Moroccan Meatballs With Couscous and Saffron-Harissa Sauce

Meatballs.  Let's just take a moment, shall we? (.......quiet moment of meatball contemplation...). So what came to mind during your moment of meatball meditation?  Perhaps a perfectly tender, flavorful, moist and meaty orb of deliciousness?  Possibly dunked in or drizzled with a tasty sauce?  My own meatball fantasies span the globe and it matters not whether Asian, Mexican, Swedish, Italian, Middle Eastern or Canadian 🤔, as long it's ground meat in a round-ish sort of ball shape and tastes good, I'm in!

And while that may sound like my meatball standards are a bit low, that's not entirely the case. Yes, I will eat and enjoy just about any kind of meatball, but I know a good one when I meet one, and a great one really does make the sun shine a little brighter.

After we first tasted these meatballs, I used the word "beguiled" to described how I felt about the extraordinary flavors in this awesome little meatball.  Cousin Katie made me promise to use that word in my blog post, so there it is, my girl.  Yes, we were beguiled.  And enchanted.  They were delicious.

I will now refer you to the meatballs in the recipe below, but don't freak out!  Yes, there are 84 ingredients, but it really does come together quickly.  I just opened my spice drawer and pulled out every one of them (or maybe it just seemed like it) and proceeded to mix together this fragrant combination of scents and flavors that come through in every last bite.  Be not afraid.  You can do this.

And I haven't even mentioned the sauce!  While it was good and provided a lovely bath in which our meatballs finished cooking, as a finishing sauce, it was a little too thin.  To remedy this, I stirred Harissa into some Greek yogurt and whisked this into the broth, creating a seriously flavorful sauce for not only our meatballs, but for the couscous as well. 

Just a word about Harissa, if you're unfamiliar... it's a North African (think Morocco) chili paste that's loaded with roasted red peppers and chiles and spices and herbs and is ever so amazingly flavorful and delicious.  It turned our sauce into something quite special indeed.  You can buy it full strength spicy or mild, so choose according to your preferences.  I like getting the mild so I can use more of it - the flavors are amazing.

Alrighty then, folks.  Enough talking.  These meatballs aren't going to make themselves, so pull out your spice rack and get to it!  You will be ever so glad you did.  Here's the recipe...

Moroccan Meatballs with Saffron-Harissa Sauce

Click here for a printable recipe

First of all, I must encourage you to not freak out.  Yes, that is a very long ingredient list, but it's all so do-able.  Most of this stuff you probably already have in your pantry, except possibly the saffron and Harissa.  If you can find it in your heart to spring for these two ingredients, you will be well rewarded.  Oh my heavens, this is a very special, flavorful, festive dish and possibly the best meatballs I've had.  Still, I did some major tweaking to the original recipe, which was delicious, but in my humble opinion, the sauce needed a bit of help.  I used the yogurt to add some body and the Harissa for a lovely flavor punch.  If you've not had Harissa, you're in for a treat.   It's basically a sauce of roasted red peppers and spices and is ever so delicious.  If you like spice, it can be spicy, but if you're preferring less spice, it comes in a mild version that's dialed back on the heat but retains its earthy spiciness.

Recipe Adapted from David Tanis, NY Times

For the Sauce…

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 and 1/2 cups finely diced onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 inch piece cinnamon stick
Large pinch saffron, crumbled
Salt and pepper
3 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons Harissa

For the Meatballs
(I got out a small bowl and measured all of the spices into it and then stirred it well before adding it to the meatball mixture for even distribution)

1 and 1/2 cups cubed day ­old firm white bread
1 cup milk
1 pound ground beef, turkey or lamb
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons finely chopped scallion
All­ purpose flour, for dusting
Olive oil or vegetable oil

For the Couscous

1 cup couscous
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water to soften, then drained (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Heat oil over medium-high heat in a wide, heavy bottomed saucepan. Add onion and cook without browning until softened, about 5-6 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, cinnamon and saffron, and stir well to incorporate. Season generously with salt and pepper, and allow to sizzle for 1 minute more. Add broth and simmer gently for 5 minutes. May be made several hours in advance, up to a day.

Place the bread cubes and milk in a small bowl.  Leave this to soak until softened, about 5 minutes, then squeeze dry.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg and add add salt, pepper, garlic, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, paprika, cayenne, cloves, coriander and cumin. Mix well to distribute seasoning. Add 2 tablespoons each of parsley, cilantro and scallion, stir well and then add squeezed-out bread and the ground meat.  Use your hands to mix it all really well.  This may be prepared several hours in advance, up to a day.

With your hands, roll mixture into small round balls, a little smaller than a golf ball.  You should get about 25 or so.  Dip each ball into a bowl of flour, shaking off the excess. 

Heat a few tablespoons of oil, or a quarter-inch depth, over medium-high heat and fry meatballs until barely browned, about 2 minutes per side and set on a rack over a baking sheet while you finish the rest.  

Place the meatballs in the sauce and simmer, partially covered over medium low heat for about 20 to 25 minutes. 

Remove the meatballs from the sauce and keep warm. Let the sauce cool for a few minutes.  meanwhile, stir together the yogurt and Harissa.  When the sauce has cooled somewhat, whisk the yogurt mixture into the sauce until well combined.  Return the meatballs to the pan and warm through.

Cook the couscous according to package directions, fluff gently and stir in butter and raisins. Season with salt and cinnamon, and toss well.

Serve the meatballs over the couscous and pour some of the sauce over the meatballs.  Garnish meatballs with remaining parsley, cilantro and scallion.  Place the remaining sauce in a pitcher to pass at the table.

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