Saffron-Scented Meatball Skewers


Sublime Smoke

Published by Harvard Common Press

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

These mini-meatballs are loosely influenced by classic Pakistani-style preparations, though they run far afield of the cuisine in several ways, particularly with the ginger-snap binding.

Makes2 dozen small skewers

Cooking Methodsmoking


Total Timea day or more

OccasionBuffet, Cocktail Party, Family Get-together, game day

Recipe Courseappetizer, main course

Dietary Considerationlow carb, peanut free, soy free



Taste and Texturecreamy, herby, meaty, savory, smoky, spiced, tangy

Type of Dishskewer


  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¾ cup plain yogurt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground dried ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ pound lean (not extra-lean) ground beef
  • ¾ pound ground lamb or additional beef
  • 1 egg
  • ½ medium onion, minced
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 8 thin ginger snap cookies, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • Big pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
  • 24 bamboo skewers, soaked in water


  1. Make the dipping sauce up to 1 day before forming and cooking the skewers. In a small skillet, warm the butter over medium heat and add the onion. Sauté the onion for several minutes until softened. Scrape the onion into a small bowl and stir in the remaining sauce ingredients, adding as much lemon juice as you wish for a tangy but not sour flavor. Cover and refrigerate. Add a little water to the sauce later if it thickens too much for dipping.

  2. Bring your smoker to its appropriate cooking temperature.

  3. In a large bowl, combine all the meatball ingredients and mix well. Form the mixture into ½- to ¾-inch meatballs. Thread four to five meatballs on each skewer.

  4. Transfer the skewers to the smoker. Smoke until the meat is cooked through, about 20 to 30 minutes at a temperature of 225° F to 250° F.

  5. Serve hot with the chilled dipping sauce.


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