What kind of meatballs are these? It’s a fair question: Meatballs come in countless variations. You could make them every week for a year, never repeating a recipe. It is a culinary common thread that runs through albondigas, polpettini, boulettes, kofte — all spherical morsels of finely chopped meat.
The origin of the meatball is hardly a mystery. When an animal is butchered, there are a limited number of primal cuts, the tender parts that are turned into chops, steaks and roasts. The rest of the beast is used for stewing or put through the meat grinder to become burgers, sausages, meatloaf or meatballs. For many cooks and diners, the bite-size meatball is the most appealing.
All meatballs begin the same way. Freshly ground meat is mixed with seasonings and a bit of bread or rice before being rolled into balls. (Nearly all recipes advise forming them with wet hands.) They are then browned on the stovetop or in the oven, to be eaten as is, simmered in a sauce or added to a soup.
This recipe, made with ground lamb, has a Turkish feel, spiced with cumin, coriander, cinnamon and a touch of cayenne. The meatballs are browned in olive oil — though flattening them into patties to be griddled or grilled would be another good choice — and served with a traditional yogurt sauce.
Some cooks braise their meatballs after browning, which renders them exceedingly moist, soft and tender. In this rendition, I like them straight out of the frying pan, crisp on the outside and juicy inside.
The warm, tart yogurt sauce adds tang and richness, especially when made with whole-milk yogurt. It is prepared at the last minute, just before serving. A beaten egg and a little cornstarch are added to prevent the yogurt from curdling when heated.