Moroccan Meatball Tagine with Lemon and Saffron Butter Sauce

Petite meatballs seasoned with Moroccan spices are poached in a saffron-infused butter sauce. A little lemon juice adds a bit of complementary tangy flavor.

If the only Moroccan kefta tagine you’re familiar with is the famous Kefta Mkaouara with Tomato Sauce, it’s time to try Moroccan Meatballs with Lemon and Saffron Butter Sauce.

In this traditional Moroccan recipe, seasoned meatballs are poached in a fragrant onion and butter sauce flavored with saffron and other Moroccan spices.

Aside from the time involved in shaping the meatballs into their traditionally tiny form, it’s a fairly easy dish to prepare on short notice.

The recipe normally calls for preparation in a Moroccan tagine, but you can cook the meatballs in a deep skillet or another wide pan instead. Whichever you use, take care not to overcook the tiny meatballs so that they stay deliciously tender.

Follow tradition and serve directly from the tagine or pan with Moroccan bread for scooping up the sauce and meatballs, or consider serving the meatballs and saffron butter sauce alongside mashed potatoes and sauteed veggies.

For the nicest texture and ease of shaping, finely ground meat is recommended. Lamb or beef is most traditional, but ground chicken or turkey may also be used.

For a complete change from those meats, try Moroccan Sardine Balls in Tomato Sauce.


For the Moroccan Meatballs

  • 1 lb finely ground beef, – lamb or turkey
  • 1 small onion, – grated or very finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 3/4 tsp salt, – or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

For the Butter Sauce

  • 3 to 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, – grated
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro and/or parsley
  • 1/2 tsp saffron threads, – crumbled
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp Tumeric
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • small 2″ to 3″ piece of cinnamon stick, – optional
  • 1/2 cup hot chicken or beef broth
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, – or more to taste
  • additional parsley, – for garnish


Make the Kefta and Shape the Meatballs

  • In a large bowl (or on a large plate or tray), combine the ground meat with the onion, herbs, and spices. Use your hands to knead the mixture for 2 or 3 minutes to ensure that the spices are evenly distributed.
  • Take small portions of the kefta mixture and roll tiny meatballs about the size of cherries. Cover the meatballs and set them aside while you make the sauce. (Note: The meatballs may be prepared one day in advance and refrigerated until needed.)

Make the Sauce and Cook the Meatballs

  • Place a skillet or medium- to large-sized tagine over medium-low heat. (A diffuser is necessary when using a tagine on electric stove tops and recommended for other heat sources as well.) Add the butter, the onions, the spices, and the cinnamon stick. Allow the mixture to reach a simmer, then cover and cook for 10 minutes.
  • Add the broth and salt; cover and continue simmering for another 10 minutes.
  • Add the meatballs. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through. Do not overcook the meatballs or they will be tough.
  • Add lemon juice to taste and simmer for another minute or two. Remove the tagine or skillet from the heat.
  • When ready to serve, garnish the meatballs with fresh parsley. You can serve the meatballs directly from a tagine; if prepared in a skillet, transfer the meatballs to a serving dish. The meatballs are traditionally eaten by hand, using pieces of Moroccan bread in lieu of a utensil.



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