I grew up in Spokane, where there’s a little restaurant downtown called the Elk Public House. It’s probably not appropriate to call it just a restaurant; it’s more of an establishment, and the term “if you know, you know” is applicable to anyone who has spent time in Spokane.
The restaurant has been around for years and years tucked into Browne’s addition, a quirky, adorable neighborhood just west of the downtown core. Somewhere between neighborhood bar (it’s literally a small brick building tucked into a residential neighborhood) and a gastropub, the Elk is known for its extensive regional beer list and simple yet unbelievably delicious pub food.
My dad used to eat at the Elk after pick-up basketball games in the early ’90s and I’ve spent many sunny summer nights sitting on their patio over the years. My husband and I got married just a block or two away from the Elk, and I think just about the entire guest list — and for sure the bridal party — all walked over for a beer at some point during the weekend festivities.
It’s famous for a few things, but especially the smoky, spicy corn pasta salad served alongside any main dish and the lamb burger. It’s been years since I’ve had one and sadly, too many years have gone by since I’ve even visited the Elk.
But my husband, pulling from some deep recess at the back of his mind, mentioned the Elk lamb burger this summer. We were sitting out at Cowiche Creek Brewing Company, having just devoured a couple of their absolutely incredible burgers, and maybe it was his full belly or the fact that he’d just eaten something especially delicious, but he suggested we try our hand at making our own lamb burgers.
His casual how started a monthlong quest to perfect the lamb burger. And while we still haven’t matched the Elk, we’ve had some very good meals. From there, my imagination has run wild with recipe ideas.
These easy meatballs are light and flavorful while still satisfying and perfectly rich. I love to make a batch of the meatballs and build easy rice bowls for a quick dinner. I use whatever veggies I happen to have on hand, usually cucumbers, greens or baby spinach and tomatoes. I make a batch of brown rice in the Instant Pot and build a bowl with rice as the base, topped with veggies and meatballs.
These days, I almost always have this simple cucumber dill sauce in my fridge because I just can’t seem to get enough. I use it as a salad dressing or a dip for veggies all week long. Add a spoonful to your rice bowl and you’ve got an epic and easy meal.
If you’ve got the time, spend five minutes and make a batch of pickled red onions. Simply slice up a red onion nice and thin. Add the slices to a jar and fill halfway with apple cider vinegar and the rest of the way with water. Stir in a tablespoon of granulated sugar and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Put the lid on the jar, give it a good shake and store in the fridge.
After a couple of hours, your onions will be ready, but they’ll keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. If you would prefer not to use lamb, I recommend swapping for ground turkey or a combination of ground turkey and pork. Just follow the recipe as written and use whatever meat you prefer. And as for beer, a Tiny Dog from the Cowiche Creek brewery really hits the spot with this recipe. It’s refreshing but full of flavor, similar to the meatballs; lots of flavor without overwhelming the palate.
Feta and Lamb Meatballs
• 1 pound ground lamb
• 1 cup panko bread crumbs
• 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
• 1 egg
• 2 tablespoons minced garlic
• 1/2 cup thin curly parsley
• 1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
• 2 lemon zest teaspoons
• 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
• 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl combines the lamb, bread crumbs, feta cheese, egg, minced garlic, lemon zest, parsley, thyme, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Use a fork to gently incorporate the ingredients until they are just combined. You don’t want to over-mix or the meat can be tough once it’s cooked.
Use a spoon to scoop the meat and then roll between your palms until a ball forms about 1 inch in diameter. Continue until all the meat is formed into balls. Heat a cast iron pan over medium heat with the tablespoon of olive oil. Working in batches, sear the meatballs on all sides until the meat is crispy and golden brown. The center will not be cooked through, but the outside should have good color. Transfer the seared meatballs to the lined baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 6 minutes or until the meat is cooked all the way through.
Remove the tray from the oven and allow to cool for two to three minutes before transferring to a bowl to serve. Recipe makes 20-24 small meatballs.
Creamy Cucumber Dill Sauce
• 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
• 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
• 1 teaspoon minced garlic
• Juice of half a lemon
• 1/2 cup grated English cucumber
• 1/4 cup fresh minced dill
OR 2 tablespoons dried dill
• 1 teaspoon dried parsley
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• Pinch of black pepper
In a jar with a lid, combine the Greek yogurt, vinegar, minced garlic, lemon juice, grated cucumber, dill, parsley, salt and pepper. Make sure to squeeze the grated cucumber of excess water before adding it to the other ingredients. Whisk to combine, taste and adjust to your preference. Add a little extra salt, dill or lemon if you desire. Drizzle over meatballs, as a salad dressing or a use as a dip for veggies. Store extras in the refrigerator for up to a week.