Coriander, cumin, paprika and cinnamon are but just a few of the staple ingredients you’ll find in the Moroccan dada’s pantry. The cuisine is earthy, fragrant and complex, redolent of rich spices, chiles, onions and garlic - punctuated with bright bursts of citrus, cilantro and mint. To me, it is both straightforward and mysterious at the same time. I think that’s what I love most about it. And, that’s why I decided to make the second quarter of my Meatball Week all about Kefta Meatballs in Moroccan-Spiced Tomato Sauce.
My source for this dish came from Paula Wolfert’s The Food of Morocco, considered by many to be the definitive work on Moroccan cuisine. With a lifetime spent immersed in Moroccan food and culture, Wolfert’s name has become synonymous with it. And, luckily for the rest of us, she loves to share her enthusiasm.
The original dish is a tagine, which is a slow-cooked stew named for the pot that it is traditionally cooked in. Wolfert’s kefta tagine features little lamb meatballs simmered in a cumin and paprika-laced tomato sauce. Before serving, eggs are draped on top of the stew and poached. Oh my! I had to fight myself not to chuck the whole meatball plan and just make the recipe as written! But, I’m hopelessly devoted to you, dear readers, and I could not leave you “meatball-less”. So, here we go…
The first thing you need to do is make your meatballs. Wolfert says to use either lamb or beef, and I chose the more traditional lamb. Onions, spices, garlic and crème fraiche are added to the lamb. Crème fraiche!?!? Yeah. I had the same reaction, but it works. The meatballs turn out kind of light and fluffy and have a subtle, pleasant tang to them.
Here we have the “Offensive Line” ready to cross the line of scrimmage.
Next, we start to make the line of scrimmage, er….um… I mean the tomato sauce.
Sauté finely chopped red onions in olive oil, then whisk in tomato paste.
Mix in the tomatoes and spices, and let it come to a bubble. Wait a few minutes and then, breathe deeply. It will smell heavenly.
Finally, add the kefta balls to the sauce and gently poach them for about half an hour. Resist the urge to crack a few eggs in there.
Kefta Meatballs in Moroccan-Spiced Tomato Sauce
adapted from The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert
For the kefta meatballs:
- 2 pounds ground lamb
- 1/3 cup crème fraiche
- 1/4 cup grated onion
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Ceylon.
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
For the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic crushed to a paste with 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 28-ounce cans chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably Ceylon
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- To make the meatballs: Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor along with 1/4 cup cold water. Pulse until pasty. Form into 1-inch balls and line up on a baking sheet. Chill until ready to cook.
- To make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a tagine, deep-sided skillet, or medium-sized Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent, about 7-8 minutes. Mix in the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the tomato paste and cook for about a minute more.
- Add the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer sauce for about 5 minutes to blend the flavors.
- Very carefully add the meatballs to the sauce, without stirring. Cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Uncover and gently stir to make sure the meatballs are all submerged in the sauce. Cover and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through.
- Serve hot with toothpicks or small skewers.
Makes approximately 50 kefta meatballs.