There is something to be said about hot gooey cheese oozing from the center of some succulent meat. It kind of makes me giddy…yes, giddy. I am not ashamed. As badly as I have yearned for a “Jucy Lucy” recently (a luscious…and very gluttonous cheese-stuffed burger), devouring one of these fat-laden beauties right before bikini season would be an awful decision. Yet, with the intense Jucy Lucy cravings and a recent and random obsession with Kalamata olives, I began brainstorming. I had just bought a package of Whole Wheat Israeli couscous that I had been pretty stoked to use too. I could see clearly now…no obstacles were in my way. My kitchen would be anxiously awaiting a Mediterranean (cheese stuffed) Meatball creation that my beau would later deem “incredible”- his favorite adjective when his taste buds are pleased.
I must admit; I made a foodie mistake. Being a bit too health conscious and therefore neglecting my true gastronomic powers, I chose ground turkey breast (99/1, people) to make my meatballs. Friends, don’t do this. I can assure you that as delicious as my dinner came out (and was well received by Chris) it would have been blow your socks off, fantastic had I used lamb. Get ground lamb…for goodness sakes, get the lamb. Not to mention, I had to use way more veggies and egg for added moisture than I listed in the recipe below.
Ground Lamb mixed with the sweetness of roasted reds and onions along with the delightfully piercing bite from the Feta cheese stuffed within, these orbs of goodness will be sure to please. Toss them on top of some sautéed spinach and kalamata olive infused Israeli couscous (think tiny pasta “pearls”) and you have a winner, winner, meatball dinner. It gets better. A scrumptious cool and creamy Lemon Feta Tzatziki dolloped on top guarantees salivating before and after each bite.
Mediterranean Meatballs with Kalamata Israeli Couscous
For the Meatballs:
1 pound ground lamb, beef or turkey (Lamb is ideal for this dish)
1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Roasted red pepper, diced
2/3 cup roasted or sautéed yellow onion, chopped (Cook the onion in advance)
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons *fresh oregano, chopped extra fine
1/2 cup crumbled Reduced fat Feta cheese
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
For the Couscous:
1 ½ cups Israeli Couscous (I use whole wheat)
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, finely chopped
2 large handfuls fresh spinach leaves…to be exact ;)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt, to taste
For the Tzatziki sauce:
3/4 cup plain Non-fat Greek yogurt
1/3 cup crumbled Reduced fat Feta cheese
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons brined capers (and some more for garnishing, if desired)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
1) Prepare Tzatziki sauce by simply mixing all ingredients, breaking up the feta into small crumbles with a fork. Set aside (Do not refrigerate).
2) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, add all meatball ingredients EXCEPT for the feta cheese. With your hands, thoroughly combine/knead all ingredients.
3) Using wax paper or a clean counter top, shape your meat into golf sized balls. Then, with each meatball, carefully push a small piece of feta into the center and reform the meat around it.
4) On your stovetop, heat ¼ cup olive oil in a very large oven-safe pan to medium high heat. If you do not have an extra large pan, you may want to use two pans so you don’t run out of room.
5) Wait until the pan is completely up to temp (I always test for a sizzle with a pinch of flour). With a large spoon, carefully add meatballs one by one to the pan. Be sure to give 1-2 inches room between each meatball, ensuring you don’t “overcrowd” the pan.
6) Brown your meatballs, carefully turning them after 20 seconds on each side. When all sides have been browned, add the pan to your oven for 20 minutes for beef/lamb meatballs or 30 minutes for turkey or chicken.
7) Bring 2 cups water to boil in medium sized pot (for couscous). Once boiling, add 1 ½ cups couscous along with a hefty pinch of salt. Stir occasionally until cooked al dente (about 10 minutes).
8) In a medium sized skillet, on medium heat, with a tablespoon EVOO, sauté your fresh spinach and kalamata olives until spinach is completely wilted.
9) If needed, drain couscous (couscous will absorb most, if not all of the water). To the couscous, mix in spinach, kalamata olives and 3 tablespoons lemon juice.
10) Plate meatballs with couscous and spoon Tzatziki on top. Garnish with fresh Oregano leaves and/or sprigs.
***If you want to get fancy, put Tzatziki sauce into a small zip-lock bag and carefully cut the tip of one of the very bottom corners of the bag. Then, you can squeeze Tzatziki out in a decorative fashion like icing on a cake).