Lamb Meatballs with Spelt Risotto and Pesto

Lamb Meatballs with Spelt Risotto and Pesto

So, this recipe may have changed my life. Why, you ask?

a) I might never make risotto with arborio rice again. Spelt risotto is absolutely amazing.

b) I might make a different kind of pesto every day for the rest of my life. True story. I could even open my own pesto factory!

Oh, and the lamb! The meatballs were ridiculously delicious. This whole recipe was a major win in my book. Though it was probably the most intricate meal I’ve made in a long time (really, it wasn’t bad at all; just a few different components), it was worth it.

Chris and I bought ground lamb on our first visit to The Meat Shop and I absolutely knew I wanted to make lamb meatballs with it. But I didn’t have a recipe. When I came across Meeta’s recipe on What’s For Lunch Honey? I knew I found the one. Problem? I didn’t know where to buy fresh coriander leaves. So I looked up a coriander substitute and discovered there isn’t one. Fun. So, I found the closest thing possible and decided on a parsley, dill, and tarragon risotto. (As Victoria points out in the comments coriander leaves are actually cilantro. I have NO idea why I didn’t know this, but alas, I did not. At all. But I’m actually glad because I’m not the hugest cilantro lover- don’t hate it, but don’t love it- and I think I like my combo better. And now I know…).

Let’s start with that, shall we? But please note, you can make these in any order… The risotto definitely takes the most time, so you probably want to make your meatballs while that is on the stove (and start soaking the spelt before anything at all). I made the pesto first, then started on the risotto, and worked on the meatballs while that was finishing.

Parsley, Tarragon, and Dill Pesto:

    • 2 C parsley
    • 1/2 C dill
    • 1/4 C tarragon
    • 1 C cashews, toasted and roughly chopped
    • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
    • 2 T fresh ginger, grated
    • 1 red chili, seeded and chopped (I ended up using red pepper flakes)
    • Olive oil
    • 1/4 C parmesan
    • 2 T lemon juice
    • salt and freshly ground pepper



Once I discovered how easy it is to make pesto, I become obsessed with a capital O.

For this, all I did was put the parsley, dill, tarragon, cashews, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes in the food processor and process until well blended.

I bought what I thought was a spicy pepper (there were no signs at the grocery store and I do not know my pepper varieties well enough!), but when I cut it, it was mild as can be… So I used the red pepper flakes for a little kick, instead.

Then I kept the FP running and slowly added in olive oil until the pesto was smooth. Then I added in the parmesan, lemon juice and some salt and pepper.


That’s it!


Next it was time to get started on the risotto. I followed Meeta’s recipe, which uses spelt instead of arborio rice. Don’t get me wrong, I seriously LOVE arborio rice risotto. But this spelt risotto was a whole other ballgame. It was nutty and hearty and super duper filling. It just felt right. If you know what I mean. Also, it’s made with red wine. And given the choice, I take red wine a million times over white. A risotto after my own heart.

Spelt Risotto:

    • 1 C spelt
    • 6 C water
    • 1/4 C olive oil
    • 2 T butter
    • 3-4 shallots, finely chopped
    • 3/4 C dry red wine
    • 2 C chicken stock
    • 1/2 C parmesan



I’m an old risotto pro by now and this was made pretty much the same way. But there were a few things to do first- like soaking the spelt. I soaked it in cold water for 20 minutes and then drained and rinsed.

Then I brought 6 cups water to a boil. I added the olive oil and spelt and let simmer for 20 minutes.


I drained the spelt and rinsed again (sheesh, is spelt super dirty or something??)

Then I melted 1 T butter and 1 T oil in medium saucepan over medium heat and added the shallots. I sautéed for 1 minute.


I added spelt, stirred, and added the wine. I simmered it until almost all the liquid evaporated… It took longer than I thought. Longer than it would with arborio rice, but no big deal.


