Moroccan Meatballs with Cardamom and Lemon are tender cardamom spiced lamb meatballs nestled in creamy lemon tahini sauce. I have a feeling this is going to become your new favorite meal!
Moroccan meatballs with cardamom and lemon
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.
We ate ours accompanied by a thick swath of creamy hummus, a chopped Israeli salad, and lots of grilled laffa bread. My homemade pita bread would be a great choice, too. If you want a real feast, serve it alongside some jeweled rice!
what you’ll need:
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.
- ground lamb ~ if you don’t see it at your market, ask the butcher to grind it for you.
- onion ~ be sure to mince it finely, otherwise your meatballs can fall apart.
- fresh garlic and ginger ~ flavor bombs
- breadcrumbs ~ these can be fresh or dried.
- egg ~ an essential binder for the meatballs
- parsley, cilantro, mint ~ more flavor bombs, don’t hold back here, and make sure they’re fresh!
- lemon ~ we’ll use the juice and the zest.
- pine nuts ~ in the meatballs and in the sauce, I love that.
- feta cheese
- cinnamon and cardamom ~ this combination gives this dish incredibly distinctive flavor.
- olive oil
- smoked paprika or sumac ~ just for garnish, and is optional.
- salt and pepper
Moroccan meatballs are a user friendly way to serve lamb
Lamb 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.
If you have a stand mixer, it’s a great way to blend ground meat mixtures like meatballs and meatloaf ~ just pop on the paddle attachment and let it go on low until everything is well combined. No mess!
these Moroccan meatballs are all about flavor!
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 palates. If we keep our taste buds actively engaged with new and exciting healthy flavors we might better resist the not so healthy stuff we all fall back on when we’re bored. And when you bring something this vibrant to the table, it’s always a joyous occasion.
how to use cardamom
Cardamom 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.
- cardamom crumb cake
- French apple jam
- Swedish cardamom Buns
- chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice
- cardamom spritz cookies
TIP: Whole cardamom pods will keep longer than ground cardamom, and they’re well worth seeking out.
to make lamb meatballs ahead
Form the meatballs up to a day ahead and refrigerate, but I recommend cooking them just prior to serving because ground meat does not reheat well.
You can also freeze the uncooked meatballs: form them, then place on a lined baking sheet or plate and freeze until solid. Then pack the meatballs in a zip lock freezer bag, or a freezer safe storage container.
The sauce can be made the day ahead and refrigerated. The sauce has a tendency to thicken as it sits, so you may need to thin it with water and/or lemon juice.
can these meatballs be made with beef?
Yes, just substitute ground beef for the lamb.
Moroccan Lemon and Cardamom Meatballs
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, see instructions below
- olive oil for frying
- pine nuts
- chopped parsley, cilantro, or mint
- a sprinkling of smoked paprika, or sumac
- Set oven to 350F
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Place the meatballs on a baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes, or until cooked through. (Ground lamb should be cooked to about 160F)
- 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.
- Serve the meatballs hot from the oven, nestled in the sauce. Garnish with more pine nuts, herbs, and a sprinkling of sumac or paprika.
- For those of you who don’t eat lamb, you might substitute my turkey and zucchini meatballs, I think they’d work just as well.
- If you browse through the comments below you’ll see many readers have had success with variations, from chicken to beef, and you can even make this vegan by using your favorite veggie burger mix, or falafel.
- 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.