Milk Street’s Moroccan Meatball Tagine Recipe

From Milk Street: The World in a Skillet by Christopher Kimball


The term “tagine” refers to a Moroccan shallow earthenware cooking vessel with a conical lid as well as the stewy dishes prepared in the pot. To make this tagine of tender, warmly spiced meatballs simmered in a thick tomato sauce—a much-simplified version of a dish we tasted in Marrakech—we use a 12-inch skillet with a lid and we bring the pan directly to the table for serving. Ras el hanout is a fragrant Moroccan spice blend that may include more than a dozen different ingredients; it’s an easy way to add complex North African flavors to your cooking. Look for ras el hanout in well-stocked supermarkets, Middle Eastern grocery stores or spice shops. If it’s not available, use 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1½ teaspoons ground coriander and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon to achieve a similar warm, savory spiciness.



Start to Finish Serves
1 HOUR 4


¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
5 teaspoons ras el hanout (see headnote)
1 bunch cilantro, stems minced, leaves roughly chopped, reserved separately
⅓ cup panko breadcrumbs
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 pound 90 percent lean ground beef
⅓ cup pimento-stuffed green olives, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Don’t skip the step of allowing the panko to soften and hydrate for about 5 minutes after mixing in the water. The softened panko can then be mashed to a smooth paste that will combine easily with the beef.

In a 12-inch skillet over medium, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ras el hanout and cilantro stems; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat.

Measure ½ cup of the onion mixture into a medium bowl. Add the panko and ¼ cup water; stir to combine, then let stand until the panko hydrates and softens, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, return the skillet to medium, add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Cover and set aside off heat while you form the meatballs.

Using your hands, mash the panko mixture to a smooth paste. Add the beef, ¾ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper; mix thoroughly with your hands. Divide the mixture into 12 portions and form each into a ball.

Return the sauce to a simmer over medium. Add the meatballs and turn to coat stirring and turning the meatballs about every 5 minutes, until the centers of the meatballs reach 160°F and the sauce is lightly thickened, 10 to 12 minutes.

Off heat, taste and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the olives, lemon zest and cilantro leaves and serve directly from the skillet.