Moroccan-Spiced Meatballs with Couscous

This was the first meal I cooked after I got home. I wanted comfort food, I wanted to make something slightly impressive and fancy for my family, and I wanted a recipe that would be a little more of a challenge compared to the rice-and-lentils dinners I would throw together in Menton. I found this recipe on Crepes of Wrath, and though I usually like to add my own modifications to recipes, I kept this one pretty much as it was.

The recipe also gave me the opportunity to cook with some of the spices I brought home. When I was in Morocco, I picked up a few traditional spice blends – ras al hanout, harissa, and cinque épices. Though I suspect the ras al hanout I bought in the shuk in Marrakesh is slightly less flavorful than it should be, it still added a distinctive North African kick to the meat (plus, I don’t think my family could taste a difference). It also made me think a bit about buying spices, oils, and teas as souvenirs – they last a bit longer than other foods, and every time you cook with them it reminds you of the meals and experiences you had abroad.

I’m still feeling a bit displaced – somewhere halfway between being home and being far away — so maybe it’s fitting that my first meal in the US has its roots overseas.

Ingredients:

For the meatballs –

– 1 lb ground lamb (I could not find ground lamb at my grocery store and had to make do with ground beef. The meatballs were still delicious)

– 1/2 onion, finely minced

– 2 cloves garlic, finely minced

– Salt

– Ginger

– Ras al Hanout (Moroccan spice blend)

– Ground coriander

– Canola or vegetable oil

For the sauce –

– 1 large shallot, finely minced

– 2 cloves garlic, finely minced

– 1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes

– 1/2 cup chicken stock

– 2 tbsp tomato paste

– Ras al Hanout

– Ground coriander

– 1/4 tsp fennel seeds (I included the measurement on this one because I eyeballed it and added waaay too much, and the sauce tasted too fennel-y to me)

– Salt

– Pepper

For the couscous –

– 1 package instant couscous

– Olive oil, butter, or margarine

Step 1: Prep! Mince your onions, shallot, and garlic. Line a baking sheet with paper towels to soak up the oil from the meatballs.

Step 2: Make the meatballs. In a large bowl, combine ground meat, onions, garlic, salt, ginger, ras al hanout, and coriander (using your hands). Roll into balls and set aside.

Step 3: In a large pan with high sides, heat oil over medium-high heat. Drop in a few meatballs at a time, and let cook for 5-7 minutes (they’re done when the outside is just starting to blacken and the inside is still fairly pink). Try to move them around a bit while they cook, so they cook on all sides. You’re going to have to learn a little hot-oil-avoiding-dance, wherein you stand a few feet away from the stove, stretch your arm until your elbow cramps, and jump to the side whenever you hear a crackle.

Note: I flashed the pan with cold water in between batches to prevent grease stains, but this is by no means necessary.

Step 4: Drain most of the oil from the pan, reserving about 2 tbsp. Return the pan to the heat and add shallots (I also added some of the onions that didn’t stick to the meatballs); sauté for 3-5 minutes. When they start to sweat and become translucent, add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds.

Step 5: Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, tomato paste, and spices. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce back to a simmer and add the meatballs.

Step 6: Cook until the sauce has thickened – about 20 minutes.

Step 7: While your meatballs are simmering, prepare the couscous according to package directions. Since this is serving as a starch to soak up the sauce and meat, it’s best to keep the couscous simple, though I think that some olive oil, butter, or margarine makes a nice and not-too-obtrusive addition.

Enjoy!

And if the kitchen looks different to you, well, it’s because it is different. Very different. When I was abroad, my parents redid their kitchen, which has resulted in a much brighter and more well-organized workspace,  a lot of new appliances to figure out, and a lengthy scavenger hunt every time I try to find a sieve or a potholder or a cookbook. This is kind of what it looks like now:

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