Moroccan Lemon and Cardamom Meatballs

I can’t imagine a better dinner to help ring in the New Year than a plate of these lemony cardamom spiced meatballs nestled in tahini sauce.  We had ours with a thick swath of CREAMY HUMMUS, a chopped tomato and cucumber salad, and GRILLED LAFFA BREAD.  While it may sound like an exotic meal, it’s really just a matter of how and in what proportions you use common ingredients.  These lamb meatballs start out with the usual egg, onion and breadcrumbs, but take a more flavorful turn with multiple fistfuls of fresh herbs, pine nuts, feta cheese, the zest of two lemons, and freshly ground cardamom.

Moroccan Lemon and Cardamom Meatballs 2

Moroccan food has always fascinated me.  It’s one of the oldest cuisines on the planet, and also one of the most complex, thanks to the particular geography of the region and the fact that it’s been a crossroads for so many different cultures over the centuries.  The diverse flavors bounce off one another to make for an incredibly vibrant experience.  In comparison to, say, an Indian curry, where the many spices  marry together, in these meatballs you will get the lemon, the mint, the feta, the spices, and herbs all competing for your attention.  I love that.

Moroccan Lemon and Cardamom Meatballs ingredients

These meatballs are an easy way to introduce yourself to some of the key flavors of the cuisine.  Lamb is the traditional meat that comes to mind when I think of Moroccan cooking; it has a rich, earthy flavor that gets balanced by the other strong elements in this dish.  It’s critical to use a light touch when mixing ground meat.  There are lots of flavor components in this recipe that need to be distributed into the lamb, but you don’t want to compact the meat in the process.  Your hands, fingertips actually, are the only tools for the job, and they’ll help insure that these meatballs have a light, delicate texture.

Moroccan Lemon and Cardamom Meatballs 3

Moroccan Lemon and Cardamom Meatballs

Yield: serves 4


    for the meatballs
  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1/2 medium red onion, very finely minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • a 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated or finely minced
  • 1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg, well beaten
  • a handful of fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • a handful of fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
  • a handful of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • zest of two lemons
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup fresh feta cheese, finely crumbled
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp freshly toasted and ground cardamom*
  • olive oil for frying
    for the sauce
  • 2/3 cup tahini
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • water
  • pine nuts
  • chopped parsley, cilantro, or mint
  • a sprinkling of smoked paprika, or sumac


  1. Set oven to 350F
  2. Place the lamb, onion, garlic, ginger, bread crumbs, beaten egg, fresh herbs, lemon zest, pine nuts, feta cheese, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt and pepper into a large bowl. Mix everything together using your fingertips. You want to get all the ingredients evenly distributed without compacting the meat.
  3. Form walnut sized meatballs from the mixture. You can do this several hours ahead of time if you want, but be sure to cover the meat completely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
  4. Cover the bottom of a heavy pan with the olive oil and heat until hot. Work in batches so you don't crowd the pan, and brown the meatballs on all sides. Add more oil as necessary.
  5. Place the meatballs on a baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes, or until cooked through. (Ground lamb should be cooked to about 170F)
  6. Meanwhile make the sauce by mixing the tahini and lemon juice, and then adding enough water to make a thin sauce. Salt it to taste.
  7. Serve the meatballs hot from the oven, nestled in the sauce. Garnish with more pine nuts, herbs, and a sprinkling of sumac or paprika.


To remove seeds from cardamom pods, lightly crush the pods with a rolling pin to open them. Remove the black seeds and toast in a dry pan over medium heat for a couple of minutes, moving the seeds constantly, until they are fragrant. Then grind them with a spice or coffee grinder. This recipe is inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi

Moroccan Lemon and Cardamom Meatballs 4

One of the biggest arguments, in my mind, for making the effort to experience the foods of other cultures, is to wake up our own palate.  And not only for the fun of it, either.  Keep your taste buds entertained and you might just be able to resist the not so healthy stuff we all fall back on when we’re bored.

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Cardamom isn’t one of the most common spices in Moroccan cooking, but it makes these meatballs distinctive. The papery pods come in green and a dark brown variety, and it’s the green we’re using here.  They contain little dark seeds that pop out when you crack them open, and it takes just seconds to grind the seeds into a powder in a small coffee or spice grinder.  It is so worth it.  Of course you can substitute ground cardamom, but promise yourself you will try the whole spice one day…it’s a must for those times when you want to take your cooking to the next level.

Moroccan Lemon and Cardamom Meatballs 5

*This post was written in association with Schwartz *



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53 Responses to Moroccan Lemon and Cardamom Meatballs

  1. arzelie says:

    Any insight on how to make this vegetarian? It looks AMAZING, but lamb… Dairy and eggs are fine. Thanks!!

