I love Moroccan food for so many reasons, but above all it is how it reflects the exotic spirit of the country itself. Awash with vibrant colors, mind boggling souks, the sun bleached architecture of Tangiers, Marrakesh’s rich red earthiness, and sweeping landscapes stretching from the Atlantic eastward towards the Atlas mountains and southward to the edge of he Sahara desert are breathtaking. Likewise, eating your way through Morocco is a sensory journey through time and cultures that have influenced the very essence of the country and its cuisine. So whenever I am cooking Moroccan meals at home it is always like reliving all those exotic aromas and vivid flavors of Morocco all over again.
Kefta refers to the classic Moroccan dish of traditionally seasoned lamb meatballs simmered in a lemon infused broth as well as the meatballs themselves. Served with steamed couscous and a fiery harrisa sauce, this is a traditional Moroccan meal you will find yourself serving again and again. It is a real crowd pleaser!
I have taken a few liberties in the recipe that follows. I have made the kefta slightly larger than the traditionally smaller and denser size in pursuit of a more tender and juicy finish. I have also tempered the chile heat a bit, but this is a pretty fiery dish in Morocco so feel free to pull out all the stops. You won’t regret it I promise you.
Kefta; Moroccan Meatballs serves 6
For the kefta: makes 24
- 1 lb/450 g ground lamb
- 8oz/ 225 g ground beef
- ½ cup dried bread crumbs
- ¼ cup milk or water
- 1 onion, grated (about 1 cup)
- 1/3 cup minced broad leaf parsley leaves
- 1/3 cup minced coriander leaves
- 1 egg, whisked
- 1 tsp dried mint
- ½ tsp dried marjoram
- 1 tsp ground roasted cumin seeds
- 2 tsp ras el hanout (click here for info and recipe)
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ tsp chile flakes (or more to taste)
- 2 tsp ground red chile powder (or ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne)
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt + more to taste
- 1/3 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup chickpea flour (or all purpose flour)
- ¼ cup olive oil
For the broth:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion grated (about 1 ½ cups)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground toasted cumin seeds
- ¼ tsp crushed saffron threads
- a pinch of turmeric
- 1 ½ tsp sea salt + to taste
- ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp red chile powder or to taste
- 1/3 cup minced broad leaf parsley
- 1/3 cup minced coriander leaves
- 3 whole dried red chile pods
- 2 garlic cloves, whole peeled
- 3 ½ cups water + more as needed
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
Place the ground lamb and ground beef in a mixing bowl and mix them together until combined.
In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs and milk (or water) and stir and set aside to soak for a few minutes. Then squeeze out the milk from the crumbs and scatter them over the meat mixture. Add the onions, parsley, and coriander.
Whisk the egg and pour over the meat mixture.
In a small bowl mix together the mint, marjoram, cumin, ras el hanout, cinnamon, chile flakes, chile powder (or cayenne), and salt and pepper and scatter over all. Then using both hands mix all the ingredients together until completely combined. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least1 hour or over night.
Once the kefta mixture is well chilled measure out 1 ½ oz/ 40 g portions and gently roll each portion into a round meatball/ kefta. Try not to overwork the meat when rolling the balls. This will ensure that the meat will be tender and juicy rather than dense and hard when cooked.
Place the flour in a shallow bowl and gently roll each kefta in the flour until evenly coated. Place them on a parchment lined tray, cover with cling film, and refrigerate for 1 hour. This will ensure the kefta will retain their shape when browning them.
Place a large non stick skillet over medium high heat and add the oil. Once the oil is hot add half of the kefta and brown them on all sides. Set the browned kefta aside while you brown the second batch and prepare the broth.
Select a pot that is large enough to hold all the kefta in a single layer. Place the pot over medium heat and add the olive oil and butter. Swirl the pan until the butter has melted and combined with the olive oil. Add the onions and saute until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Clear a well in the center of the pot and add the tomato paste. Press the paste against the bottom of the pan to caramelize it before stirring the onions and the paste together. Add the ginger, cumin, saffron, turmeric, salt, pepper, paprika, and red chile power. Stir the ingredients together until well combined. Then stir in the parsley and coriander and saute while stirring for a couple of minutes. Add the whole chile pods, garlic, and the water and stir. Once the broth is boiling, lower the heat to a rolling simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
Then gently lower the kefta into the broth using tongs. There should be enough liquid to nearly cover the kefta. If not stir in more water as needed. Once the both returns to a boil reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes without disturbing the kefta. Skim off fat and foam as it collects on the surface and discard. Just before you are ready to serve stir the lemon juice into the hot broth and taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed. Remove the garlic cloves and discard.
