Syrian Meatballs

This recipe came to me from my friend Luisa, who writes the wonderful website The Wednesday Chef. It was originally published in the New York Times and adapted from Lisa Ades. These are more accurately called Syrian Beef Kebabs, but I will always think of them as meatballs.

I cooked these in the oven, under the broiler, so I didn’t see the point of putting them on skewers as the recipe called for. I also had a hard time imagining them staying on the skewers, so I didn’t bother. You should do as you see fit. You do want to plan ahead so you have time to chill them in the fridge before cooking. This will help them stay together.

2 pounds fatty ground beef, like chuck (don’t bother with a lean ground, you’ll be disappointed)
4 tablespoons tomato paste
2/3 cup finely minced onion
2 teaspoons salt
Juice of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 pinches cayenne
1/3 cup pine nuts
Oil to brush on grill rack or pan
Lemon wedges, lettuce, pita bread, and yogurt sauce (see recipe below) for serving.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the meat, tomato paste, onion, lemon juice, and spices. Using your hands, knead the ingredients together until they form a cohesive mixture that holds together. Shape into elongated meatballs, roughly the size of an egg (you can also form them into patties, if this seems more appealing to you). Place on oiled baking sheet and cover, refrigerating for an hour.

If broiling, heat the oven and cook for 5-7 minutes a side, until the meat has browned and is firm. Turn over and continue another 5-7. Meat should sizzle, but avoid any advanced browning or burning of exposed pine nuts (the photo above is a bit overdone, to be honest).

On a barbecue, make sure to brush the grill with oil beforehand, to keep the kebabs from sticking. Fire should be medium and grill should be set several inches above the flame.

Yields: 4 servings, with leftovers.

Garlic Yogurt sauce

I like to serve the meatballs with a bit of tangy yogurt mixed with garlic and cucumber.

1 cup plain yogurt (preferably not nonfat)

1/2 cup grated cucumber (I keep the skin on, but you may remove)

1 large clove garlic, finely chopped or crushed in a garlic press

1/4 tsp kosher salt

pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and spoon over the Syrian meatballs.