  2. Zee says:

    I made these tonight, used lean ground beef….awesomeawesome. the family loved it. Added fresh minced garlic to the sauce, kicked it up a notch. Thanks for the recipe.

  3. Phil says:

    I made these tonight and WOW!! I used ground chicken instead of lamb and I must say delicious!! So much flavor and so moist!! Cheers to you for this recipe. I added the juice of two lemons to the sauce to add that extra zing. I served them over isreali cous cous risotto with cauliflower, broccoli, and asparagus. It was a home run. I wished I could post a picture to the comments. There is a photo of my dish on Instagram @philicious_eats. I will absolutely make these again.

  4. Sandra says:

    Hank you so much for posting this! These were like a breath of fresh air for me after using the same old (although good) meatball recipe. These Moroccoan meatballs tasted amazing and completely different from what I am used to. My boyfriend did not like it as much but for someone (like me) who likes trying out new foods I reccommend trying this recipe. I had to leave out the onion, garlic and breadcrumbs due to allergies in the family but it tasted great still. I am so glad I found this. I will definately be making these again :)

    • Sue says:

      Love this comment, thanks so much Sandra — I adore all kinds of meatballs, but I agree that these are a breath of fresh air, that’s what is so wonderful about venturing into new territory when it comes to cooking. Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know you liked them!!

  5. Cathy says:

    I am so wanting to make this and have been working on trying it for days now. I keep having to go out to help a client or something, then come home to a hot, hot house and especially “hot” kitchen and I just drop. What would happen if I didn’t brown the meatballs first, would they taste drastically different. I have ground been thawed out with the onions, garlic and ginger. Have to go out again though, so I wondered how it would work if I did that?

    • Sue says:

      Personally I think browning is an important step, Cathy, but I’ve definitely cooked meatballs before without browning.

      • Cathy says:

        I did finally make hem and I did brown them first. They were sooo good. I think I could have added a little more water to my sauce, but it was definitely a big hit. My cardamom was a bit of a pain, they appear to be quite a bit smaller than yours, but I love it, so it’s worth it.

  6. Steve O'Harrow says:

    This looks to be a really tasty recipe and I am going to try making it in my Moroccan tagine – I think it would work if there were a nice spiced broth along with some typical Moroccan veggies such as carrot and onions and chick peas, etc.. I prep the veggies in a bain marie or a shot stint in the microwave first and then add them to the tagine with broth and uncooked meat bas and then give them about an hour at around 325° and serve with either saffron rice or cous-cous. What do you think?

    • Sue says:

      Sounds pretty darned good, Steve, let me know how it turns out! I’ve got to get a tagine, it’s on my wish list :)

  7. Nicole says:

    You would instantly more than double you potential audience by adding the weights of the ingredients. There are 500 million people in Europe and not one of them measures flour by the cup-full (even if we did know how large that was). We use weight for solid items, such as butter or flour, and volume for liquid items such as milk or oil; very simple.

  8. N says:

    These were absolutely delicious, although I must admit that I only just realise I forgot to add ginger to the mix, so I’ll just have to try them again!

    • Sue says:

      Glad you liked them N — I’m sure the absence of the ginger didn’t make that much of a difference, but still, it’s an excuse to make them again :)

  9. Nina says:

    Made these for my family for the second time tonight…the flavors in this dish (ginger, lemon, cardamon, cinnamon and herbs) give it a unique punch that leaves you wanting more! Thanks for sharing…

  10. Hillary says:

    Wow- this was one of the best meals I’ve made, ever, and I cook a lot. The meatballs were 10/10! I’m not a fan of pine nuts, so used slivered almonds and added some extra spice with Ras Al Hanout. I was also nervous about the sauce, since I don’t usually love Tahini, but didn’t want to stray too far from the recipe so we made it anyway and served the meatball on top of it, as suggested. It was a perfect pairing. We enjoyed it with Greek salad, tatziki, flat bread, artichokes, and red wine. Thank you!!!!

    • Sue says:

      That does sound like a wonderful meal — you’re making me hungry :) Thanks for the feedback Hillary, and I’m really glad you liked the recipe!

  11. […] so I took full advantage and jam-packed that container to take to work. I topped this guy with some Moroccan turkey meatballs that we had […]

  12. Kate says:

    Made it tonight and it was soooo good!!!!!

  13. […] – Pomegranate sesame chicken with ginger rice Wednesday – Leftovers Thursday – Moroccan lemon & cardamom meatballs, naan, & side salad Friday – Out! Saturday – […]

  14. startcooking says:

    These meatballs are FANTASTIC! I made them once with lamb and for 3 different dinner parties, with ground chicken. They were a huge hit. I served them with “Jeweled Rice”, gingered carrots and peas. They are a perfect dinner party recipe as they can be made and browned in advance, and then baked in the oven just before serving. Thanks for a fabulous recipe!

