I love the flavors of Moroccan food — somehow those rich spicy additions of cinnamon, cumin, and paprika take the ordinary to an entirely different level. Also they’re just a fun way to change things around a little!

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So here’s a yummy twist on meatballs, with those exotic Moroccan flavors. Although the ingredient list (and instructions) looks long, it’s really very quick and easy to throw together and simmers happily along for hours in the crockpot, producing tender flavorful meatballs without any last-minute fuss. (Here’s a step-by-step with pictures; scroll down for a “standard” recipe.)

In a hurry? Make the sauce in a large saucepan and simmer meatballs in the sauce on medium-low heat for about 40 minutes. Or crank your crock-pot to high and they’ll be deliciously done in a couple of hours.

If your meat is frozen, as mine often is, start about an hour before you want to cook and put the frozen packages into a large bowl of water — cool water if you have more time, warm water if you’re trying to hurry things along and know you’ll be cooking the meat the moment it has thawed.

chopped onions parsley garlic

Chop your onions — a couple of tablespoons very finely (minced) for the meatballs and another 1/4 to 1/2 cup more of a medium dice for the sauce. (Like onions? Feel free to chop up more to suit your taste! I was making this today for a non-onion-fan friend, so kept my quantity on the lower end.)

Peel and finely chop several cloves of garlic. (See that blue cylindrical thing in the picture? This is the niftiest little low-tech gizmo for peeling garlic. [Affiliate link.] Check it out — I LOVE mine!) If you really love garlic you could put some finely minced garlic into the meatball mixture. Otherwise, put the fresh garlic into the sauce and sprinkle a dash of garlic powder into the meat mixture.

Chop some fresh parsley. A good handful (maybe a half-cup or so) chops down into a couple of tablespoons, so be generous. (You’re going to add it to both the meatballs and sauce, so chop away!)

Frankly, this dish is enhanced by the addition also of chopped fresh cilantro. I happen to typically serve it for our best friends and Louise is one of those who perceives cilantro to taste like soap. (This is a somewhat bizarre and fascinating phenomenon that appears to affect some 4 to 14% of the population, according to some reports.) In deference to our friend’s taste buds, I leave cilantro completely out, but if you have no cilantro-haters in your crowd, I encourage you to add a couple of tablespoons!

seasonings mixed before adding meat

Add all the seasonings (onion, parsley, bread crumbs, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, garlic powder) to a large-ish bowl and mix together. Add the ground beef and lamb and mix together. Add one egg and mix one final time. (Although I’m better than I used to be, I’m still a bit squeamish about squishing around raw meat, so I’ve found that surgical gloves are a wondrous invention!)

SauteedOnions

Set the meat mixture aside for the moment and either spray a skillet with non-stick spray or swirl a bit of oil (avocado or coconut would be my choice) in the pan and set over medium-high heat to warm. Add the larger chopped onion pieces (from the “SAUCE” ingredient list) and sauté until beginning to show a bit of color.

Add the chopped garlic and parsley and turn off the heat. (The residual heat will lightly cook the garlic and parsley which is all it needs at this stage.) Dump onions, garlic, and parsley into the crockpot (or saucepan if you’re not using a crockpot) and wipe the skillet lightly. (You’ll re-use it in just a moment for the meatballs.)

Add the can of tomato puree and 3 to 4 ounces of tomato paste to the onion mixture in the crockpot, plus a cup or so of water. A half-cup of red wine is great at this juncture; if you don’t use wine, add another half-cup of water (or even something like apple juice). Add the spices (the cinnamon, cumin, and paprika) and stir.

Heat the skillet again, adding another spray of non-stick coating or another swirl of oil. Scoop a small handful of the meat mixture out (remember those lovely surgical gloves — a wonderful time to have those!) and mold it in your hands into a nice-sized meatball.

I shoot for a ball that’s a couple couple of inches, maybe even 2-1/2″ across. (Size does not particularly matter here, but too big and it somewhat ceases to be a meatball and becomes something like a meat bowling ball and too small and they just don’t have enough substance to feel like a dinner entrée.)

Gently place each meatball as you form it into the skillet to brown. After a few minutes, turn each over to brown another side. If you’re extremely patient, you can roll them about every couple of minutes and brown them all around. I have no doubt this is perhaps “ideal” but I simply don’t being to have that much patience and I can’t say the meatballs have suffered! But, you know, if you’re looking for a reason to stand at the stove for a much longer period of time — maybe for meditative purposes — you have my total permission to brown them on all sides!

