In the United States, we don’t usually see ground meat on skewers, but it is typical throughout the Middle East and Africa. The trick to this dish is not to overmix the lamb, so it doesn’t become mealy. I like these meatballs nice and small so the bite you get is fully caramelized—lamb on the outside, onion on the inside.
- 5 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 large white onion, diced (about 3 cups)
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons date molasses* (optional)
- 2 tablespoons carob molasses* (optional)
- 12 pitted dates, fresh or dried, cut in half lengthwise
*Date and Carob “Molasses”: Found in Middle Eastern markets, these are actually thick syrups that are made with pressed fruit and are sometimes smoked with Arabian incense. If they’re not available, pomegranate molasses— which is easier to find— can be used in their place.
1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil and the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is transparent, 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, or just before the garlic starts to brown. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
2. In a large bowl, combine the cooled onion mixture with the lamb, parsley, paprika, cayenne, salt, and black pepper. Mix well with your hands to combine all the ingredients thoroughly, but be sure not to overmix or the meatballs will be tough. Scoop up 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture, roll it into a ball, and put it on a baking sheet or plate. Repeat to make 24 meatballs.
3. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan, and then, working in batches, add the meatballs carefully so as not to splatter the hot oil. Sear the meatballs for 3 minutes, or until they start to brown. Continue to brown the meatballs, rolling them to cook all sides, until they are browned all the way around, about 10 minutes total. Remove the pan from the heat.
4. To serve, drizzle the meatballs with the date molasses and the carob molasses, if using. Run a toothpick or a small skewer through the center of each date half and then through the center of each meatball. Serve on a platter.