Lamb Meatballs with Yassa Onions | Nik Snacks

This post is sponsored by Karibe Cookware. I received compensation; all words and opinions are mine.

I love looking for international inspiration and this time around I traveled to the continent of Africa, specifically West Africa. These lamb meatballs with yassa onions is a true marriage of regional international cuisine. When I tell you that these lamb meatballs will be a keeper in your recipe cards, I mean it.

In many recipes, ground lamb is charred over an outdoor grill, so for this indoor version I swapped out a fiery grill for a smoking-hot Karibe cast-iron skillet. I drew further inspiration from Africa by creating a meatball mixture with ground lamb as our base and added yassa onions for garnish and accompaniment.


Yassa is a spicy, marinated dish prepared with peppers, onions, vinegar, mustard and/or lemon juice. Originally from Senegal, yassa is a specialty from the Casamance region in the south of Senegal. Usually made with chicken or fish, beef and lamb are used but are not as popular. The spice of the dish comes from hot peppers, which are sometimes pricked with a fork to release the capsaicin (the heat) and removed part way through the cooking process.


One of the main differences between kofta and meatballs is the consistency of the meat before it is cooked. Kofta is mixed for a long time to break down the protein structure of the meat, rendering it soft. Meatballs are prepared quickly with added filters and binders to plump up the meat. The added lemon juice slowly breaks down the meat fibers, making the meatballs easier to form, very flavorful and easy to eat. 

Did you know that Karibe has a line of utensils too?

Absolutely! Many use a pork and beef combination but you can use them separately or together as a substitute for lamb if you prefer. Similar to kofta in flavor, (kofta is traditionally made with ground lamb too) lamb meatballs get their life from the addition of the sharp, caramelized yassa onions.


YES. Use a mix of bell peppers, hot peppers or mild peppers; use this mixed pepper ragu recipe as your guide.

The biggest challenge with making meatballs is achieving the perfect amount of brownness on the outside while ensuring that they're cooked all the way through. And of course, browning them adds a lot of wonderful complex flavor to the meatballs, so you definitely don't want to skip this step.

Fortunately, browning meatballs are just the sort of thing the Karibe cast iron skillet is perfect for since you can get it nice and hot to do the browning, and then transfer it directly to the oven to finish cooking.

I browned the meatballs in just one batch; The Karibe 12-inch cast iron skillet is wide and deep enough to handle the heavy lifting of this dish. It takes only a few minutes in the hot cast-iron skillet to create a perfectly seared exterior. 

Another issue with browning meatballs is that if you make them perfectly round, they'll be harder to brown because perfect spheres have little surface area to come in contact with the pan. If you shape your meatballs slightly oblong, and just barely flatten them a little, they'll brown more evenly. You'll still have to roll them around a bit with a pair of tongs or slotted spoon, but not as much. The Karibe Company slotted spoon (which is my preferred utensil to use for this recipe) is scratch-resistant with a silicone head, which is easy to use and to clean.

And when I say "flatten," I don't mean to squash them or pack them tightly. The balls turn into kofta, which isn't a bad idea, it's just not the look we're going for here.  You should shape the meatballs very gently. If you pack them tightly, you end up with meat rocks instead of meatballs.

For the binder I stuck with a standard egg, but instead of a traditional panade of bread and milk you can use yogurt along with crushed saltines. The yogurt adds additional tang while using saltines instead of fresh bread ensures that the meatballs hold their shape. If you're egg free, you can use a one-third cup blend of flaxseed and water, cheese or yogurt.  

Serve these with rice, potatoes or a salad. If you want to be more traditional, serve with an ancient grain like fonio, einkorn or make a side dish of porridge or yogurt garnished with parsley.

Lamb Meatballs with Yassa Onions

Lamb Meatballs with Yassa Onions
Yield: 12-15 meatballs
Author: Nikki Miller-Ka of Nik Snacks
Prep time: 25 MinCook time: 40 MinInactive time: 24 HourTotal time: 25 H & 4 M


Lamb MeatballsYassa OnionsPrepare Lamb MeatballsPrepare Yassa Onions
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 bunch chopped green onion (green parts only)
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons coriander
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup crushed crackers or fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil, for cooking
Yassa Onions
  • 4 cups thinly sliced onions
  • 2 dried bay leaves 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 teaspoons prepared mustard


Prepare Lamb Meatballs
  1. Place the lamb in a large bowl and add garlic, onion, lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, green onion, salt, cayenne, cumin, egg and crushed crackers. Mix until well blended. Tightly cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, up to 24 hours, to let the flavors meld.
  2. Make a round meatball the size of a golf ball 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter.
  3. Repeat until all meatballs are formed. Don't pack them too tightly. Make them slightly more oval-shaped rather than perfectly round, browning them will be easier. Add vegetable oil to the pan on medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the meatballs and brown them for about 10 minutes, rolling them around with a pair of tongs so that they brown evenly all around. Remove from pan, reduce heat to medium and set meatballs aside.
Prepare Yassa Onions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. 
  2. Add the onions and bay leaf and stir well to coat the onions with the remaining oil in the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook undisturbed for 10-15 minutes, until soft.
  3. Add mustard and stir well.
  4. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. Add lamb meatballs back to the pan. Bake the entire pan in the oven for 10 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through.
  5. Remove bay leaf. Serve over hot white rice, grits, porridge or plain yogurt.
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About the author

Nikki Miller-Ka

Nikki Miller-Ka

Ms. Miller-Ka is a classically trained chef with a BA in English from East Carolina University and a Culinary Arts Associate Degree from Le Cordon Bleu-Miami.

Formerly, she’s worked as a researcher, an editorial assistant, reporter and guest blogger for various publications and outlets in the Southeast. She has also worked as a catering chef, a pastry chef, a butcher, a baker, and a biscuit-maker. Presently, she is a food editor, freelance food writer, and a tour guide for Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

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