I have lamb on the brain. You can’t blame me since I just spent Saturday night at our friends’ annual My Big Fat Greek Dinner, and grilled lamb chops were served along with moussaka, taramasalata, dolmas, stuffed peppers, and other Greek specialties. The buffet was packed with dishes, and just when you thought there was no room for the large platter of spanakopita, Lisa(the hostess and cook) squeezed it in between the flatbread and dill salad. Not to be outdone by his wife, Leo kept the guests entertained in the backyard as he masterfully grilled lamb chops, while playing bartender and letting the ouzo flow. Somehow a fire didn’t break out with all the alcohol-spilling and grilling going on, but I did hear a “opa!” when a wineglass shattered in the kitchen. It isn’t a party unless a fire breaks out or a wine glass is shattered.
The tireless preparations for the party were Lisa’s handiwork. Judging by the food, you would never have guessed that Lee-sa(as called by Leo) isn’t Greek, not even 1/8th Greek, but in fact, she has some serious Scandinavian roots. However, Lisa is married to a Greek man with a brother who owns a Greek restaurant in San Francisco, and who is the oldest son of a widowed mother who divides her time between Greece and California. So Lee-sa has embraced all things Greek; did she really have a choice? And we are all better for it.
Like I said, I’ve got lamb on the brain, and although it might have just recently surfaced with the party and all, my love of lamb goes deeper, back into my childhood. (Never mind my first crush which involved a certain Greek boy who loved to wear Rangers jerseys.) In my Queens neighborhood, I was surrounded by Greeks. The smell of grassy lamb and rosemary on the grill was a familiar one for me, but early on, I only got to taste lamb when I was invited over to a neighbor’s house. My parents, having not grown up eating lamb, were intimidated by it. Fish roe, tofu curds, and even silk worms didn’t faze them, but lamb chops or anything else related to sheep, scared them.
But curiosity got the better of my mom one afternoon when she and I were in Jamaica, Queens. She stopped at a shish kebab cart, and ordered us a lamb kebab. She loved it, and it became a thing with us. Whenever we were in Jamaica, and I was her translator for the day at the City Tax Collector’s office, we’d get lamb kebabs. There were some happy memories made at that kebab cart, and even though my mom never cooked lamb, she definitely enjoyed eating it. Thanks to Lisa and Leo, I thought of my mom while noshing on juicy grilled lamb Saturday evening.
- Marinade: 1 asian pear(substitute with 1 c of pineapple), 1 onion, 3 cloves of garlic, 1 tbs of ginger, 1 tbs sesame oil, 1 tbs brown sugar, 1/3 c soy sauce
- 2 lbs of ground lamb
- 2 eggs
- 1 c Panko bread crumbs
- 1 block of feta (7 ounces)
- 2 tbs sesame seeds (optional)
- 1 can Coca Cola (glaze)
- 1 tbs rice wine vinegar or red wine vinegar (glaze)
- 2 tbs sesame oil (glaze)
- Puree marinade ingredients in a food processor or mixer
- Scoop 1 c of marinade into a bowl and reserve the rest for the glaze.
- Place ground lamb in the bowl with the marinade and mix together. Do not over mix.
- Leave ground lamb in the fridge overnight along with the reserved marinade.
- When you are ready to make meatballs, take out marinaded ground lamb and add 1 c of Panko and 2 whisked eggs to the mixture.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Slice up feta into small bite sized chunks (about 30 pieces).
- Make a golf ball sized meatball. With your finger make an indentation in the middle, and place a piece of feta in it. Mold the meatball around the feta so that it is covered.
- Place all the meatballs on a lined or greased baking sheet, and sprinkle sesame seeds on them.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- (Glaze can be made ahead of time or if you are a quick cook, while the meatballs are in the oven.) Place reserved marinade in a pan and bring to a boil. Add vinegar and 1 can of soda. Bring to a boil again, and let it reduce until syrupy (about 10 minutes).
- Take pan off the heat and add 2 tbs of sesame oil to the glaze.
- Take meatballs out of the oven after 15 minutes. Spoon or brush on glaze, and return meatballs to the oven for 10 more minutes. Serve hot or warm.