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.
Meatball, Tomato and Egg Tagine ~~~adapted from Paula Wolfert
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
- 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:
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
- Put everything 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.
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
- 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.