Sep 152011

When I was in Istanbul last summer, I had a meat dish at the Hamdi Restaurant that was, I think, the second most delicious meat dish I have ever eaten. (After my Oma’s roladen.)

It was kebab made with minced beef and lamb, and pistachios, and magical deliciousness. It was so good that I insisted on returning to the restaurant again later in the week, so I could eat it again.

Yesterday, I stopped at the co-op for milk, and noticed that they had fresh, local, ground lamb. And pistachios. And, of course, good ground beef.

So I bought those things, and attempted to recreate this amazing delicious dish.

I have a few disadvantages, like having no idea what spices were in it, and not having a grill. Or skewers. But I do have the Internet. I found a few not-quite-right dishes, most helpfully including a Jamie Oliver lamb meatball with pistachios recipe.

Here is what I did instead.

Liza’s Turkish Meatballs, aka the Best Meatballs Ever


  • 1 pound each of ground lamb and ground beef (I used chuck).
  • 1 cup salted, shelled pistachios
  • 2 eggs
  • ~20 saltine crackers
  • 1.5 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest (dried)
  • 1 tiny pinch red pepper flakes

First, I dumped all of the pistachios into a marble mortar & pestle that we got for our wedding and hardly use anymore. This was a bad idea — some got pulverized, others barely cracked. Next time I will do it in 2 or 3 batches. The goal is crushed, not pulverized, think “ice cream topping” size bits.

After they were crushed, I dumped the pistachios in a large glass bowl. (Also a wedding present.)

Then I crushed the red pepper, which was tricky given the minute volume. I should have thrown in a cracker or two. Dump. Followed by the rest of the spices. And although I listed amounts above, I didn’t measure any of them. I cook by shaking out spices until I think that’s about right. It mostly works, although I recommend measuring salt. Or adding it one small shake at a time. What I wrote above is my best guess of the volume.

Then I crushed the crackers in two batches, and dumped them too.

(Crushing things with a mortar & pestle is fun — I highly recommend it!)

The eggs went in last. When everything is in the bowl, plunge your hands into the gooey meat mixture and squeeze everything together in a sort of knead-squeeze-knead-squeeze pattern until you can’t see different kinds of meat or identifiable bits of egg, and the spices seem more or less evenly distributed. For me, that takes about 3 minutes. If you are squicked out by all the meat texture, it might take longer.

That’s when I remembered that I hadn’t preheated the oven, so I washed my hands, and turned the oven to 385.

Next, I took out 2 cookie sheets and sprayed them with a tiny bit of cooking oil, which turned out to be completely unnecessary.

I made oblong meatballs that were about the length and width of two fingers. This recipe made 25 of them. I cooked them for 15 minutes, but thought they needed a little bit more time, so left them in for 18 minutes total. They were beautifully browned and delicious when I took them out, and Jill and I each ate one immediately.

They aren’t QUITE as fabulously wonderful and magically delicious as the ones I ate in Istanbul, but they are very good, and I am very happy with the results of my Turkish Meatballs.

(Next: Will the kids eat them?)

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