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This popular Moroccan dish features meatballs (kefta mkaouara) cooked in a zesty, homemade shakshuka-like tomato sauce.
Many cooks like to present the meatball tagine with eggs poached directly in the sauce, but this addition is optional. Olives are sometimes added, and for a little extra heat, throw in some ground cayenne or fresh chili peppers.
Although a clay or ceramic tagine is the traditional cooking vessel of choice, a deep skillet will work just as well. In either case, allow ample time for the diced tomatoes to reduce to a thick sauce before adding the meatballs.
Some cooks prefer to grate tomatoes rather than peel, seed, and chop them. This can slightly shorten the cooking time. If you like extra sauce, you might want to increase the tomato sauce by half.
A Note About Moroccan Meatballs
The meatballs in this dish use the same Moroccan spice profile that’s often used to flavor ground beef or lamb (kefta): paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, onion, parsley, and cilantro.
There are optional additions that I also tend to include: garlic, turmeric, ginger, and sometimes even cinnamon.
It’s important to note that Moroccan meatballs are almost always shaped in petite form—sometimes as small as marbles. And, while lamb or beef is usually the meat of choice, you can certainly use ground chicken or turkey instead.
Because the meatballs are so tiny, they don’t require a long cooking time. There’s no need to fry them before adding them to the sauce, and once in the pot you should poach them only long enough to cook through.
Moroccan tradition is to gather round the tagine and eat communally from the dish, using pieces of Moroccan bread to scoop up the meatballs and sauce. For a truly authentic experience, consider serving the kefta tagine with Moroccan mint tea.
You may also like try Moroccan Sardine Balls in Tomato Sauce, a fish meatball dish that’s prepared nearly the same as this kefta one.
And, for a deviation from meatballs in tomato sauce, try Moroccan Meatballs in Lemon Saffron Butter Sauce.
Moroccan Meatball Tagine Recipe with Tomato Sauce Recipe – Kefta Mkaoura
For the Meatballs
For the Tomato Sauce
- 2 lbs ripe tomatoes
- 1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, - finely chopped
- 1 small green bell pepper, - finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, - pressed or finely chopped
- 1.5 tsp paprika
- 1.5 tsp cumin
- 1.5 tsp salt - (or to taste)
- 1/4 tsp black pepper - (or to taste)
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper - (optional) OR
- 2 chili peppers - (optional)
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
- 2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
For Garnish (Optional)
- 4 eggs - (free range or beldi eggs are preferred)
- green pitted olives - (to taste)
- fresh parsley or cilantro sprigs
Make the Meatballs
- Combine the ground meat with the onion, herbs and spices. Use your hands to knead the mixture for a minute or two until the seasoning is evenly distributed.
- Take small portions of the mixture and shape into petite, cocktail-sized meatballs. I tend to make mine the size of cherries but you can make them as small as marbles or, if short on time, as large as 1 1/4 inches (3 cm) in diameter.
- Cover and set aside.
Make the Tomato Sauce
- Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes. Set aside. (Or, if the tomatoes are very soft, cut them in half crosswise, remove the seeds, and then grate the flesh to a pulp; discard the skin.)
- Place a skillet or the base of a medium- to large-sized tagine over medium-low heat. When hot, add the oil, onion and green pepper. Saute for several minutes.
- Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two, until fragrant. Be careful not to burn the garlic.
- Add the chopped or grated tomatoes, herbs and spices. Stir to combine. Allow the tomatoes to come to a simmer then cover and cook for about 15 to 30 minutes, until the tomatoes soften and a sauce begins to form.
- Use the back of a spoon to crush the tomatoes and add the chili peppers, if using. Cover and continue cooking for another 15 to 30 minutes, until a rich tomato sauce forms. Stir occasionally, adding a little water if necessary to smooth out the sauce.
- When the consistency of the sauce is to your liking, taste and adjust seasoning. Add the meatballs. Cover and continue simmering for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the meatballs are just cooked through.
- The meatball tagine can be served now; or continue to the next steps to add olives and/or eggs.
Add Olives and/or Eggs (Optional)
- If adding olives, do so now, allowing time for them to heat through before serving.
- If garnishing the tagine with eggs, carefully add them over the meatballs, taking care not to break the yolks. Cover and continue simmering the tagine just until the whites are firm and the yolk is beginning to set.
- Garnish with fresh parsley or cilantro and serve directly from the tagine or skillet.
- Cooking time for the tomato sauce can vary greatly depending on ripeness and juiciness of the tomatoes, as well as your choice of cooking vessels. I find that peeled and chopped tomatoes reduce to a sauce faster in a tagine or stainless steel skillet as opposed to non-stick pan.
- When cooking in a traditional clay or ceramic tagine over any heat source other than gas, be sure to use a diffuser. If cooking over gas without a diffuser, be sure the flames don’t touch the bottom of the tagine.
- Take care to avoid overcooking the meatballs or they will become tough. (Or, if you prefer a softer texture overall to your meatballs, you can deviate from Moroccan tradition and add a whole egg and 1/3 cup of breadcrumbs to the ground meat when seasoning your kefta mixture.)
- If planning to add the optional olives at the end of cooking, you may want to reduce the salt when seasoning the tomato sauce.
Nutrition information is provided as a courtesy and is only an estimate obtained from online calculators. Optional ingredients may not be included in the nutritional information.Leave a Comment or Review
About the Author
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 The Spruce Eats (formerly About.com) from 2008 to 2016.