Moroccan Meatballs with Couscous and Saffron Harissa Sauce

Circle B Kitchen

First of all, I must encourage you to not freak out.  Yes, that is a very long ingredient list, but it's all so do-able.  Most of this stuff you probably already have in your pantry, except possibly the saffron and Harissa.  If you can find it in your heart to spring for these two ingredients, you will be well rewarded.  Oh my heavens, this is a very special, flavorful, festive dish and possibly the best meatballs I've had.  Still, I did some major tweaking to the original recipe, which was delicious, but in my humble opinion, the sauce needed a bit of help.  I used the yogurt to add some body and the Harissa for a lovely flavor punch.  If you've not had Harissa, you're in for a treat.   It's basically a sauce of roasted red peppers and spices and is ever so delicious.  If you like spice, it can be spicy, but if you're preferring less spice, it comes in a mild version that's dialed back on the heat but retains its earthy spiciness.

Recipe Adapted from David Tanis, NY Times

For the Sauce…

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 and 1/2 cups finely diced onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 inch piece cinnamon stick
Large pinch saffron, crumbled
Salt and pepper
3 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons Harissa

For the Meatballs
(I got out a small bowl and measured all of the spices into it and then stirred it well before adding it to the meatball mixture for even distribution)

1 and 1/2 cups cubed day ­old firm white bread
1 cup milk
1 pound ground beef, turkey or lamb
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons finely chopped scallion
All­ purpose flour, for dusting
Olive oil or vegetable oil

For the Couscous

1 cup couscous
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water to soften, then drained (optional)
Salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preparation

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a wide, heavy bottomed saucepan. Add onion and

cook without browning until softened, about 5-6 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, cinnamon and saffron, and stir well to incorporate. Season generously with salt and pepper, and allow to sizzle for 1 minute more. Add broth and simmer gently for 5 minutes. May be made several hours in advance, up to a day.

Put bread cubes and milk in a small bowl. Leave bread to soak until softened, about 5 minutes, then squeeze dry.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg and add add salt, pepper, garlic, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, paprika, cayenne, cloves, coriander and cumin. Mix well to distribute seasoning. Add 2 tablespoons each of parsley, cilantro and scallion, stir well and then add squeezed-out bread and the ground meat.  Use your hands to mix it all really well.  This may be prepared several hours in advance, up to a day.

With your hands, roll mixture into small round balls, a little smaller than a golf ball.  You should get about 25 or so.  Dip each ball into a bowl of flour, shaking off the excess. 

Heat a few tablespoons of oil, or a quarter-inch depth, over medium-high heat and fry meatballs until barely browned, about 2 minutes per side and set on a rack over a baking sheet while you finish the rest.  

Place the meatballs in the sauce and simmer, partially covered over medium low heat for about 20 to 25 minutes. 

Remove the meatballs from the sauce and keep warm. Let the sauce cool for a few minutes.  meanwhile, stir together the yogurt and Harissa.  When the sauce has cooled somewhat, whisk the yogurt mixture into the sauce until well combined.  Return the meatballs to the pan and warm through.

Cook the couscous according to package directions, fluff gently and stir in butter and raisins. Season with salt and cinnamon, and toss well.

Serve the meatballs over the couscous and pour some of the sauce over the meatballs.  Garnish meatballs with remaining parsley, cilantro and scallion.  Place the remaining sauce in a pitcher to pass at the table.