I added the chicken stock in about 1/2 C at a time until each one was mostly absorbed. Which also took longer than I expected. Meeta’s recipe said about 15 minutes total… Mine was more like 30. The recipe didn’t specify to simmer the chix stock first… But maybe I should have? That may have helped the absorption process along.


Then I stirred in the parmesan cheese for a delicious creaminess.

OK, and we’re finally on to the meatballs!

Lamb Meatballs with Mint (serves about 4):

    • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
    • 6 sprigs mint, finely chopped
    • 1 lb. ground lamb
    • 1 egg (or 2 if you want your meatballs a bit moister)
    • 3 T whole wheat breadcrumbs
    • Pinch ground cinnamon
    • Pinch ground coriander
    • Olive oil
    • Salt and freshly ground pepper



These are actually quite simple, too. Just get a medium bowl and mix together the onion, mint, lamb, egg, breadcrumbs, cinnamon, and coriander. Like I said above, I used 1 egg, but think I would use 2 in the future to make the meatballs a bit moister.


Then use your hands to make about 12 meatballs.


And heat a “good glug” (that’s how Meeta says it and I LOVE it! GLUG!) of olive oil in a skillet and fry the meatballs for about 10 minutes, until browned and cooked from the inside.


I served the meatballs next to the spelt risotto, which I topped with the pesto.


OMG the flavors!! I don’t mean to brag, but my pesto combination was absolutely perfect for a Middle Eastern style dish. It went wonderfully with the coriander.


The meatballs were also incredibly flavorful I loved the touch of mint and cinnamon.


And the spelt risotto? OMG the spelt risotto. You NEED to try this. I could probably live off it. There was just so much more to it than arborio risotto. It was chewy (in a good way), filling, and packed with the flavors it held so well. I will definitely be making this again… And probably quite often.

The best thing about a risotto that is made with red wine? There’s plenty left come dinner time!


In case you couldn’t tell, I was SO thrilled with this meal. I want it again and again and again. And FYI it’s the perfect meal to make if you want to impress a date… Provided that date is a fan of lamb, of course. I mean, I hope Chris was impressed.

But I know what he really wants me to make is lamb vindaloo. Any good recipes for that one, friends?

But yes, make this. And enjoy it. And then bring me some, please.


31 Responses to "Lamb Meatballs with Spelt Risotto and Pesto"

  1. This looks awesome as a meal and also as an appetizer (lamb meatballs with pesto?) YUM!

  2. Melissa says:

    That looks amazing! I think I will make it a goal of mine to make risotto this fall. I’ve never made it myself! Oh and the pepper – that looks like a cubanelle pepper. Not hot, but not as sweet as a red, orange, or yellow.

  3. Victoria says:

    That looks so good! But I have perhaps a dumb question: aren’t coriander leaves the same thing as cilantro? I thought coriander grew up to be cilantro, but now I’m confused.

  4. Sues says:

    @Victoria omg not a dumb question at all! Because I think you’re right… I didn’t learn this until after my quest and meant to mention it in the post and forgot (updating now). I was Googling in the grocery store on my phone and read something about how coriander leaves would be sold in a pot and there was no good substitute for them. Then after I made the dish, I read that coriander leaves come from the cilantro plant. I had NO idea! I’m kind of glad I didn’t know this though because I enjoyed my pesto more than I think I would a cilantro one…

  5. Erica says:

    BEAUTIFUL! I have never cooked lamb….I wonder if Josh likes it- I will have to ask him! Meatballs are always fun to make. The dish looks fantastic and I will definitely be trying the spelt risotto!

  6. Mallory says:

    Wow, this looks and sounds amazing! A friend was recently telling us how her boyfriend is currently obsessed with cooking lamb but it’s turning into an expensive food hobby. Nevertheless, makes me wish my own boyfriend ate meat (he’s semi-vegetarian, and eats seafood but no chicken, beef, lamb, etc) – this looks so tasty!

  7. Shannon says:

    ooh, my my. i just had farro risotto at tilth last weekend and really liked it. different texture with the chewy-ness, but i’m a fan. great looking meatballs and pesto!!

