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Moroccan Meatball Tagine with Lemon and Saffron Butter Sauce

Marble-sized meatballs and buttey sauce in an unglazed tagine. The dish is garnished with a sprig of fresh cilantro.
Moroccan meatballs cooked in a saffron flavored onion and butter sauce. Photo: Christine Benlafquih | Taste of Maroc

If the only Moroccan kefta tagine you’re familiar with is the famous Kefta Mkaouara with Tomato Sauce, it’s time to try another version. Here, seasoned meatballs are poached in a fragrant onion and butter sauce flavored with saffron and other Moroccan spices. Aside from the time involved in shaping the meatballs into their traditionally tiny form, it’s a fairly easy dish to prepare on short notice.

The recipe calls for preparation in a traditional tagine, but you can cook the meatballs in a deep skillet instead. Serve traditionally with Moroccan bread for scooping up the sauce and meatballs, or consider serving the meatballs alongside mashed potatoes and sauteed veggies.

For nicest texture and ease of shaping, finely ground meat is recommended. Lamb or beef is most traditional, but ground chicken or turkey may also be used.

5 from 2 votes
Marble-sized meatballs and buttey sauce in an unglazed tagine. The dish is garnished with a sprig of fresh cilantro.
Moroccan Kefta Tagine with Lemon and Saffron Butter Sauce
Prep Time
25 mins
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 25 mins

Serve these tasty marble-sized meatballs and their saffron flavored sauce with bread, or deviate from Moroccan tradition and enjoy them on a bed of mashed potatoes.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Moroccan
Keyword: kefta tagine with saffron butter sauce, Moroccan meatball tagine with saffron butter
Yield: 4 servings
Calories: 329 kcal
Author: Christine Benlafquih | Taste of Maroc
For the Moroccan Meatballs
  • 1 lb finely ground beef, lamb or turkey
  • 1 small onion, grated or very finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 3/4 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
For the Butter Sauce
  • 3 to 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, grated
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro and/or parsley
  • 1/2 tsp saffron threads, crumbled
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • small 2" to 3" piece of cinnamon stick, optional
  • 1/2 cup hot chicken or beef broth
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
  • additional parsley, for garnish
Make the Kefta and Shape the Meatballs
  1. In a large bowl (or on a large plate or tray), combine the ground meat with the onion, herbs and spices. Use your hands to knead the mixture for 2 or 3 minutes to ensure that the spices are evenly distributed.

  2. Take small portions of the kefta mixture and roll tiny meatballs about the size of cherries. Cover the meatballs and set them aside while you make the sauce. (Note: The meatballs may be prepared one day in advance and refrigerated until needed.)

Make the Sauce and Cook the Meatballs
  1. Place a skillet or medium- to large-sized tagine over medium-low heat. (A diffuser is necessary when using a tagine on electric stove tops and recommended for other heat sources as well.) Add the butter, the onions, the spices and the cinnamon stick. Allow the mixture to reach a simmer, then cover and cook for 10 minutes. 

  2. Add the broth and salt; cover and continue simmering for another 10 minutes. 

  3. Add the meatballs. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through. Do not overcook the meatballs or they will be tough.

  4. Add lemon juice to taste and simmer for another minute or two. Remove the tagine or skillet from the heat.

  5. When ready to serve, garnish the meatballs with fresh parsley. You can serve the meatballs directly from a tagine; if prepared in a skillet, transfer the meatballs to a serving dish. The meatballs are traditionally eaten by hand, using pieces of Moroccan bread in lieu of a utensil.

Nutrition Facts
Moroccan Kefta Tagine with Lemon and Saffron Butter Sauce
Amount Per Serving
Calories 329 Calories from Fat 207
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 23g 35%
Saturated Fat 8g 40%
Cholesterol 80mg 27%
Sodium 527mg 22%
Potassium 486mg 14%
Total Carbohydrates 7g 2%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Sugars 2g
Protein 21g 42%
Vitamin A 27.6%
Vitamin C 10.2%
Calcium 7.2%
Iron 22.1%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.


Christine Benlafquih

Christine Benlafquih is Founding Editor at Taste of Maroc and owner of Taste of Casablanca, a food tour and culinary activity business in Casablanca. A long time resident of Morocco, she's written extensively about Moroccan cuisine and culture. She was the Moroccan Food Expert for About.com (now The Spruce Eats) from 2008 to 2016.


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