I began to love lamb back when I was in college: as a liberal arts student living in Poultney, naturally one of the required skillsets involved raising herds of dairy and meat goats and taking part in the slaughter, butcher and cooking of all sorts of ruminant animals, usually on-farm and not USDA inspected.
Sheep were always easier company than goats, and they’re smaller than beef, just like me. They’re not as smart as goats, so they don’t usually teach each other how to narrowly avoid the movable electric paddock fencing and munch on your landlord’s crops, and they’re easy to process solo.
Lamb also tastes wonderfully with a wide variety of different sauces and spices, and frequently appear in cuisine with bolder, heavier flavors. More delicate than the older mutton, the deep and almost rich flavor of lamb pairs wonderfully with curries, cumin, garlic and mustards, and was famously mentioned in Martin Brest’s 1998 romance “Meet Joe Black” as Anthony Hopkins’ character reminisces on the “cold lamb sandwiches...with a little Coleman’s mustard” that remind him of his beloved wife.
It also finds its way into Greek and Mediterranean dishes, was a foundational ingredient to everyone’s favorite Greek sandwiches: the humble gyro, smothered in yogurt and lemon in a warm pita with tomatoes.
There are few things better, in my opinion, than Donegal spring lamb, which I’ve had in Donegal several times: grassy and sweet, a well-rested medium-rare lamb roast with rosemary and white pepper is perfect with some candied carrots and a glass of Viognier or Arneis wine.
At Steeple Market they sell ground lamb for a fair price in the frozen foods section, and I was at odds for what to make for dinner. But I had bought lingonberry jam at Food City in St. Albans, Bulgarian sheep’s milk feta in Burlington and had a bit of cassis left in a bottle at home.
Drunken Swedish Meatballs on flatbread, my dudes
My uncle is Swedish and very proud of his heritage, so naturally I was introduced to Swedish meatballs and lingonberry jam at a tender age. Like a sweeter cranberry, lingonberries have a tart-sweet component that pairs excellently with meats, and the unctuous fat of lamb is rich and in need of an acid to cut the sugar.
With my hands and not my feet, I mixed one pound of ground lamb with two local eggs and half of a cup of panko breadcrumbs, salt, a few tablespoons of garlic powder, a teaspoon of sage and half of a finely shaved sweet onion. Add a bit more breadcrumbs if needed to pull together spheres that are slightly larger than golfballs and roll softly between your palms to smooth out the edges, but be careful of making accidental mini meatloaves by adding too much — they get bouncy that way.
Two people consumed an entire pan of these beauties with no problem, but when I tell you they are absolutely delicious I am lying because they’re better than that.
Brown your round boys in a medium-hot skillet until the sides are a dark caramel color and remove to a plate. Add in two heaping tablespoons of lingonberry jam, and ½ of a cup of cassis, and reduce to rich, velvety sauce. I used Putney Mountain Winery’s Vermont Cassis Liqueur, which also goes wonderfully on vanilla ice cream and in a glass of champagne, and can be found at all of the local liquor stores.
You want the meatballs to be glossy, so be sure not to reduce it too much. Add a knob of butter to make the sauce silky smooth and shiny. Salt to taste.
Add your meatballs back in and toss to coat and warm. Serve on flatbread with a sprinkling of crumbled sheep’s milk feta or goat cheese. The flavors are like a sweet and savory meatball roll up, but deeper, richer and far more satisfying.
Kate Barcellos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org