Meatball, Tomato and Egg Tagine with Lemon Saffron Couscous

Meatball, Tomato and Egg Tagine with Lemon Saffron Couscous ~ a classic Moroccan dish. 

A tagine, or rich North African stew, is cooked in a vessel of the same name: an earthenware pot with a conical top that lets out steam. If you don’t have a tagine, and you probably don’t, it can be cooked in a cast iron skillet, or stock pot, like I’ve done here.

There are more tagine recipes than you can count, but this one caught my eye and sounded too good to pass up—tender Moroccan beef and lamb meatballs in a spiced tomato gravy, finished off with eggs gently poached in the sauce. I added the Lemon Saffron couscous to round out the meal, but traditionally it would be served directly from the pan, and eaten with the hands, using bread to scoop it up. The meatballs can be formed ahead to make it more convenient.

The meatballs get browned quickly on all sides, then simmered in the rich tomato sauce spiced with fragrant cinnamon, cumin, paprika, and cayenne.

What makes this dish special, in my opinopn, is the finishing touch—one egg for each serving is gently poached in the sauce. The Lemon Saffron Couscous looks like a burst of sunshine on the side, and has quite a bit of lemon flavor to it. If you’ve got any Preserved Lemons, feel free to add them, too.

Recipe adapted from Paula Wolfert

5 from 11 votes

Meatball, Tomato and Egg Tagine with Lemon Saffron Couscous

Author Sue Moran


For the meatballs

  • 1/2 lb ground lamb
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1 medium onion minced
  • 1/3 cup parsley minced
  • 1/3 cup fresh coriander minced
  • 3/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil for frying

For the sauce

  • 1 28 oz can good quality crushed Italian tomatoes I used San Marzano
  • 1 or 2 whole tomatoes chopped (Optional, I like the added texture)
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup fresh coriander leaves rough chopped
  • 4 eggs

For the Lemon saffron couscous

  • 1 lb couscous
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • zest of 2 lemons


For the meatballs

  • Combine all the ingredients together, except the oil.  Don't over work the meat, but make sure everything gets well blended.  Form into small, 1 inch balls.  Brown the meatballs on all sides in the oil.  Set aside.

For the sauce

  • Put all of the sauce ingredients except the coriander leaves and the eggs in a heavy pot and heat to a simmer.  Cook the sauce for about 30 minutes until thickened.  I covered it for the first half and uncovered it for the second.  Add 1/2 cup water if your sauce seems too thick.
  • Put the meatballs into the sauce, cover and simmer gently for another 5 to 10 minute, just to cook the meat through.
  • Poach the eggs gently in the sauce until set.  You can also poach the eggs separately if you want a neater appearance to the finished dish.  It's up to you.
  • Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve with Lemon Saffron Couscous.

For the lemon saffron couscous

  • Put the water in a saucepan and add the saffron threads, crushing them between your fingers as you add them.  Heat the water and saffron just to a simmer, then turn off the heat and let it steep for 10 minutes.
  • Add the oil, lemon juice, zest, and salt, and bring the water back to a boil.  Add the couscous and mix well.  Turn off the heat, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes.
  • Fluff well with a fork and serve alongside the tagine.
The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although tries to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.


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    Leave a Reply

    Please rate this recipe!

  • Reply
    April 17, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    May I use all beef, or possibly beef and pork with good results? I’m not a big fan of lamb.

    • Reply
      April 18, 2015 at 7:32 am

      I’m sure that would be fine Genevieve – let me know how it turns out!

      • Reply
        April 28, 2015 at 6:44 pm

        5 stars
        It turned out great! I accidentally over cooked my eggs a bit though. Also, I cut bac a bit on the cinnamon in the sauce.
        Thanks for sharing.
        I would post a picture but I don’t see that option.

        • Reply
          April 28, 2015 at 6:44 pm

          I used all beef.

        • Reply
          April 29, 2015 at 7:25 am

          I wish there were that option here, but you can definitely add one on facebook if you want, I’d love to see it!

  • Reply
    June 18, 2013 at 1:48 am

    I love meatball atgines. Especially love the idea of the lemon couscous!

  • Reply
    April 24, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    5 stars
    I love tangines and the never-ending variety. Really inspired by the addition of the egg – all just melds together beautifully.

  • Reply
    Magnolia Verandah
    April 24, 2013 at 6:56 am

    5 stars
    Never thought eggs would go in a stew type dish but hey it looks delicious.

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      April 24, 2013 at 5:16 pm

      This is the second Middle Eastern recipe I’ve made lately where eggs get poached right in the stew, I love the concept!

  • Reply
    shannon weber
    April 24, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Sue: it is immensely early here, as i’m looking at this. And yet, i want this NOW; like for breakfast. which is inappropriate on some level, i’m sure, but there’s an egg in there, and i just purchased saffron threads the other day. this is beautiful.

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      April 24, 2013 at 5:14 pm

      Yes, there is an egg, and I say that qualifies it for breakfast. I’m on a saffron kick lately, I think the color is amazing.

  • Reply
    Kitchen Belleicious
    April 24, 2013 at 2:13 am

    5 stars
    the lemon saffron couscous sounds perfect and i love the idea of the hint of lemon in it! Beautiful and delicious

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      April 24, 2013 at 5:18 pm

      I love the lemon saffron combination, too, and I think I’ll try it with other grains. The saffron color is so lemony!

  • Reply
    April 23, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    5 stars
    Wow, this looks amazing. I’m so hungry now after reading this and seeing the wonderful photos. Great blog.

    New follower.

  • Reply
    April 23, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    I really need to thaw out some beef and get cooking in my tagine.

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