When you are ready to serve transfer the kefta to a serving bowl and add the broth and the whole chiles. Or, for individual servings, place 4 kefta per serving into shallow bowls or pasta plates along with broth, omitting the whole chiles.
Be sure to serve plenty of broth with the kefta. Garnish with lemon zest and serve with couscous, and an orange radish salad as pictured.
Place a small bowl of harissa ( click here fore recipe)
on the table which can be dabbed on the kefta for extra spicy heat or stirred into the
The couscous with currants pictured is topped with fried precooked chickpeas and
toasted cumin seeds.
Here is a sure fire recipe for a quick summer meal with all the irresistible exotic flavors of North Africa. The complex aromas of a roasting ras el hanout spiced chicken coming out of your kitchen belies the simple preparation of this no fuss meal.
Ras el hanout, meaning top of the shop in Arabic, is a North African spice mix usually associated with Moroccan cooking. Recipes for the mix vary widely as do the quantities of the spices and herbs used in the mix. What I would call essential ingredients include cumin, coriander seeds, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, ginger, ground chile, paprika, turmeric, pepper, and fenugreek. Fortunately ras el hanout is readily available online from various vendors as are recipes if you want to try making your own mix. That said, a friend of mine gave me a tin of Tesco’s Ras el Hanout which I used for this recipe with, I must say, awesome results. So don’t be shy about buying ras el hanout as home cooks do the same in local markets across North Africa.
Preparation is minimal. Marinate the chicken in a mixture of lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt and chopped coriander leaves for several hours. Massage the chicken with a generous amount of ras el hanout spice mix. Roast in the oven for an hour and that’s all there is to it.
I like serving ras el hanout chicken, as pictured, with grilled and fire roasted seasonal vegetables (see recipe here) drizzled with hummus sauce (see recipe here), Greek yogurt, and pomegranate syrup.
A simple warm bulgur pilaf, or couscous, as a side nicely soaks up the spice laced pan juices from the roasted ras el hanout chicken.
Roasted Ras el Hanout Chicken serves 4
- 4 plump chicken legs with thigh attached (skin on)
- 1 large onion, peeled, quartered, and sliced
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and grated
- 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
- 2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4-6 tablespoons ras el hanout spice mix
Trim the chicken of excess fat and set aside.
Place the sliced onions in a non-reactive shallow baking dish just large enough to hold the chicken.
Add the lemon juice, garlic, salt, and coriander leaves and whisk together until the salt is dissolved. Then slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add the chicken to the pan and massage the marinade into the chicken and then turn the chicken skin side up. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for several hours.
Remove from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before roasting.
Preheat the oven to 400f/200c
Remove the chicken from the marinade and place in a bowl. Add the ras el hanout mix and massage the mix all over the chicken until the chicken is completely encrusted with the spice mix.
Spread out the onions evenly in the baking pan and place the chicken on top of the onions skin side up.
Transfer the chicken in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and baste the chicken with the pan juices. Add a little water to the pan to keep the chicken moist if needed for another 30 minutes of roasting. Return the pan to the oven and roast for another 30 to 40 minutes. Keep an eye on the chicken and cover loosely with foil if the skin is looking overly dark. Add water as needed. This may seem like a long roasting time, but you want the flesh to be very tender while the skin is dark and crispy.
Remove the chicken from the oven and set aside to rest while you assemble plates for serving.
Serving: Arrange the chicken, grilled and roasted vegetables, and the bulgur pilaf as pictured. Serve with additional hummus sauce on the table along with a small bowl of spiced mixed olives.
This will be my fifth post on beets! Obvious enough that I have a real passion for these gorgeous garnet red gems plucked out of the ground. When roasted their sweet earthy flavor and aroma affirms their comforting and nourishing simple goodness.
Very easy to prepare. Basically from oven to table is all there is to it.
Here I have roasted the beets, unpeeled garlic, and a few sprigs of thyme tossed with extra virgin olive oil. The preserved lemon and oil cured olives are added towards the end of the roasting. Served warm from the oven, leaving the skins on the beets, with a splash of preserved lemon brine, a sprinkle of toasted cumin seeds, and a light shower of smoked sea salt.
Roasted Beets with Preserved Lemon
For preserved lemons (see here)
- 8 medium sized beets
- 16 garlic cloves, skin on
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup preserved lemon strips (or 1 tablespoon lemon zest)
- ½ cup small oil cured black olives
- 1 tablespoon preserved lemon brine (or lemon juice)
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
- Maldon smoked sea salt (or flaked sea salt)
- freshly ground black pepper
- fresh flat leaf parsley sprigs.
