Indian Lamb Meatballs

Tina Wasserman
Recipe by
Tina Wasserman

This recipe is featured in Tina Wasserman's book Entrée to Judaism for Families, filled with tools to help children learn to cook with confidence, with clear, step-by-step instructions for every recipe and tips for adults to make the experience safe and rewarding.

Many of the Jewish people of India can trace their ancestry back more than 2,000 years! Bene Israel Jews are descendants of Kohanim, or high priests, who were shipwrecked on the southwestern coast of India at the time of the Maccabees, and discovered living in the jungles of India in the 1600s. They were far removed from any other Jewish community, but they still said the Sh’ma! Another Jewish sect, the “black” Cochin Jews, claim to have been in India since the time of King Solomon, when their ancestors sailed there looking for spices. The “white” Cochin Jews and the Baghdadi Jews have only been in India for 600 years. They came for the spice trading opportunities and, most likely, to escape the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal.

This recipe uses some of the spices found in India but the use of lamb, cumin, and mint in a meatball speaks volumes about its links to the Jews of the Middle East and Spain. Obviously, matzah meal is a modern touch. Enjoy!

Learn more about the history of Indian Jewry and find more Jewish Indian recipes.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
20 grindings black pepper (½ teaspoon)
28-ounce can recipe-ready fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon garam masala
⅓ cup matzah meal
½ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
2 large cloves of garlic
½ teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 egg
1 pound ground lamb
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice, as needed
Honey, as needed

To make the sauce

  1. Heat a 6-quart soup pot over high heat for 15 seconds. Add the oil and heat for another 10 seconds. Add the chopped onion and sauté for 3 minutes until lightly golden.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the minced garlic, salt, and pepper, and sauté for 1minute until you can smell the garlic but it hasn’t yet browned.
  3. Add the canned tomatoes, chicken broth, honey, and garam masala. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered with a lid, for ½ hour or until you are ready to add the meatballs.

To make the meatballs

  1. Combine the matzah meal, mint, garlic, and spices in a small food processor workbowl, and pulse the machine on and off until a coarse paste is formed. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the paste into a 4-quart or large mixing bowl. 
  2. Add the egg to the bowl and mix into the mint mixture with a fork. Add the lamb and gently combine with the other ingredients using a fork or your fingertips. Don’t squeeze the meat or the meatballs will be tough. Scoop up a heaping tablespoon of meat and shape into a 1½-inch meatball. Place on a plate while you make the rest. 
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 15 seconds in a 10-inch frying pan or 4-quart pot. Add the meatballs 10 or 12 at a time until the pan is covered but not crowded. Fry the meatballs, turning occasionally with a slotted spoon, until the meatballs are brown. This should take about 10 minutes.
  4. As meatballs are done, lift them out of the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the sauce. Quickly finish frying the rest of the meatballs, and place them in the sauce as well.
  5. Cook the meatballs in the sauce over low heat. After 15 minutes, add a little lemon juice and more honey, if needed, to give a sweet-and-sour taste.
  6. Serve over cooked rice, preferably basmati.

Kitchen Conversations

  • Look for India on a map, find Israel, and then trace the ocean route that the Cochin Jews’ ancestors traveled with King Solomon.
  • Why do you think the tribes who lived in the jungle for thousands of years still recited the Sh’ma? Do you think they knew about the Torah or about rabbis? Why or why not?
Additional Notes
  • Sautéing onions in a large, deep pot is actually more safe for 6 or 7 year olds because the depth of the vessel prevents splattering from reaching a child’s face. However, make sure that you are holding on to the child and/or the pot and that a long-handled spoon is used to keep the child’s hand away from the rim.