Here, lamb meatballs and lentils provide a one-two protein punch for a skillet meal that’s also a knockout flavor-wise with aromatic, savory spices and fresh spinach. A finishing dollop of yogurt adds cool creaminess that contrasts the warm earthy flavors in the bowl. It could just become your new favorite comfort food. (It’s from my most recent book Whole in One.)
The packaged ground lamb typically found in the meat case will most likely not be lean. It will work in the recipe, although you might want to drain some of the fat out of the pot after browning the meatballs, so you wind up with about 1 tablespoon in the pot at that stage. If possible, though, ask the butcher to grind some fresh for you from lean leg and/or shoulder cuts. Also, I chose beluga lentils for this dish be- cause I like their contrasting color and the way they hold their shape, but green or brown lentils would work in this recipe, too.
Lamb Meatballs with Lentils in an Aromatic Tomato Sauce
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1/4 cup dried whole wheat bread crumbs
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons low-fat or whole milk
4 garlic cloves, minced, divided
12 ounces lean ground lamb
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-size onion, diced
1/2 cup dry beluga lentils (black lentils)
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added tomato sauce
1 (14-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
3 cups baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 tablespoon honey (optional)
Combine the cumin, coriander, salt, black pepper, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Transfer 1 teaspoon of the spice mixture to a medium-size bowl. Add the bread crumbs, egg yolk, milk, and half of the garlic to the spices in the larger bowl and stir to combine. Then, add the lamb and mix with your hands to combine. Form the lamb into small meatballs, about 1 inch in diameter. (You should wind up with about twenty meatballs.)
Heat the oil in a large, wide pot over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs to the pot and cook, turning them two or three times, until they are browned all over, about 3 minutes total. Transfer the meatballs to a plate.
Lower the heat to medium, add the onion to the pot, and cook, stirring, until it is softened, 4 minutes. Add the remaining garlic and cook for 30 seconds more, then stir in the reserved spice mixture and the lentils. Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes with their juices, and 1 1/4 cups of water and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, then return the meatballs with any accumulated juices to the pot and simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes more. Stir in the honey, if using, then add the spinach and cook until it is wilted, 1 minute more. Serve topped with a dollop of yogurt.
The dish will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for 3 months.
Makes 4 servings
Serving size: 1 1/2 cups meatballs, lentils, and sauce
Per serving: Calories 400; Total Fat 14g; (Sat Fat 4g, Mono Fat 7g, Poly Fat 1g); Protein 31g; Carb 39g; Fiber 9g; Cholesterol 105mg; Sodium 630mg, Sugar 12g (Added Sugar 0g)
Excellent source of: fiber, folate, iron, manganese, niacin, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin K, zinc
Good source of: calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium, thiamine