For the lamb meatballs:
- 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
- 2 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1/4 cup very finely chopped onion
- 2 tsp. minced garlic
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
For the casserole:
- 1 1/2 cups long-grain rice, preferably basmati
- 3/4 cup red bell pepper cut into strips, 1/4-inch wide and 1 1/2-inch long
- 8 Medjool dates, pitted and cut lengthwise into quarters
- 3 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1/4 tsp. saffron threads, crushed
- Kosher salt
- 3 Tbsp. julienned, fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 3 Tbsp. julienned, fresh mint
- 2 tsp. julienned lemon zest
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375°. Oil a shallow 2 1/2-quart baking dish.
In a medium bowl, mix together the cumin, paprika, salt and cayenne. Add the lamb, onion and garlic and mix with two forks to combine well. Scoop 1 tablespoon of the lamb mixture into your hands and roll into a small ball. Repeat until all the mixture has been used. You should get about 24 meatballs. (The meatballs can be prepared to this point 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour before continuing with the recipe.)
Heat the olive oil in a heavy, large frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the meatballs and brown on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.
Spread the rice evenly in the prepared baking dish, and then scatter the bell pepper and dates over the rice.
Heat the chicken broth in a medium saucepan, covered, over medium heat until it simmers. Add the saffron, taste the broth and season with salt, if needed. Pour the hot broth over the rice. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake until almost all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the casserole from the oven and carefully remove the foil. Stir in the meatballs, re-cover and bake 5 minutes more. Remove from the oven.
Combine the parsley, mint and lemon zest in a small bowl and sprinkle over the casserole before serving.