These Moroccan Meatballs are made with ground beef (or lamb), onions, herbs and Moroccan spices and wow, are they delicious! Keeping with tradition, there’s no eggs, bread or dairy in this recipe. These flavor-packed little kefta, simmered in a well-spiced fresh tomato sauce, make a wonderful main dish, with couscous or rice, and salad.
Morocco Meatballs are packed with delicious Moroccan spices, and so is the tomato sauce they’re simmered in. Cumin, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon and crushed red chili pepper are classic Moroccan spices, and they bring an exciting complex depth of flavor and subtle heat to this delicious dish.
The highlight of our family trip to Marrakesh was an all-day hike in the High Atlas mountains, with a picnic lunch that our guides cooked for us, over an open fire.
After a strenuous three hours of trekking straight up the mountain, we came to a meadow where our guides had laid out a blanket for our picnic lunch. I expected to be handed a cold sandwich or some typical picnic fare but to our surprise and delight, our guides had packed a small portable camping stove (on the mule) and they cooked us an incredible hot lunch, starting with fresh mint tea. The main dish was scrumptious Moroccan meatballs, [pictured below].
I’ve been dreaming of those incredible meatballs ever since. Lucky for me, our guide Mohammad, who I’ve stayed in touch with, shared the recipe with me:
“All we need are: ground beef, onions, tomatoes and Moroccan Spices. Always when preparing the Moroccan base, onions and spices first and do not forget the oil is the first placed over the fire in order to mix those spices and give an irresistible taste. Then add the chopped tomatoes in small pieces, and watch the cohesion of the tomatoes from the rest of the ingredients. In the end we take the meatballs and add them to the base.”
I used Mohammad’s recipe as a guide and did some of my own research and quite a lot of recipe testing, to finally arrive at this Moroccan Meatballs recipe, with meatballs and sauce that taste almost exactly like the dish we enjoyed on our picnic in the Atlas Mountains. The striking flavors and delicious aromas of this dish will transport you to beautiful, colorful Morocco, home to some of the most delicious food in the world.
How To Make Moroccan Meatballs
These well-spiced meatballs are easy to make. To save time, start the sauce and while it’s simmering, mix and shape the meatballs.
- To make the tomato sauce (using fresh tomatoes or canned), sauté a chopped onion in oil for 5 minutes or so, until tender. Add the spices: cumin, paprika, turmeric, salt, cinnamon, red pepper, and black pepper, and toast them for two minutes or so, stirring often. Then add 2 pounds of chopped fresh tomatoes (or 28 ounces of canned) and simmer the sauce, covered, for 20 minutes.
- While the sauce is simmering, make the meatballs. Mix a pound of ground beef (or lamb) with a small grated onion, 2 finely chopped garlic cloves, 3 tablespoons of chopped cilantro, and and spices: salt, black pepper, red pepper, cumin and paprika. Roll the meat mixture into small, ping-pong-sized balls. The meatballs can be sautéed in a little oil first or added to the sauce raw.
- Simmer the meatballs in the tomato sauce, covered, for 15 minutes. It’s most important to keep the heat as low as possible, with almost no bubbling at all. If the meatballs boil in the sauce, they become tough. A longer, slower simmer, will yield delicious tender meatballs.
Photos above show Moroccan meatballs made with canned tomatoes and raw meatballs added directly to the sauce. Below are photos of the meatballs sautéed before being added to a pot of fresh tomato sauce. See below for more about the different ways to make Moroccan meatballs.
Moroccan Meatballs Questions:
Should you use fresh tomatoes or canned tomatoes for the sauce?
I’ve tested the recipe both ways. Traditional Moroccan meatballs recipes call for a sauce made from fresh tomatoes and, I have to say, the dish is pure perfection made this way. However, it’s not always easy to find good ripe tomatoes year round and, luckily, this dish is also great with canned tomatoes. The sauce will be more acidic when you use canned tomatoes, but you can balance the flavors by adding a few pinches of sugar and a little olive oil or butter.
Do you have to sauté the meatballs before adding them to the sauce?
While traditional Moroccan meatballs recipes say to add the raw meatballs directly to the sauce, I tested the recipe both ways and found the meatballs to be much more tender when they were browned in a skillet before adding them to the sauce.
What To Serve with Moroccan Meatballs
You’ll want something on the side to soak up the the delicious sauce. Couscous, rice or crusty bread are all great choices. Moroccan meals always include an abundance of vegetables. A crisp leafy salad with bright citrusy dressing goes well with this dish. So does this Moroccan carrot salad with lemon-cumin vinaigrette. Olives are always a great accompaniment with Moroccan food.
Other delicious Moroccan Recipes to Try:
- Slow-Cooker Moroccan Chicken Tagine
- Ras El Hanout Grilled Chicken Thighs
- Moroccan Chicken Stew with Sweet Potatoes
- Moroccan Lentil Soup
Here’s the Moroccan Meatballs Recipe. If you try this recipe, I hope you’ll come back to leave a star rating and a comment. I’d love to know what you think.Print
Well-spiced beef (or lamb) meatballs simmered in aromatic tomato sauce. A flavor-packed meatball dish that makes a great main course. Serve with a salad and a side of rice, couscous or bread. (whole30, gluten-free and Paleo)
- Prep Time: 20 min
- Cook Time: 40 min
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Yield: 4-5 1x
- Category: Dinner
- Method: simmer
- Cuisine: Moroccan
For The Tomato Sauce:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons paprika (sweet, not hot)
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 pounds of ripe tomatoes, chopped (or use a 28-ounce can of tomato puree or crushed tomatoes – see notes below)
For The Meatballs (Kefta)
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 small yellow onion, grated
- 2 large garlic cloves, pressed through a garlic press or finely minced (2 teaspoons garlic)
- 1 bunch of fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems chopped, divided
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- A few grinds of black pepper
- 1 tablespoon paprika (sweet, not hot)
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or chili powder
- Make the Sauce: Heat oil over medium heat in a large heavy pot and sauté onions for 5 minutes, stirring often, until they start to soften. Add the spices: cumin, paprika, turmeric, salt, cinnamon, chili pepper and black pepper, and sauté for 2 minutes, stirring, to toast the spices. Add the chopped tomatoes, bring sauce to a simmer, and cook at the lowest possible simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
- Mix and Shape the Meatballs: While the sauce is simmering, use your hands to gently combine the ground beef (or lamb) with the grated onion, garlic, 3 tablespoons of chopped cilantro and spices: salt, black pepper, paprika, cumin and Aleppo (or chili powder); roll gently into small, ping pong ball sized balls. (Makes about 20-25 meatballs).
- Brown the Meatballs:(optional but recommended – see notes below) Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the meatballs for 5-6 minutes, turning often, to brown them on all sides.
- Simmer The Meatballs in the Sauce: When the sauce has cooked for 20 minutes, add the meatballs, cover the pot, and cook the meatballs for 15 minutes at the lowest possible simmer. Cooking on low heat is crucial for tender meatballs. Stir in 2-3 tablespoons of remaining chopped cilantro just before serving.
Make this with canned tomatoes: You can use a 28-ounce can of good quality imported plum tomato puree or crushed tomatoes, in place of fresh tomatoes. The sauce will be a little more acidic, however you can balance the acidity by adding a little butter or olive oil and a pinch or two of sugar.
Add the raw meatballs directly to the sauce: You can keep with tradition and add the raw meatballs directly to the sauce without sautéing them first. I tried this method and, while the end result was delicious, the meatballs were a little tough. Sautéing them first seals them and keeps them juicier and more tender.
Keywords: Homemade beef (or lamb) meatballs and fresh tomato sauce