Lamb Meatballs with Pomegranate Glaze
It's becoming harder and harder for me to restrain my ambitions at my Meatwaves. When I look back to my earlier days, I would pick three, maybe four, recipes to try out, resulting in manageable menus. I think it was when I decided to scale back my barbecues from every other week to once a month, that I changed and felt the need to cook all my ideas all the time, which has translated to me developing six to eight recipes each time, requiring a lot more work in both prep and cooking. I often feel rushed and totally consumed with grilling on Meatwave days, leaving less time for hanging out with my friends—a critical part of why I throw these cookouts in the first place. So when creating a menu for a meatball themed Meatwave last year, I actually came up with a ton of recipe ideas, and it took a lot of discipline to only choose four and stick to them so I could have a good balance in my day. That left me with a number of additional recipe ideas for me to fit into future menus, and I finally got to one of those recently...these lamb meatballs with a pomegranate glaze.
It was a Middle Eastern-themed menu that ended up bringing these meatballs to life. That's because the seasoning I was envisioning was comprised of mostly ingredients being used in other recipes in the line-up for the day. I wouldn't say the seasoning mixture was wholly Middle Eastern influenced though. It was actually what I thought would pair best with the very flavorful lamb and compliment the sweet pomegranate finishing glaze—it ended up being a combination of parsley, garlic, mint, cumin, orange zest, black pepper, red pepper, and salt plus breadcrumbs for a lighter texture and better bonding.
Before committing to rolling out all of the meat into balls, I test cooked a little patty to ensure the seasoning was good. I always recommend this step for any sausage or formed meat mixture because it's the best way to be certain what you'll be serving your guests tastes as good as possible. I'd like to think you can make my recipes without taste testing and they'll turn out great, but taste is subjective, so my idea of what is the right amount of salt, pepper, herbs, etc. may not fit yours and this step gives you more control to really make the recipe the best it can be for you.
Once I confirmed the lamb mixture was seasoned to my liking, I rolled out the meat into balls approximately one and half inches in diameter. I did this the day before serving to help me be a little less stressed at the actual Meatwave, where, at this particular event, I didn't restrain myself and made seven new recipes.
The pomegranate glaze presented a bit of a quandary for me. I knew I wanted to use a sweet and thick pomegranate sauce, and that is actually pretty easy to procure at a reasonable price at my local Middle Eastern market in the form of pomegranate molasses. On the other hand, I could opt to make my own glaze, which would require more time and investment by starting pomegranate juice that would need to reduced. At the end of the day, my DIY spirit won out and I made my own glaze, but I honestly think you'll be just as well served with pomegranate molasses if you prefer to lessen the load of this recipe.
Even though I decided to make my own glaze, I kept the ingredient list minimal. To the pomegranate juice, I only added light brown sugar, some fresh orange juice, and a little balsamic vinegar, which I let all simmer down together until it was thick and syrupy. Once done, the two cups of pomegranate juice I started with was reduced to about 3/4 cup of glaze.
The next step was grilling, which I did over a two-zone fire where I had situated the coals all on one side of the charcoal grate. This let me quickly get some good browning on the meatballs all over first by placing them directly over the hot fire and turning them regularly.
I was then able to move the meatballs to the cool side of the grill, brush with the glaze, and let them continue to cook more gently until the glaze had baked down and the center of the meat registered around 155°F—a temperature at which there was very little pinkness left, but the meat was still very juicy.
I served this in an appetizer manner, placing toothpicks in each individual meatball so my guests could easily grab and eat. I'm always a bit nervous when choosing to do a lamb dish because its slightly gamey flavor can be polarizing. Luckily on this day, I had some true lamb lovers that dug right in, and almost all the rest of my guests followed suit. Even those not totally sold on lamb were able to appreciate these meatballs which had a fresh and earthy seasoning that complimented the strong flavor of the meat along with the crowd-pleasing sweet and fruity glaze. I think that sweetness, in conjunction with the small sampling portion, is what really made these even more palatable to those folks who were a little timid when they heard that the meatballs were lamb, definitely helping the entire dish disappear in no time. These represented another success in a long line-up of meatball recipe ideas I'll likely be working my way through for years to come.
Lamb Meatballs with Pomegranate Glaze
- Yield 6-8 Servings
- Prep 30 Minutes
- Cook 10 Minutes
- Total 40 Minutes
- For the Glaze
- 2 cups pure pomegranate juice
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- For the Meatballs
- 2 pounds ground lamb
- 3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh garlic (about 3 medium cloves)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- To make the glaze: Whisk together pomegranate juice, brown sugar, orange juice, and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened to a syrupy consistency, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- To make the meatballs: Place ground lamb, bread crumbs, parsley, garlic, mint, salt, cumin, orange zest, black pepper, and red pepper flakes in a large bowl. Using your hands, mix together until thoroughly combined. Roll out meat mixture into balls 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place meatballs on hot side of grill and cook, turning occasionally, until well browned all over. Move meatballs to cool side of grill, brush all over with glaze, cover, and continue to cook until center of meatballs register 155°F on an instant read thermometer. Transfer meatballs to a serving platter and let rest for up to 5 minutes. Serve immediately.