As an Italian-American, meatballs are in my blood. They are one of the many comfort foods of my people, gifted to the world in the form of polpette appetizers, spaghetti with meatballs, and meatball subs. I may, however, be able to concede that Italians are not the only people who can lay claim to the mighty meatball. These baked turkey meatballs, for example, are definitely not Italian. Mixed with dates, sesame seeds, and breadcrumbs and served with lentils and yogurt sauce it has a Mediterranean-meets-Middle East vibe.
Since moving to Israel dates and date syrup (silan in Hebrew) have both become pantry staples for me. They grow like crazy here in the fall, when they drop off trees and make the sidewalks sticky. Every variety is available at the shuk and supermarket year round, from surprisingly bitter fresh dates to the popular Medjool. I’ve made couscous salad with dates and almonds, and I drizzle my yogurt and granola with date syrup most mornings. But dates in my meatballs? That’s a new one.
As soon as I saw this recipe in Food and Wine I knew I had to make it and soon. Combining an old favorite (meatballs) with a new favorite (dates), plus lentils and yogurt sauce? Done. This is really three recipes in one since the meatballs, lentils, and yogurt sauce each have their own preparation, but it comes together in about an hour.
The meatballs are fairly healthy because they are baked and made from lean turkey, and they get a serious flavor boost from sesame oil, plus a sweet kick from the chopped dates. The lentils could be a good accompaniment to any number of dishes; simmered with a cinnamon stick and garlic then seasoned with sherry vinegar, the lentils come out aromatic and addictive. And the yogurt sauce is a simple but finger-licking good combination of yogurt, lemon juice, lemon zest, and chopped cilantro or mint. This, too, would be amazing on any number of things. Whatever you do don’t leave it out of this dish; it really brings everything together.
Turkey Meatballs with Dates, Lentils and Yogurt Sauce
Adapted from Food & Wine
Yield: 4 servings according to F&W; 2 according to Evan and I
1 pound ground turkey
2 cups fresh bread crumbs*
6 dates, pitted and finely chopped
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup French green lentils
5 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
1 cinnamon stick
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1½ tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Lemon-Herb Yogurt Sauce:
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro or mint
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the Turkey Meatballs:
In a large bowl, combine the ground turkey with the bread crumbs, dates, eggs, sesame seeds, sesame oil, salt, and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Form the turkey mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Spread the meatballs on a lightly oiled large rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, turning once, or until browned on the bottom and cooked through.
While the meatballs are cooking, prepare the lentils. In a medium saucepan, cover the lentils, garlic and cinnamon stick with 2 inches of water; bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat until the lentils are tender, about 25 minutes. Drain the lentils and transfer to a bowl; pick out and discard the seasonings. Stir the olive oil and vinegar into the lentils and season with salt and pepper.
For the Lemon-Herb Yogurt Sauce:
Whisk together the yogurt with the lemon juice, cilantro or mint, and lemon zest, and season with salt and pepper.
Assemble and Serve:
Serve the meatballs with the lentils and yogurt.
Nutrition information according to F&W: 615 cal, 24 gm fat, 4.9 gm saturated fat, 57 gm carb, 17 gm fiber per serving.
*Update: I just made these for the second time (6/17/11) and they were once again amazing. This time I doubled the recipe except for the breadcrumbs and eggs (I used the original amounts for both). Less breadcrumbs made for a slightly moister, less dense meatball so I would cut the amount from here on out.
I linked this recipe up at the Flu Fighting Foods blog hop! Head on over for more great yogurt recipes.