Moroccan Lemon and Cardamom Meatballs

Moroccan Lemon and Cardamom Meatballs 3

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

Ingredients

    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
    garnish
  • pine nuts
  • chopped parsley, cilantro, or mint
  • a sprinkling of smoked paprika, or sumac

Instructions

  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.

Notes

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

http://theviewfromgreatisland.com/moroccan-lemon-cardamom-meatballs/

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.

DSC_0011-001 DSC_0018-001

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 *

 

 

53 Comments

  • Reply
    arzelie
    August 11, 2016 at 7:46 pm

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

    • Reply
      Lynda Setton
      January 12, 2017 at 8:27 am

      I have made it using ground seitan. Turned out delicious

      • Reply
        Sue
        January 12, 2017 at 8:35 am

        Lynda what is ground seitan?

  • Reply
    Zee
    August 9, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    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.

    • Reply
      Sue
      August 9, 2016 at 8:37 pm

      :) Glad it worked for you Zee.

  • Reply
    Phil
    March 30, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    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.

  • Reply
    Sandra
    August 19, 2015 at 7:59 am

    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 :)

    • Reply
      Sue
      August 19, 2015 at 8:11 am

      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!!

  • Reply
    Cathy
    June 12, 2015 at 10:21 am

    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?

    • Reply
      Sue
      June 12, 2015 at 10:33 am

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

      • Reply
        Cathy
        June 13, 2015 at 7:01 am

        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.

  • Reply
    Steve O'Harrow
    June 6, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    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?

    • Reply
      Sue
      June 7, 2015 at 6:42 am

      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 :)

  • Reply
    Nicole
    April 20, 2015 at 3:25 am

    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.

  • Reply
    N
    March 17, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      Sue
      March 17, 2015 at 3:29 pm

      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 :)

  • Reply
    Nina
    February 11, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    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…

    • Reply
      Sue
      February 11, 2015 at 7:40 pm

      thanks so much for the feedback Nina — I’m so glad you enjoyed them!

  • Reply
    Hillary
    January 26, 2015 at 8:23 am

    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!!!!

    • Reply
      Sue
      January 26, 2015 at 8:44 am

      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!

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  • Reply
    Kate
    January 4, 2015 at 8:45 pm

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

    • Reply
      Sue
      January 5, 2015 at 7:18 am

      I’m jealous!

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  • Reply
    startcooking
    December 1, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    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!
    Cheers,
    Kathy

    • Reply
      Sue
      December 1, 2014 at 5:57 pm

      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.

  • Reply
    Kacey
    November 23, 2014 at 3:19 am

    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.

    • Reply
      Sue
      November 23, 2014 at 6:16 am

      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!

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  • Reply
    Stephanie
    February 15, 2014 at 3:21 pm

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

  • Reply
    Miss Food Fairy
    January 21, 2014 at 1:25 am

    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

    • Reply
      Sue
      January 21, 2014 at 5:28 am

      Thanks so much for visiting — I hope you do get a chance to make the meatballs!

  • Reply
    startcooking
    January 10, 2014 at 5:17 pm

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

  • Reply
    Charlene Williams
    January 9, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    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!!

    • Reply
      Sue
      January 9, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      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.

  • Reply
    Hanna
    January 3, 2014 at 7:27 pm

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

  • Reply
    Sherryl-Lee
    January 1, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    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.

    • Reply
      Sue
      January 1, 2014 at 5:52 pm

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

  • Reply
    Medha
    January 1, 2014 at 1:06 pm

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

    • Reply
      Sue
      January 1, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      Thanks Medha — welcome in!

  • Reply
    Laura (Tutti Dolci)
    January 1, 2014 at 9:48 am

    I love these flavors, the meatballs look so tasty!

  • Reply
    Rose
    December 31, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    Sue Too
    December 31, 2013 at 1:40 pm

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

    • Reply
      Sue
      December 31, 2013 at 3:01 pm

      No, and you certainly could use preserved lemons in these, but the lemon zest gives a surprising amount of flavor.

  • Reply
    SallyBR
    December 31, 2013 at 11:09 am

    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!

  • Reply
    Eileen
    December 30, 2013 at 12:55 pm

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

    • Reply
      Sue
      December 30, 2013 at 2:28 pm

      The zest of the 2 lemons makes a big impact…I’m going to remember that for future meatloaves and meatballs.

  • Reply
    Donna
    December 30, 2013 at 10:58 am

    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!

    • Reply
      Sue
      December 30, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      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.

  • Reply
    clare
    December 30, 2013 at 10:51 am

    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!

  • Reply
    Kate
    December 30, 2013 at 9:32 am

    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.

    • Reply
      Sue
      December 30, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      Thanks Kate—same to you!

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