Middle-Eastern Bison Meatballs With Cilantro-Yogurt Sauce

1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 3/4 cups chopped fresh cilantro, divided
1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons whole-milk Greek-style yogurt, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (ideally fresh made from crustless French bread)
1 tablespoon whole milk
2 tablespoons minced seeded jalapeno chili (about 1 large)
1 1/4 pounds ground bison
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

To make sauce, in a small, dry skillet over medium, combine the fennel, cumin and coriander seeds. Toast, stirring often, until aromatic and slightly darker in color, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool for 5 minutes.

In a spice mill or clean coffee grinder, finely grind toasted seeds. Set aside.

In a blender, combine 1 1/2 cups of the cilantro, 1/2 cup of the yogurt, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the scallions, mint, lemon juice, sugar and 1 teaspoon of the sage. Add 1 teaspoon of ground seeds, then blend, scraping sides of blender as needed, until smooth. Season to taste with the salt and pepper, then cover and refrigerate.

To make meatballs, in a small, heavy skillet over medium, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the onion and garlic, then saute until soft, about 7 minutes (do not brown). Set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and milk.

In a food processor, combine cooled onion mixture, breadcrumb mixture, remaining ground seeds, remaining 2 tablespoons yogurt and the chili. Pulse to form a coarse puree. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl.

Add the bison, egg, allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, remaining 1/4 cup cilantro and remaining 1 teaspoon sage. Using your hands or a fork, mix until just blended. Using damp hands, form mixture into 1 1/4-inch balls. Cover and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Heat oven to 300 F.

In a heavy, large nonstick skillet over medium, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Working in 2 batches, cook meatballs until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. As they are cooked, transfer meatballs to a rimmed baking sheet and place in oven to keep warm (up to 15 minutes). Serve with cilantro-yogurt sauce for dipping.

Makes 6 servings.

— Recipe from Bruce Aidells, author of "The Complete Meat Book."


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