We've done beef, pork and even shrimp. But Alex Raij is opening our eyes to a meatball that eschews even the thought of a pasta accompaniment. Raij and her husband, Eder Montero, co-owners of New York City's El Quinto Pino and Txikito, opened La Vara in Brooklyn, New York, last month. Raij's albóndigas de cordero (Sephardic-style lamb meatballs) are one of many dishes on the menu inspired by the Jewish and Moorish influences in Spanish cuisine. At the restaurant, these small, harissa-flavored meatballs are served alongside a minted yogurt. But we're tempted to devour them straight out of the skillet, without a noodle in sight.
Albóndigas de Cordero (Sephardic-style lamb meatballs)
Recipe adapted from Alexandra Raij and Eder Montero, La Vara, New York City
Yield: Serves 4
Cook Time: 10 minutes
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground caraway
½ teaspoon ground fennel seed
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1½ pounds chilled ground lamb
2½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 scallions, finely chopped
½ cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, finely chopped
½ cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1½ tablespoons harissa paste
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 cup panko
3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1. In a small skillet set over medium heat, toast the cumin, coriander, caraway, fennel seed, cinnamon and cayenne pepper, stirring until aromatic, about 10 seconds.
2. In a large bowl, add the ground lamb and make a well in the center. Add the toasted spices, salt, scallions, cilantro, parsley, harissa and garlic and gently fold together. Add the egg yolk and panko and stir just until combined. Place the mixture in the refrigerator and chill for 1 hour.
3. Remove the lamb from the refrigerator and roll into 1-inch balls. Place a large skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the canola oil. Working in batches, add the meatballs and fry until browned on all sides and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Serve hot.