  8. Megan says:

    Wow! This definitely sounds incredibly flavorful. I have been hearing a lot about The Meat Shop. One of these days, I’ll have to get over there. And I think you’ve inspired me to try spelt. I’ve never eaten it or cooked it before. Sounds very interesting!

  9. Kerstin says:

    I’ve never had spelt before, but now I’m very intrigued! This looks like such a tasty dish with so many layers of flavor -yum!

  10. Daisy says:

    You are such a great chef! Seriously. even if you didn’t know the corriander/cilantro connection. I had no idea either. And I love cilantro.
    The lamb meatballs looks awesome.

  11. The pesto sounds delicious with all the fresh herbs and the spelt risotto is definitely intriguing!

  12. Joanne says:

    I didn’t know you could fall in love with something you never tasted. But you can. I just did.

    Every component of this sounds like a dream! Thanks for sharing, I am SO making this. BTW that picture of the pesto is seriously vibrant. I love it.

  13. OMG, all the more reason for me to get my butt to Coolidge Corner and go to that new butcher! I LOVE lamb and have been looking for ground lamb for ages! And I’ve never even cooked with spelt, but after that rave review I’m going to have to hunt some down. Where did you get it?

  14. emily says:

    Using spelt for risotto is so creative. I’ve been making lots of beet risotto this summer, so I should try to substitute spelt and see how it goes.

  15. Sues says:

    @Sophie- I got the spelt at Whole Foods… They basically have any grain you could ever dream of! The recipe actually called for “pearled spelt,” but I got plain old spelt and it worked just fine!

  16. Sues says:

    @Emily Beet risotto??! I NEED to try that! 🙂

  17. CookiePie says:

    Ooooh I am LOVING this recipe – it all looks so delicious!!! And I will be making that pesto for sure — LOVE that it has cashews, as I just found out I can no longer tolerate my beloved pine nuts. Yum! Thanks for sharing!!!

  18. The lamb meatballs sound great. I’m still iffy about lamb but I’m definitely going to get this recipe a go next time we get lamb as part of our meat CSA. I’ve made pork vindaloo which was pretty yummy – here is a suuuuuuuper old post – 🙂

  19. Oh and Sophie – if you have a food processor, you can just grind your own. 10 pulses and you’re done! 😀

  20. Lizzy says:

    Wow, that dish looks fantastic!!! Looks like a perfect special occasion- date night meal!

  21. NIcole says:

    That spelt risotto sounds so good, I must try it. The pesto combo you made also sounds yummy 🙂

  22. Monique says:

    dude, forget the meatball shoppe. im coming to your house next time. the risotto looks amazing and really anything with that gorgeous parmesean is sure to be food gasmic.
    i love it! and i love the meatballs!!!!

  23. Susan says:

    It is so fulfilling when a meal hits the mark on all levels! The whole dinner sounds amazing from the pesto to the spelt risotto and lamb meatballs. I will take your word for it and try using spelt the next time I make risotto. I can’t wait to try it and the parsley pesto.

  24. i have to keep my eyes out for the ‘free range’ chicken broth. i usually get the low sodium chicken one, but free range would rock. A spelt risotto? ive never heard of a risotto out of spelt but YUM, spelt is my fav grain and would be fantastic with these meat balls <3

  25. Julie Q says:

    Your meatballs are gorgeous

  26. I have never heard of spelt risotto, but it sounds so delicious and healthy! And yes, pesto is most amazing and versatile. . . I totally eat it out of my food processer!

  27. peachkins says:

    my daughter loves pesto. I’ll try making this one…

  28. Pam says:

    Everything looks so good, especially the meatballs.

  29. Sharlene says:

    My mouth is watering just as much, if not more, now as when I first saw this dish at Meeta’s. I must try spelt risotto!!

  30. I always thought I wasn’t a fan of lamb until I tried lamb sausage. So good! I think the texture of regular lamb is offputting to me, while the flavor is lovely. Sooo, I think I would also love these meatballs!

  31. beautiful receipe

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