Skip to main content
Sunday Best Berbere-Spiced Mini Lamb Meatballs

Sunday Best Berbere-Spiced Mini Lamb Meatballs

photography by: Melissa Hom

"Marcus Samuelsson opened up the Horn of Africa to me, with its store of vibrant spices from countries like Ethiopia, Somalia, and Eritrea. The one I came to love most of all is berbere, a blend of chiles, fenugreek, cardamom, coriander, and about ten other things. Which is why it’s totally worth it (both financially and time-wise) to just buy a bottle instead of trying to swap in a mix of your own. It’s so complex, you can sprinkle it on the simplest proteins or starches and they automatically taste special. But as I discovered upon dining at Abyssinia (the best Ethiopian restaurant in Harlem) for the first time, berbere is pretty much best friends with lamb. It’s what makes these bite-size meatballs really pop, along with crunchy pine nuts and sweet raisins." - Excerpt from Adrienne Cheatham's newly released cookbook, Sunday Best



2 medium red onions, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves
1 (½-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 Tbsp Spicewalla Berbere
Kosher salt
¼ cup red wine
1 lb ground lamb
½ cup toasted pine nuts
²⁄³ cup crumbled feta cheese
1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
¼ cup chopped raisins (or better, whole currants)

Shop the Recipe




  1. Place the onions, garlic, and ginger in a food processor and pulse until chopped small but still chunky, 5 or 6 pulses.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until just beginning to smoke. Add the onion mixture and the berbere, season with a couple of pinches of salt, and stir to incorporate. Cook until the moisture has cooked out and the onions begin to brown in places, about 3 minutes. Add the red wine to the pan, scraping up any browned bits.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the wine is absorbed/evaporated and the excess moisture is cooked out, about 3 more minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
  4. Put the ground lamb in a mixing bowl and add half of the cooked onion mixture, leaving the rest of the mixture in the pan. I prefer to use my hands for the next step. With or without gloves is up to you (no judgment), but feel free to use a spoon or spatula instead. Stir the lamb and onion mixture together, add a couple of pinches of salt, and really make sure you get it thoroughly combined. Fold in the crumbled feta.
  5. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Scoop the lamb mixture into 1-tablespoon portions and roll them between your palms to make them nice and evenly round (dampen your hands as needed to keep the meat from getting sticky). Place the balls on the foil-lined sheet. It’s okay to have them close together or just barely touching. Pop in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
  6. Heat the broiler to high and position an oven rack about 2 inches from the heat source. Broil the meatballs until the tops are browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  7. Heat the remaining onion mixture in the pan over medium-high heat and add the tomatoes and raisins. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Pour any juices from the meatball tray into the pan, stir to incorporate, and cook for 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
  8. When ready to serve, bring the sauce to a simmer and fold in the meatballs. Add a splash of water if the sauce has gotten too dry, and let everything simmer until the meatballs are heated through, about 10 minutes (longer if they’ve been refrigerated).
  9. To serve, the meatballs can be bathed in the sauce, spiked with toothpicks and placed on a platter, or set up as individual bites on crusty bread or toasted cornbread squares.


If you’re getting extra fancy, top each meatball or bread bite with a fried quail egg and a little cilantro.


To turn this party snack into a main meal, shape into 2-Tbsp (or larger) meatballs and serve over Barley Grits (page 147 of Sunday Best), Mashed Parsnips (page 156 of Sunday Best), or couscous.

Sunday Best Book cover

Shop the Recipe




Add a Comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

left arrow Orange Cardamom Olive Oil Cake Sunday Best Third Coast Shrimp Toast left arrow