    • Sue says:

      Yay, I’m so glad to hear that, thanks for letting me know, Kathy! I like your idea of using chicken, I’ll have to try that.

  15. Kacey says:

    I just made these for dinner and neither my husband or I liked it. No offense – I know a lot of people like this, it just wasn’t our taste I guess. This was my first time using cardamom and right away I didn’t like the smell of it. I thought it would taste ok mixed in with everything else, but I found it very overpowering, almost a eucalyptusy, lavendery taste. So my advice is, if you don’t know what cardamom tastes like, smell it first, then go off of that. My husband thought the meatballs were ok but didn’t like the tahini sauce.
    On another note, the meatballs sort of fell apart while I was browning them. Perhaps another egg would have helped to hold them together.
    Again I’m not trying to bash the recipe and say it sucks, it’s just not for everyone.

    • Sue says:

      I’m sorry to hear it Kacey, there’s nothing worse than spending your time and money on a recipe and not liking it. Cardamom, like so many foods, is a matter of personal taste. The good news is that I’m a huge meatball lover, and I have lots more recipes on the blog to choose from, I hope you have a look around and try something else!

  16. […] Moroccan Lemon and Cardamom Meatballs*. I’m loving the tahini in this recipe. […]

  17. Stephanie says:

    Out of this world flavorful. Just made them tonight, although I used ground beef instead of lamb, personal preference. They make your mouth sing!!!

  18. I just love love love meatballs and to come across something I have never seen or heard about before makes me smile – and wish I had some mince meat available to make them now! I can’t wait to give these a try. Thank you for the inspiration and thanks for sharing. You now have a new reader – I found your recipe via The Best of the blogs recipe collection, who I follow. Thanks again

  19. startcooking says:

    These were FANTASTIC! Can’t wait to make them again!

  20. Charlene Williams says:

    I made this recipe last night & it was amazing! Such unique flavor & the sauce was so simple yet robust. Next time I might try adding raisins, I think it could be good with a touch of sweetness. Great recipe, thanks for posting!!

    • Sue says:

      Thanks for taking the time to let me know you liked them, Charlene. You might try adding currents, which are common in Middle Eastern cooking, and would give you that sweetness you’re looking for.

  21. Hanna says:

    I saw this and hauled my husband over to see it. Suffice to say, it’s getting made this week. :D

  22. Sherryl-Lee says:

    These sound absolutely devine! I live in NZ so we are currently in the middle of summer, but this recipe is definitely going on the ‘recipes to try’ list for when the cooler months return.

    • Sue says:

      New Zealand? Then you must have spectacular lamb available to you for making these…let me know how you like them.

  23. Medha says:

    Vibrant flavors and gorgeous pictures! I am all up to make this meatball:) Love your blog – beautiful place.

  24. I love these flavors, the meatballs look so tasty!

  25. Rose says:

    I was nodding my head at every.single.ingredient and thinking these sound fantastic and then I saw Ottolenghi’s name at the bottom of the post. That explains it, his stuff is fabulous!! This recipe is a keeper!

  26. Sue Too says:

    I was expecting to see preserved lemon as an ingredient. Did the original recipe use these?

  27. SallyBR says:

    These do sound great, and I just arrived from the grocery store WITHOUT the package of ground lamb I almost placed in my cart… wish I had seen your post before going to the grocery store… but, there’s always next time!

    Happy New Year!

  28. Eileen says:

    I am pretty much always up for a good lamb meatball, and these guys sound amazing! I love the intense spicing. Hooray!

  29. Donna says:

    These meatballs look very good but I don’t eat lamb. I realize I’m throwing the whole Middle Eastern thing off but could I substitute ground beef? A lean cut? Ground sirloin? What do you recommend? Thank you! I’ve enjoyed several of your recipes. Happy New Year!

    • Sue says:

      Hi Donna— sure, substitute ground beef, but it doesn’t have to be super lean, since lamb has some fat to it. I would say something with a 15-20% fat would be great.

  30. clare says:

    Oh man these look amazing! I can’t even imagine how good that combination of flavors must smell. I’ll definitely be making these soon!

  31. Kate says:

    We have some local lamb in our freezer that is now ear-marked for this recipe. I think my husband will love these.
    I made a couple of varieties of your savory sables. They are awesome! So great to have them in “stand-by” mode for pop by friends and cocktails.
    Thanks, Sue, and Happy New Year.

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