Preheat the oven to 400f/210c
Cook’s note: A small ( 5”x 1½ “) soft bristled laundry brush, which costs a pittance, is indispensable in my kitchen and ideal for scrubbing vegetables. No need to pay a handsome price for a fancy one at a cookery shop.
Place the beets, garlic cloves, and thyme sprigs in a baking pan just large enough to hold all the ingredients. Pour the oil over all and toss with your hands, being sure to evenly coat all the ingredients. Cover the pan with foil, crimping the foil around the edges of the pan to make a tight seal.
Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes to1 hour or until the beets are soft and tender when pierced with a wooden skewer.
After testing, add the preserved lemon and olives and toss to combine with the other ingredients. Reseal the pan with the foil and roast another 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes.
There is no need to peel the beets before serving. The skin is very soft and adds a hearty earthiness to the overall flavor of the finished dish.
Serving: Remove the foil from the pan, pick out the thyme sprigs, and discard. Add the toasted cumin seeds and toss. Splash the preserved lemon brine (or lemon juice) over all and toss. You can then serve on a platter or plate individual servings. Finish with the flaked salt, freshly ground black pepper, and fresh parsley sprigs.
Note: A delicious flourish for this dish is a scattering of crumbled creamy goat cheese that softens over the warm beets!
Harissa is a Tunisian hot red chile sauce that evolved after the Spanish introduced chillies from the new world into North Africa and the Mediterranean in the mid 1500’s. Harissa’s popularity spread across North Africa, including Libya, Algeria, and Morocco and eventually across the Middle East with adaptations for regional tastes.
The basic ingredients for harissa are, first and foremost, chilies, both fresh and dried, as well as garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin and coriander seeds, and salt. Variations may also include caraway seeds, mint, tomatoes, and even cinnamon. This is hot stuff and meant to be, so don’t be timid! Used with grilled meats and fish, stirred into soups and tagines, and especially favored as a condiment with couscous.
Hariisa is produced commercially, but I have yet to taste one that even approaches a freshly made harissa. There is, to be honest, some preparation involved, but the rewards are well worth the effort. You may want to make larger batches and freeze for later use.
Harissa makes 1 ¼ cups
- 3 long fresh hot red chilies
- 1 small red sweet pepper (optional)
- 1 vine ripe tomato
- 4-6 long dried hot red chilies
- 6 small hot red dried chilies
- 4 plump garlic cloves, skin on
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
- ½ teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted
- ¼ teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted (optional)
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt + more as needed
- 3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + more for preserving.
Before you begin, you will want to flame roast the fresh chilies, bell pepper, (if using) and tomato, as well as dry toast the dried chilies, garlic, and seeds.
Flame roast the fresh hot red chilies, sweet bell pepper (if using), and vine ripe tomato before you proceed with the recipe. (see here). Once they are roasted and sweated, peel off the skins of the chilies and bell pepper, remove the seeds, and chop. Peel the tomato and remove the seeds, pith and juice, and mince.
Prepare the dried chilies. Place them in a dry hot skillet over medium heat, pressing them against the bottom of the skillet with a spatula for about 30 seconds. Flip them over and again press them against the bottom of the skillet for another 30 seconds. Promptly remove them and set aside to cool. Once they are cool, slit them open, remove stems and most of the seeds and place them in a bowl. Pour boiled water over them and set aside for 20 minutes to soften. Drain off the water and finely chop.
And finally, lightly toast the garlic cloves, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and caraway seeds (if using) in a dry heated skillet until they are aromatic and lightly toasted. Peel the skin off the garlic and set aside. Finely grind the toasted seeds in a mortar and set aside.
You are now ready to proceed with preparing the harissa.
Place the chopped flame roasted fresh chilies, chopped flame roasted sweet pepper (if using), chopped tomato, chopped toasted dry red chilies, and the roasted garlic in a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients resemble a course puree.
Add the toasted ground cumin, coriander, and caraway (if using), lemon juice, and salt and pulse until well combined. Then, with the machine running, begin adding the olive oil in a slow steady stream until the harissa is thick and relatively smooth. Taste, adding more salt as needed and pulse until combined.
Transfer the harissa to a sterilized jar and jiggle the jar to even out the surface. Pour a little olive oil over the surface which seals in the flavor. Seal the jar tightly and refrigerate for up to 6 weeks or more.