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Mini Lamb Meatballs-Portugal

I’m like a little kid when it comes to big trips and so with just over a month until we leave for Portugal, I’m beyond excited. Although I haven’t looked at my guidebooks for Portugal recently, I will in a few weeks since I’m the type of traveler who likes to have stuff mapped out-not down to every waking moment, but I prefer a well planned itinerary all the same. While I certainly had a great time at Disneyland this past May, our “mini” big trip of the year, Portugal is the Holy Grail of travel, at least in the 2012 year. We haven’t been to Europe since our honeymoon in 2010 so I’m anxious to return especially since the euro is no longer as strong against the dollar as it used to be (yay for us).

Along with our recent meal at Pittsburgh’s only Portuguese restaurant, I recently borrowed a Portuguese cookbook from my public library, The New Portuguese Table by David Leite. It’s a really beautiful cookbook with some heavenly pictures, especially those in the Sweets and Liqueurs chapter (rosemary custard anyone?). I decided to make the mini lamb meatballs-almondegas de borrego after I read that almondegas are a popular snack at tascas, small, family-run eateries. I always look forward to trying new foods abroad and these are definitely at the top of my list when we visit Lisbon. The recipe has the meatballs cook in a beef sauce with hints of ginger, cumin, and cinnamon that the author writes as “recalling Portugal’s Moorish past.” I took the author’s suggestion and served them along with his recipe for pureed potatoes (please email if you’d like the recipe for that, it was extremely simple!). I did have to make the meatballs with ground meat instead of lamb as I had no luck in finding the latter. If you try the recipe hopefully you will!

Mini Lamb Meatballs-almondegas de borrego



2 pounds lean ground meat

1/2 cup dried bread crumbs

1 large egg, beaten

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons peeled, grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black papper

2 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed 



1 large yellow onion, minced

1 Turkish bay leaf

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 cups beef stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish


  1. Combine the meat, bread crumbs, eggs, garlic, ginger, zest, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, cilantro, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Wet your hands and knead the mixture but don’t over mix. Scoop up 1/2 tablespoon of the mixture, roll it into a ball between your palms and place it on a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the mixture. 
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the meatballs, in 3 or 4 batches, and cook, shaking the pan often to prevent sticking, until evenly browned, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl using a slotted spoon. If too much fat accumulates in the pan between batches, drain it before continuing. 
  3. After the last batch of meatballs has cooked, drain off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the skillet. If the pan is dry, drizzle in a bit more oil. Add the onion and bay leaf and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden brown, about 12 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Sprinkle in the flour, cumin, and cinnamon and stir until the mixture is fragrant, about 1 minute. Splash in the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has almost burbled away, about 1-2 minutes. Add the beef stock and cook until the mixture begins to thicken, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer to thicken the sauce a bit more, about 4-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the bay leaf.
  4. Return the meatballs, along with any accumulated juices, to the skillet and stir to coat. Continue to simmer, lid ajar, until the meatballs are heated through, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately. Or, for even better flavor, slip the meatballs into the fridge overnight. Warm in a skillet over low heat before serving. 

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  • Reply
    Sara Louise
    July 26, 2012 at 9:08 am

    These look delicious! As I was reading along, I was thinking to myself, “i don’t know if I can find ground lamb… I wonder if ground beef would be any good…” and voila! I think I’ll definitely be giving these a try as I’m sure my husband would love them!
    Any chance you’re going to try and make the rosemary custard? 🙂
    I just found you via blogexpat and thought I’d come over and say hi… HI!

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    July 26, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Thanks so much for commenting! Ground beef is wonderfully versatile in that regard 🙂 I have the book for a few more weeks so yes the rosemary custard is at the top of my list of recipes to try!
    If you make the meatballs let me know how they turn out, cheers!

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