Glancing out of my kitchen window as I rinsed the breakfast dishes this morning, I watched as a few of our chickens waddled by before heading up into the garden beds to peck around for bugs. My one-year-old son Mattis and I headed down to the coop to collect the eggs from the laying boxes, and to pick all of the unseasonably flourishing cherry tomatoes off of the vine before the chickens, crows, and other garden menaces got to them. On the way back to the house, I noticed a leaky sprinkler, pulled up a YouTube video, and had it fixed within 10 minutes.
If you had told me in December that this sequence of events would be the description of my average morning come March, I would have laughed you out of town.
At the end of January, my husband George and I closed on our very first home, a 1960s Carmel Valley, California, adobe-style ranch house with slanted roofs that dip so low in certain places that you have to duck your head to enter the master bathroom or access any of the closets. It is funky and unique, and we are absolutely obsessed with discovering its quirks and making them our own.
We went from a downtown cottage with no more than a front deck for outdoor space to an adobe home on almost a half-acre of land, about a quarter of which is set up as garden trellises—a fact about which we are both thrilled beyond words, and completely terrified.
George, my suburban-raised husband who has never demonstrated any skill whatsoever in the way of a green thumb, has decided that by 2021, our “farm” will allow us to be completely self-sufficient, living off the land! Considering that it took him seven hours to program the sprinkler system last Sunday, I’m not going to cancel my Costco membership anytime soon, but I’m optimistic that we’ll get a decent garden going by summertime.
The former owners of our home helped to jumpstart our little micro-farm: we inherited the 10 hens that they raised from eggs, some very healthy tomato vines, and an abundant patch of mint and parsley. If you’ve been following this column for long, you know that I keep fresh herbs on hand at all times because they make food look and taste so fresh and beautiful. Having fresh herbs just outside my kitchen door has been truly thrilling for someone accustomed to them coming out of a plastic container from the supermarket.
I wanted my first column written in the new house to use up every single ingredient currently available outside of my front door: fresh eggs, tomatoes, and herbs. A leftover box of couscous from the pantry and some frozen lamb from my favorite butcher at the farmers market led me to create this one-skillet, Greek-inspired lamb meatball and couscous dish.
Breaking It Down
As always, the goal of this column is to minimize kitchen stress and cleanup, so the meatballs and couscous are cooked all together in the same skillet. Not only does this cut down on dishes, but it also allows the couscous to soak up so much incredible flavor from the lamb as it cooks.
While the meatballs and couscous cook in the oven, you’ll whip up (literally!) an herby whipped feta in a blender or food processor. Don’t own either? Just finely mince the herbs, throw everything into a large bowl, and mash with a fork until it’s as smooth as you can possibly get it.
I started making whipped feta back in my catering days. Sometimes I’d keep it simple with just fresh Meyer lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil; other times, I’d add all the fresh herbs I could gather, combining the salty, briny flavor of the feta with the fresh brightness of basil, mint, parsley, or cilantro.
Whipped feta is lovely served on the table with freshly baked bread in place of butter or olive oil, or as part of a large crudité platter as a dip for crisp seasonal vegetables. I still make it regularly, but only recently did it hit me how fabulous it would be paired with meat—dolloped on top of a burger, perhaps, or alongside a piping hot meatball.
Here, a generous swipe of it serves as the creamy, cooling base for a pile of couscous and meatballs. My husband and I like to add very simple, hardly-any-prep vegetables to our suppers, so we throw some arugula, sliced tomatoes, and sliced cucumber onto our plates, too. Radishes, red onion, raw fennel, or roasted sweet potatoes would all be delightful additions.
Though this dish takes a few more steps than my typical Table for Two column, you can still get it done in under 45 minutes. If you’re super tight on time, skip the whipped feta entirely—just crumble feta over the top and dig in!
One-Skillet Greek Lamb Meatballs and Couscous With Herby Whipped Feta
- 1 large egg
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 small shallot, grated
- 3 garlic cloves, grated, divided
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced, divided
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup couscous
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
For the whipped feta:
- 4 ounces feta cheese
- 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, plus more for garnish
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, plus more for garnish
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Sliced cherry tomatoes
- Sliced cucumber
- Toasted pita
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Crack egg into a large bowl and lightly whisk. Add the lamb, breadcrumbs, shallot, garlic, lemon zest (zest only!), mint, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Using your hands, mix well. Form into 10 2-inch meatballs.
Coat a 10-inch ovenproof skillet with olive oil and place the meatballs on the skillet so that they are not touching. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove skillet from the oven, scoot the meatballs to the edge of the skillet, and add the couscous, butter, reserved lemon juice, and 1 cup of hot water (as hot as your sink will go!). Stir to coat the couscous in water, carefully scooting the meatballs around as you go. Cover the skillet with a fitted lid (or aluminum foil in a pinch) and return to the oven for 10 more minutes.
While the meatballs are cooking, make the whipped feta. Combine the feta, Greek yogurt, mint, parsley, extra-virgin olive oil, and lemon juice in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed (some feta is saltier than others—I didn’t need any salt at all).
Remove skillet from the oven and use a fork to carefully fluff the couscous all around the meatballs.
To build your plate, grab a heaping spoonful of whipped feta and swipe it across half of your plate. Add couscous and any vegetables you might be using, then top with the meatballs and more fresh herbs.
Swap in any ground meat you like—beef, pork, chicken, or turkey would all be great here. Chicken and turkey meatballs will take a little less time to cook, so keep an eye on them and pull them out when an internal thermometer reaches 160 degrees F.
If you can’t easily access fresh mint and parsley, swap in 2 teaspoons of dried oregano. Omit it entirely from the whipped feta—I don’t love it with dried oregano.
Have leftover whipped feta? Serve it as a dip with pita chips, or use it as a spread on a sandwich!
Caroline Chambers is a recipe developer, food writer, and author of “Just Married: A Cookbook for Newlyweds.” She currently lives in Carmel Valley, Calif., with her husband, George, and son, Mattis. Follow her on Instagram for cooking tips and snippets from her life in Northern Calif. @carochambers