spicy, meaty, savory, spiced
- 8 ounces lean ground lamb
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds, ground
- ½ teaspoon black cumin seeds, ground
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ small red onion, finely chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground Kashmiri chiles; or ¼ teaspoon cayenne (ground red pepper) mixed with
- ¾ teaspoon sweet paprika
- ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
- 4 or 5 black cardamom pods
- 6 whole cloves, crushed
- 2 tablespoons mustard oil or canola oil
Mix the lamb, salt, fennel, cumin, ginger, onion, and garlic together in a medium-size bowl. (I like to use my clean hands to do this, as I can knead and massage the ingredients thoroughly into the meat.) Divide the spiced meat into 10 equal portions, and shape each portion into a tight round. (I usually compress it in one hand, to shape and press it into a taut ball.) As you form them, place the meatballs on a plate.
Pour 2 cups water into a small saucepan, and add the Kashmiri chiles, saffron, cardamom pods, and cloves. Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Cook, uncovered, until the spices infuse the water and turn it into an aromatic, reddish-orange broth, about 5 minutes. Set it aside.
Heat the oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the meatballs, arranging them in a single layer, and cook, gently moving them around every few seconds to ensure even browning, until they are seared all over, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain off the excess fat into a small bowl (you can use it in another recipe, as long as it’s not for vegetarians).
Pour the spiced broth over the meatballs. Raise the heat to medium-high and vigorously simmer the thin curry, uncovered, basting the meatballs every minute or two, until the lamb is barely pink inside, about 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the meatballs from the broth and transfer them to a serving bowl.
Continue to simmer the broth until it reduces to about ½ cup, 8 to 10 minutes. Pour this bright red, potent broth over the meatballs, and serve.
2008 Raghavan Iyer