Get ready. Here comes the pun.
Want to up your meatballs game? Just add lamb!
Okay, even I know that was lamb. I mean lame. Seriously though, I’d like to take a moment to talk about why this gamey meat changed my life at eight years old.
I was never a picky eater. Not that I was requesting arugula and fig salads as a child or anything, but I was always open to trying new foods. My parents were thrilled.
In my big sister Sarah’s adolescent years, however, her dietary likes and dislikes were on the choosy side. And by choosy, I mean my parents claim the kid would literally ingest nothing other than banana yogurt and canned ravioli.
Ironically, she turned out to be (not only a licensed clinical social worker, but) a registered yoga instructor who resides in Hawaii and enjoys a wholesome diet of greens and grains.
The point is this: even though I was the youngest, I was unexpectedly the brave eater.
And my favorite specialty meal of choice? Lamb chops.
Sarah could have cared less about my chops, and my parents no longer ate red meat – so I was not only the sole single-digit member of my family in terms of age, I was the only lamb-consuming one as well.
I would watch patiently as my dad prepared my personal meal once a week. He would sprinkle bright green rosemary and slather smashed garlic over the meat, and then under the broiler the savory chops would go, humming with earthy herbs and oniony aromas.
One evening, as I peered over the kitchen counter, anxiously awaiting my plate, I noticed a mysterious wiggle in my front tooth. I ignored it, snatched my dish with a quick, “Thanks, Dad!” and off I went.
I bit down into the tender, garlicky morsel and just as my heart began to swoon with joy – my very first loose tooth popped out.
Yes, I was eight when I lost my first tooth. I was a late bloomer.
Go ahead, laugh it up. I bet you didn’t get a party at a hibachi restaurant and twenty bucks from the tooth fairy for your first time.
Needless to say, I’ve always had a special relationship with lamb, and these Moroccan meatballs are like my beloved chops, all grown up.
Psst. Come closer. The secret is in the spices.
Ras el hanout is a slightly sweet, earthy blend of pungent flavors like citrusy sumac, spicy ginger, and smoky cumin. While the lamb brings rich, savory notes, the fragrant spices in this trademark mixture offer tanginess and warmth.
Lamb and cinnamon, you ask? Trust me. This combo goes together like peanut butter and jelly.
Or, in my sister’s case, banana yogurt and ravioli.Print
Give your meatballs a flavor vacation. In this Moroccan-inspired recipe, ground lamb meets warm, earthy spices and lemony cilantro.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced, divided
- 3 medium garlic cloves, minced, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 2 1/2 tablespoons Moroccan Spice Blend (Ras el Hanout), divided
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, divided
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- Nonstick cooking oil spray
- In a large, wide stew pot over medium-low heat, add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan.
- Add half of the onions and half of the garlic, and season with 1 3/4 tablespoons of the Moroccan spice blend and 1 tablespoon of the cilantro. Saute until very fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- Whisk in the tomato paste. Cook for 1 minute, and then pour in the diced tomatoes and their juices. Allow the sauce to come to a gentle simmer. Reduce the heat to low, and cover with a lid.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- In a large bowl, add the lamb, breadcrumbs, milk, egg, remaining Moroccan spice blend, remaining onions and garlic, and 1 tablespoon of the cilantro. Gently fold the mixture together, making sure not to overwork the meat.
- Using about 2 tablespoons as your size guideline, form the mixture into equal-size meatballs. You’ll end up with approximately 20-24 meatballs that are about 1 inch in diameter.
- Place the meatballs onto a baking sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven.
- Add the meatballs to the sauce and cover the pot. Simmer for an additional 20 minutes.
- Divide the meatballs and sauce among plates. Garnish with the remaining cilantro and serve over rice or couscous, with crusty bread on the side.
- Prep Time: 25 minutes
- Cook Time: 55 minutes
- Category: Meatballs
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Moroccan
Keywords: Moroccan, meatball, lamb, ras el hanout
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Make the Moroccan Spice Blend and Chop the Aromatics
In a small bowl, whisk together the cinnamon, cumin, paprika, coriander, salt, black pepper, sumac, and ginger to make your ras el hanout, if you haven’t done so already.
Dice the onions, mince the garlic, and chop the cilantro.
Step 2 – Make the Spiced Tomato Sauce
Place a large, wide stew pot over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan.
Add half of the onions and half of the minced garlic, and season the alliums with 1 3/4 tablespoons of ras el hanout and 1 tablespoon of the cilantro. Stir to combine.
Saute until very fragrant, about 3 minutes, and then whisk in the tomato paste. Cook for 1 minute, and then pour in the diced tomatoes and their juices. Give everything a stir.
Allow the sauce to come to a gentle simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cover the pot with a lid.
Step 3 – Form the Meatballs
Preheat your oven to 400°F.
Place the ground lamb, breadcrumbs, milk, egg, remaining Moroccan spice blend, remaining onions and garlic, and 1 tablespoon of the cilantro in a large bowl. Gently fold the mixture together, making sure not to overwork the meat.
Using about 2 tablespoons as your size guideline, form the mixture into meatballs of equal size. You’ll end up with approximately 20-24 meatballs that are about 1 inch in diameter.
Lightly coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange the meatballs on the sheet, with a little space in between each.
Do you follow a gluten-free diet? The breadcrumbs in this recipe will be off-limits, but you’ll love our 30-minute gluten-free meatball recipe as a delish substitution!
Step 4 – Bake
Bake until they are golden brown and almost cooked through, with an internal temperature of 145°F – you can check this with a meat thermometer. Rather than baking until they’re done, they’ll finish cooking in the sauce.
Step 5 – Finish the Meatballs in the Sauce and Serve
Add the meatballs to the sauce and cover the pot. Simmer for an additional 20 minutes, until they are cooked through.
Divide the meatballs and sauce among plates. Garnish with the remaining cilantro. I like to serve this lamb entree with rice or couscous (our tutorial for pressure cooker whole wheat couscous is the best!), and with crusty bread on the side.
Spice Things up a Little
You’ve probably had Italian meatballs (P.S. here’s a killer recipe for them) at least a bazillion times. Shake up your standard spice profile, take my hand, and come with me through this Moroccan maze.
Here’s what you’ll find at the end: an addictively fragrant, distinctively perfumed bowl of juicy lamb meatballs that will transport your taste buds to North Africa in one bite.
Don’t ditch the garlic bread, though. It’s still perfect for swiping up every aromatic sauce splatter like a charm.
Roll up your sleeves and raid your cabinet for these other spiced-up ideas:
- Your Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Herbs and Spices
- Spicy Curry Noodles with Tofu and Mushrooms
- Curried Brown Rice and Lentils
Where else do you like to scatter warm spices like cinnamon and cumin? On cornish hens? Chickpeas? Share your savory secrets in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on January 8, 2012. Last updated September 23, 2020.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”