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Recipe: Dio Deka's Lamb Meatballs

Tender and juicy, these bursts of meaty goodness from a modern Greek restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area can be served alone or in pasta.

Lamb meatballs from Dio Deka restaurant in Los Gatos, California, image
Photo caption
Lamb meatballs from Dio Deka restaurant in Los Gatos, California, image

Lamb Meatballs, Dio Deka, Los Gatos, Calif.
When Executive Chef Marty Cattaneo started cooking at Dio Deka, a modern Greek restaurant in downtown Los Gatos, Calif. (210 E. Main St., 408-354-7700,, he knew there were certain items on the menu that were sacrosanct—the mesquite-grilled prime steaks, ouzo pork ribs, and lamb meatballs. After all, he figured, if something’s working right, you don’t mess with it.

Especially when it came to the meatballs—not when a third of all diners ordered them every night, as did most of the banquet groups. Cattaneo, who has cooked with such illustrious chefs as David Kinch at Manresa in Los Gatos and Jeremy Fox at the now shuttered Ubuntu in Napa, merely adjusted the seasonings a tad and ended the practice of storing the meat mixture in vacuum-sealed bags, which he thought compressed it too much, resulting in denser meatballs.

Known at the restaurant as keftethakia, these tender, juicy meatballs are served as a shared appetizer along with blistered grapes, yogurt infused with kalamansi (calamondin, a citrus), and a delicate broth of mint, cilantro, and parsley. But they’re equally wonderful with a simple dollop of Greek yogurt flavored with lemon juice and honey. The meatballs can also be tossed into pasta with tomato sauce or served warm over wilted arugula for a light salad.

Cattaneo incorporates all the ingredients using a stand mixer, which aerates the mix, giving it a fluffier texture, but blending by hand is fine, he says. Before cooking the entire batch, he fries one meatball in a pan to check the seasoning. Because the cheese is fairly salty, he cautions not to be heavy-handed as you add the salt.

“To me, they’re the quintessential bar snack,” Cattaneo says. “It’s like eating pretzels at a bar with beer. At the end of the day, they just taste great.”

Dio Deka’s Lamb Meatballs
Makes about 24 meatballs 1½ inches in diameter.
Adapted with permission from the recipe by chef Marty Cattaneo

For the meatballs:
2 pounds ground lamb
¼ cup milk
2 eggs
¼ of a yellow onion, minced
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
¾ cup grated kefalograviera (a firm Greek cheese) or Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt to taste

For the garnish:
1 cup Greek yogurt
Fresh lemon juice to taste
Honey to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the ground lamb, milk, eggs, onions, bread crumbs, herbs, garlic powder, onion powder, nutmeg, black pepper, and cheese at medium speed until the ingredients are well incorporated. If you don’t have a stand mixer, use your fingers, first moistening them with water to keep the meat from sticking to them. Work your fingers well into the mixture to combine the ingredients thoroughly.

3. In a small sauté pan on medium heat, cook a teaspoon of the mixture in several drops of olive oil. Taste the cooked mixture for salt, and add more if needed.

4. Roll the rest of the meat mixture into balls, each about 1½ inches in diameter. Place the meatballs on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil. Roast at 350°F for about 12 minutes until the meatballs reach an internal temperature of 155°F and are browned on the outside. Serve with traditional Greek yogurt mixed with honey and lemon juice.

Photography courtesy of Dio Deka

This article was first published in November 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.