I was a precocious 13-year old, and looked the part. So, I was able to lie about my age, and get a job. The work wasn’t exciting, but It allowed me to save a lot of money (at least it seemed like a lot at the time). These savings became my ticket to see the world when I turned 18.
My parents thought they would never see me again. Given that this was before internet and cell phones, and a monthly post card was all they could expect, their worries were well placed. But I surprised them and returned six months later – in one piece but with a new view of the world and of food.
What does all this have to do with kefta?? During my travels, while wandering Tangiers, I experienced Moroccan food — at the time, the taste extravaganza of my life. One of those taste treats was Moroccan kefta in tomato sauce. The dish sounds simple — almost boring, but it isn’t boring – just simple.
I think simple is a hallmark of Moroccan food — blends of simple ingredients, but in magical combinations. This dish is a great example – tomatoes, onions, two fresh herbs, meat and a bit of spice. So simple; so elegant.
These meatballs are not pan- fried per usual but cooked by simmering in the sauce. While this skips the important carmelizing you get from pan frying, simmering in the sauce also contributes flavor. While pan-frying creates flavorful aromatics from the carbohydrates in the meat, simmering the meatballs extracts meat flavors into the sauce by a different mechanism — similar to making stock. So, it is a bit of a wash with respect to flavor. And cooking in the sauce is so easy.
In Marrakech, I’ve had this dish with couscous and served in a casserole with eggs poached on top. It also works well with Israeli couscous (large grain couscous). Best of all, it can be on the table within an hour of your start time.
Kefta in Tomato Sauce
Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC
Servings: 10 appetizer portions
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, large, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
44 ounces tomatoes, canned, diced, or fresh in summer
1/2 cup parsley, fresh, chopped or snipped
1/4 cup cilantro, fresh, chopped or snipped
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon saffron
1 onion, small, finely minced
1/2 cup parsley, fresh, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, fresh, chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 pounds beef, ground
1/4 cup cilantro, fresh, chopped, for garnish
1 lemon, slice, for garnish
1. Melt butter in Dutch oven. Add chopped onion and sweat. Add garlic, minced, and stir a few minutes until cooked.
2. Add to onion mixtures: tomatoes (with juice), parsley (1/2 cup), cilantro (1/4 cup), cayenne, salt (1 t), cumin (1 t), black pepper (1/2 t), paprika and saffron. Simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes.
3. While sauce is simmering, combine finely minced onion (1 small or 1/2 large), parsley (1/2 cup), cilantro (1/4 cup), salt (3/4 t), cumin (3/4 t), cinnamon (1/2 t), black pepper (1/2 t) for meatballs. Mix ingredients. Add ground beef and combine thoroughly. Shape into small meatballs. A small (one ounce) ice cream scoop is handy for this.
4. Drop one layer of meatballs gently into sauce. Simmer about 5 minutes or until beginning to firm. Stir gently. Add remaining meatballs. Again, simmer 5 minutes and stir. Cook meatballs about 10 minutes more or until cooked through.
5. Serve meatballs with a bit of sauce and sprinkle a bit of cilantro on top for a garnish. A slice of lemon also looks nice and complements the flavors.
If you do not want to purchase saffron or cannot find it, the dish works well without. However, the saffron does add a subtle and complex flavor to the dish.