Don’t try to crowd them all into the skillet at once. In a good large (12″) skillet, you’ll almost assuredly need to brown these in two batches; a smaller skillet is going to take three. Once a batch is browned, gently scoop out with a large spoon and nestle down into the waiting tomato sauce in the crockpot.

Meatballs in sauce in the crockpot
Doesn’t this photo just make you want to reach out and wipe off the edge of the crockpot? Sorry about the mess — remember this blog is about “real-life” too!

At this point, if you’re like me and just want to ignore it all for the rest of the day, set the crockpot to low and cook for 5 or 6 hours. (It will happily then rest on “warm” almost indefinitely.) A couple of hours on high is likely to produce a fully cooked meatball (based on my “taste-test), or as mentioned above you could make the sauce in a pan on the stove and gently simmer the meatballs there for around 40 minutes.

You could serve these in many ways, but what we usually do — which we find to be the perfect accompaniment — is serve with a “Moroccan” orzo. Chop another bit of onion and brown in the skillet with a bit of butter (or oil, your choice). Throw in a small handful of chopped raisins (or even Craisins, chopped dates, etc.) and stir all about.

Add about 8 oz. of orzo (a half-box, for instance, of Barilla orzo) and mix with the onions/raisins. Add twice as much chicken stock (so around 2 cups for the 8 oz. of orzo) and a good sprinkle of salt and bring to a boil. Cover and lower the heat to a low simmer and cook for around 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and just let sit for 15 minutes to an hour so more, depending on your timetable and schedule. (If you leave it so long that it’s cooled off before you eat, bring the heat back up under it for 4 or 5 minutes just before serving.)

We add a spinach/romaine salad with vinaigrette and feta on the side and it’s a dinner guaranteed to bring compliments!

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Moroccan Meatballs

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 6 hours

Total Time: 6 hours, 20 minutes

Yield: Approx. 15 meatballs

Serving Size: 2 to 3 meatballs

Ingredients

    FOR MEATBALLS:
  • 1 # ground beef
  • 1 # ground lamb
  • 2 - 3 TBSP chopped raisins or currants
  • 2 TBSP (or more to taste) finely chopped (minced) onion
  • Dash garlic powder
  • 2 TBSP chopped parsley
  • 2 TBSP chopped cilantro (optional)
  • 1/2 c bread crumbs
  • 1 TSP ground cumin
  • 1 TSP paprika
  • 1/2 TSP ground cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 egg
  • Oil (or non-stick spray) for searing
  • FOR SAUCE:
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped onion (to your preference)
  • several cloves chopped garlic
  • 2 TBSP chopped parsley
  • 1 TSP ground cumin
  • 1 TSP paprika
  • 1/2 TSP cinnamon
  • 1 28-oz can tomato puree
  • 3 to 4 ounces tomato paste
  • 1 to 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup red wine (optional)
  • Oil or non-stick spray for sautéing onion and garlic

Instructions

  1. In large-ish bowl, put all meatball ingredients except for ground meats and egg. Stir to mix seasonings and breadcrumbs
  2. Add both ground meats and mix together lightly with your hands.
  3. Add egg and mix one final time, distributing egg throughout and making sure the dry ingredients (seasonings and bread crumbs) are well mixed. (Don't "overmix" though, which can cause tough meatballs!)
  4. Heat oil of your choice (or spray pan with non-stick cooking spray before putting on heat.)
  5. Sauté the chopped onion listed in the SAUCE ingredients list for several minutes until just developing a bit of color.
  6. Add chopped garlic and parsley, stir, and turn heat off. (Residual heat will lightly cook garlic.)
  7. Transfer onion, garlic, and parsley mixture to crockpot (slow cooker) and add canned tomato puree and tomato paste. (Reserve skillet to re-use for browning meatballs.)
  8. Stir in 1 cup of water and 1/2 cup of wine if using.
  9. Add seasonings (cumin, paprika, cinnamon) and stir again.
  10. Add more oil if needed to skillet (or re-spray with non-stick spray) and heat to medium-high.
  11. Form meatballs with your hands and gently place into skillet to brown.
  12. Turn at least once so that two major sides have seared. (If you're patient, turn them several times so they're browned on all sides. I am not that patient.)
  13. Don't crowd the skillet — it will likely take at least two batches to brown the meatballs.
  14. As they are browned, transfer meatballs (via spoon) to crockpot, settling them gently down into the sauce.
  15. Make sure the meatballs are completely covered in sauce. Add more water if needed to accomplish this.
  16. Cook for 5 to 6 hours on low. (In a hurry? They should be done in about 2 hours on high!)

Notes

Great served with cous-cous, orzo, or brown rice. If desired, sprinkle with additional chopped parsley or cilantro to serve.

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