These were supposed to be dumplings. Laziness has made them into meatballs.

I’ve been eyeing recipes for Turkish manti dumplings for quite some time. Mostly because if I could marry a dumpling I would. (Sorry El Gallo!) Dumplings, however, are kind of a pain in the ass to make. And, in case you haven’t noticed, wheat is “out.” Like Heidi Klum says, “One day you’re in and the next, you’re out.” Sorry wheat, you’ve been eliminated faster than a fashion designer with a drop crotch.

venison meatballs

Hence I decided to take the filling from traditional Turkish manti and turn it into meatballs instead. I stayed with the traditional yogurt sauce you use for the dumplings, but as laziness was kind of a theme for this recipe I didn’t want to mess with caramelizing tomato paste and browning butter and all that mess. This is where the real star of the show comes in.

venison meatballs

There are a couple restaurants in town that have been using this chili oil, albeit in very different respects. (One poaches octopus in it, another drenches fried chicken in it.) I decided it was time to try it for myself. Oh. My. God. We cannot get enough of this stuff. You literally just take dry peppers and warm them on the stove in oil with a clove of garlic and a little salt. We want to swim in this oil. It has a pungent, earthy flavor with a little bit of heat (but not too much) that’s reminiscent of a super-duper deconstructed molé. It really blends well with all the spices in the meatballs. At the same time, the yogurt really cuts through the earthiness.

Feel free to play around with different chiles in the oil if you want more spice. For a quick bump in spice level add some red pepper flakes. If you’re not sure how spicy a particular chile will be, lick a seed. That will tell you pretty quickly. Then, use your best judgment as far as how many seeds to include. In my experience, spice is easier to add at the end then take away so tread carefully.

venison meatballs

While dumplings take you all afternoon to make, this recipe comes together very quickly. If you warm the oil and mix the yogurt sauce while the meatballs are cooking, then everything comes together in about 20 minutes or so.

Turkish Meatballs with Yogurt and Chili Oil


Meat balls

  • 2lb ground venison
  • 1lb ground lamb
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste

Chili Oil

  • 3 Dried Pasilla Peppers (stems removed and ground in a spice grinder, blender or Ninja)
  • 1 cup olive or other oil
  • 1 clove garlic (peeled and smashed)
  • pinch of salt

Yogurt Sauce

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 teaspoon ground sumac (or lemon zest/juice)


Meat balls
Step 1
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the meat with the meatball spices. Roll the meat into balls, about a 1 inch diameter give or take. Put on a foil-lined pan and bake until cooked through and starting to brown on the top, about 15 minutes.
Chili oil
Step 2
Meanwhile, combine the garlic, oil and chili flakes in a saucepan and warm on the stove until heated through. The oil can bubble but should not reach smoking point.
Yogurt sauce
Step 3
Combine the garlic, yogurt, salt and sumac (or lemon). Set aside.
Step 4
Once the meatballs are done, drizzle with the yogurt sauce and top with the chili oil, making sure to get some of the oil-saturated chili flakes on there. Serve immediately.

Non-game substitution: Lamb! Lamb, lamb, lamb!

Vegetarian substitution: Just make the chile oil and drizzle it on everything you eat.

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