This dish was my husband John's favorite by far on our trip to Morocco. He ate 34 mini meatballs in one tagine the first night he ordered it. You may omit the eggs but it is traditionally served with the eggs soft poached for mixing in as you eat. John added couscous to his, or flat bread is also a fine accompaniment, but the dish can easily stand-alone and it is a stand out.
Ras el Hanout means head of the shop and is a spice mix that can be found on-line and in many larger markets. It may contain as many as 100 spices and as few as 10. I make a base substitute from spices I have on hand in my own pantry. I make batches of about 1/3 cup then I can keep on hand for several recipes before I need to make more.
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Meatballs and Eggs:
- 1 pound ground lamb or beef
- 2 slices good quality stale bread, crusts removed, processed into fresh bread crumbs
- 5 eggs, 1 for meatballs, 4 for poaching and serving, optional
- 1 medium onion, 1/4 onion grated and juiced, 3/4 onion, chopped
- 4 large cloves garlic, 2 minced or pasted, 2 sliced
- 1 small handful fresh mint leaves, leaves picked and finely chopped
- Pinch ground cinnamon
- Few grates nutmeg
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for liberal drizzling
- 1 small zucchini, sliced on an angle or chopped
- 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon Spice Blend or Ras el hanout
- 1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas
- A handful cilantro, leaves picked and chopped
- Serving suggestion: Whole wheat couscous or buttered warm flatbread.
Cook's Note: 1 egg only is required for meatballs; the 4 additional eggs are to poach in sauce before serving which is optional.
To make the spice blend: Combine the cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, nutmeg cinnamon , cardamom, allspice, cayenne pepper, and ground cloves and store in an airtight container away from heat for up to several months.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Arrange a wire cooling rack over a large baking sheet and place near a large mixing bowl. Place a bowl of warm water nearby.
In the large mixing bowl, combine the meat, bread crumbs, 1 egg lightly beaten, 2 to 3 tablespoons grated onion and juice, 2 cloves minced garlic, mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and a liberal drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, about 2 tablespoons. Roll the meat into walnut-size balls with dampened hands (use the bowl of warm water) and arrange the meatballs on the wire rack set over baking tray. Roast the meatballs until cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat more extra-virgin olive oil, a turn of the pan, in a Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion to the pan with the sliced garlic, and zucchini. Cook 7 to 8 minutes, then add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, honey, and spice blend, and bring to a bubble. Drain the chickpeas and stir into the sauce. Remove the meatballs from the oven and slide into the sauce. Cool completely and store for make-ahead meal.
To serve, reheat the meatballs in the sauce. Use about 1 cup water to loosen up the sauce, if necessary. Make 4 wells in the sauce and drop in the 4 freshly cracked eggs. Cover the pot and simmer to poach to desired doneness. Scoop the meal into shallow bowls and stir the egg into the meatballs and sauce as you eat.