- 1/2 cup medium-grain rice, such as arborio
- 2 medium onions, 1 quartered and 1 thinly sliced
- 1 cup cilantro leaves, plus 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup mint leaves
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- Scant 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- Scant 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Scant 1/2 teaspoon ras el hanout (optional; see Note)
- Kosher salt
- 1 1/2 pounds lean ground lamb
- 4 1/2 cups water
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- In a small bowl, soak the rice in water for 15 minutes. Drain in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cold water until the water runs clear. Drain well.
- In a food processor, pulse the quartered onion with the cup of cilantro leaves and the mint, cumin, paprika, allspice, cayenne, ras el hanout;and 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt until pureed. Scrape the puree into a large bowl and mix in the ground lamb and rice.
- Line a large baking sheet with plastic wrap. Using lightly moistened hands, roll rounded tablespoons of the meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls and transfer them to the baking sheet.
- Pour the 4 1/2 cups of water into a large, deep skillet. Add the sliced onion, butter, parsley, crushed red pepper and saffron to the skillet and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the meatballs; they will not fit in a single layer. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook over moderately low heat until the meatballs are cooked and the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Stir gently once or twice halfway through.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a large platter. Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl and skim off as much fat as possible. Return the cooking liquid to the skillet and boil over high heat until thickened, about 10 minutes.
- Return the meatballs to the sauce and simmer over moderate heat until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chopped cilantro and the lemon juice, season with salt and serve.
The meatballs can be refrigerated in their sauce overnight.
Ras el hanout, a Moroccan blend of up to 30 spices, including ginger, anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, peppercorns and cloves, is available at Middle Eastern markets.
Although a red is the usual partner to lamb, the Middle Eastern spices here make this dish more compatible with an aromatic, equally spicy Rhône white.