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story.lead_photo.caption Enjoy these meatballs as a main dish or serve mini skewers as party appetizers. (Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

This time of year, tender herbs grow like weeds in gardens and come cheap in markets. The only downside is needing to use them up before the plants go to seed or before grocery store bunches go slimy. The most obvious options are pesto and tabbouleh, but meatballs are my favorite way to finish off my herbs.

Not only do leafy herbs add a bright freshness to smoky grilled meatballs, they also lighten the texture. A generous bunch of scallions do the same, as do oats. This gluten-free alternative to breadcrumbs brings a subtle sweetness to the meat mix.

Inspired by the kebabs and keftes of the Middle East, these meatballs include aromatic spices and a dip. While savory yogurt sauces are the classic pairing—and would taste great here—pureed avocado delivers a similar creamy coolness without any dairy. Blending in lots of herbs and lemon juice gives it enough nuance and flavor to work as a dip for anything else, such as chips or crudites.

The meatball recipe below can be varied according to your taste and whatever you have on hand. Keep the proportions the same, but use any tender leafy herbs. You can toss in some heartier herbs too; a teaspoon of minced thyme or rosemary would be nice. As for the spices, cumin and coriander are solid starting points, but allspice, Urfa biber, or mace would work too. And if you love spicy foods, stir some chile flakes right into the meatball mix and serve the meatballs with hot sauce.

 

Summer Herb Meatballs

With Avocado Dip

30 minutes. Serves 4.

2 1/2 cups packed leafy green herbs, such as parsley, cilantro and mint

5 scallions, very thinly sliced

1/2 cup quick-cooking oats

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 pound ground beef (80/20) or lamb

2 teaspoons ground cumin or coriander or a combination

Kosher salt

Aleppo pepper or other red chile flakes, for sprinkling (optional)

1 large ripe avocado, halved, pitted, and peeled

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1. Set up a charcoal grill for direct heat grilling or heat the burners of a gas grill on medium-high. (Alternatively, heat a large skillet or grill pan on a stove-top over medium-high heat.) If using bamboo skewers, soak 8 in a shallow dish in cold water.

2. Pulse 2 cups of herbs in a food processor until finely chopped. Or, chop the herbs by hand. Reserve 1 tablespoon sliced scallions.

3. Mix the oats, egg, beef, cumin, finely chopped herbs, sliced scallions and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in a large bowl with your hands until well blended. Roll the mixture into 24 balls (about 1 ounce each). Slide 3 balls onto each skewer.

4. Grill, turning once, until charred on the outside and cooked through inside, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish. Sprinkle with Aleppo pepper if desired. Let rest while preparing the sauce.

5. While the meatballs rest, puree the avocado, lemon juice, remaining 1 tablespoon sliced scallions, remaining half cup herbs, and 1 teaspoon salt in the same food processor used to chop the herbs. Or, you can finely chop the herbs by hand and smash and mix everything together until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve with the meatballs.

Make Ahead: The meatballs can be rolled, skewered, and refrigerated for up to 1 day. The avocado dip can be pureed, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated for up to 1 day.

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