I hope purists of Moroccan or Greek cuisine don’t jump on my case for daring to put up this unorthodox recipe. It is entirely my own creation and I merely drew inspiration from the flavors of the Mediterranean region. I know that Moroccans have a tradition of making tagine dishes with meatballs in them but I just made this one up with the ingredients that I had on hand. I guess those of you that follow my blog regularly, might have noticed a trend that I tend to favor the use of olives, herbs and spices that are used most often in Mediterranean cooking. And I confess that I do. I love the simplicity of their dishes, the manner in with they build flavors and how their use of colors and textures adds to the taste and the aesthetics of each dish. The result is that I almost always have olives, multi colored bell peppers and feta cheese in my refrigerator and these are what I used to make these meatballs this morning. As soon as they were ready, my husband and I scarfed them down! Absolutely delicious!
1. 1 lb ground beef (I used organic beef) but you can also use ground lamb
2. One large red onion
3. 1/3 cup of crumbled feta cheese
4. ½ red bell pepper
5. ½ yellow bell pepper
6. ½ red bell pepper
7. ½ of a medium sized egg plant
8. ½ cup of olives (I used a medley of Kalamata and Green olives)
9. 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
10. 4 teaspoons of Zatar spice mix (available at Middle Eastern grocery stores)
11. ½ cup of jarred spaghetti sauce
12. 1 cup of canned diced tomatoes
13. 2-3 springs of fresh rosemary (or one teaspoon of dried rosemary)
14. 2-3 springs of fresh marjoram (or one teaspoon of dried oregano or marjoram)
15. 3 large cloves of garlic
16. 2 teaspoons of sweet paprika
17. 1 teaspoon of freshly ground cumin powder
18. 1 teaspoon of freshly ground coriander powder
19. One egg
20. 3 tablespoons of dry bread crumbs
21. Salt and pepper to taste
22. 2-3 teaspoons of sugar
23. 2 teaspoons of red chili flakes
24. 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1. Dice about 1/3 of a large red onion.
2. Combine the ground meat, diced onion pieces, one egg, 2 teaspoons of Zatar spice mix, salt and pepper to taste, the bread crumbs and one tablespoon of tomato paste in a mixing bowl.
3. Mix everything with your hands but don’t overwork the meat (or the meatballs get hard). So gently combine everything using both your hands.
4. Add the crumbled feta to the meat mixture and gently mix the contents of the mixing bowl.
5. Using both your hands make golf-ball-sized meatballs. I made approximately 30 meatballs with a pound of ground meat.
6. In a cast iron skillet, heat a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and start browning the meat balls.
7. I browned mine in two separate batches and turned them gently to brown them on each side.
8. Heat the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
9. Cover a cookie sheet with some heavy duty tin foil and gently transfer each of the browned meatballs to the cookie sheet.
10. Place the cookie sheet in the oven and let the meatballs cook for about 10-12 minutes. Set the oven timer and take the meatballs out of the oven when the timer goes off. Let the meatballs sit outside the oven while you are preparing the sauce for the dish.
11. While the meatballs are in the oven, finely dice the rest of the onion.
17. In the cast iron skillet that you had used to brown the meatballs in, pour the diced bell peppers and the diced eggplant and let them cook over medium or low heat until they are a little tender (usually take 5-6 minutes) and then switch the heat off and add the olives to this veggie mixture and stir again.
18. To the heavy bottom pot that had the onions and garlic, add the paprika, ground cumin, ground coriander, the remaining amount of Zatar spice mix, red pepper flakes, the chopped fresh herbs and stir the contents of the pot.
22. After 7-8 minutes of cooking this tomatoes, herbs and onion mixture, add two cups of water, the stir fried peppers, eggplant and olives from the cast iron skillet and stir everything. Cover the pot with a lid and let this sauce come to a boil (usually takes 3-4 minutes).
23. Using a pair of tongs, slowly place each of the baked meatballs into the heavy bottomed pan. Be gentle with the meatballs and try not to break them.
24. Nestle the meatballs into the sauce by gently pressing them into the sauce with the tongs.
25. Cover the pot with a lid and let these meatballs cook in the sauce for an additional 5-6 minutes on low heat. They will absorb some of the sauce during this process.
26. Serve the meatballs over a bed of couscous or rice. Garnish with a little bit of crumbled feta, rosemary sprigs or some chopped flat-leaf-parsley on top.