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Moroccan Spiced Lamb-and-Rice Meatballs

When Anissa Helou first came across the recipe for this variation on a common Moroccan tagine, or stew, she questioned whether the raw rice in the meatballs would cook fully. It does. Any grains that fall out give the saffron-infused broth a lovely richness.

slideshow More Amazing Lamb Recipes

  • Total Time:
  • Servings: 6

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  • 1/2 cup medium-grain rice, such as arborio
  • 2 medium onions, 1 quartered and 1 thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, plus 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon ras el hanout (optional; see Note)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground lamb
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


  1. In a small bowl, soak the rice in water for 15 minutes. Drain in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cold water until the water runs clear. Drain well.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the quartered onion with the cup of cilantro leaves and the mint, cumin, paprika, allspice, cayenne, ras el hanout;and 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt until pureed. Scrape the puree into a large bowl and mix in the ground lamb and rice.
  3. Line a large baking sheet with plastic wrap. Using lightly moistened hands, roll rounded tablespoons of the meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls and transfer them to the baking sheet.
  4. Pour the 4 1/2 cups of water into a large, deep skillet. Add the sliced onion, butter, parsley, crushed red pepper and saffron to the skillet and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the meatballs; they will not fit in a single layer. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook over moderately low heat until the meatballs are cooked and the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Stir gently once or twice halfway through.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a large platter. Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl and skim off as much fat as possible. Return the cooking liquid to the skillet and boil over high heat until thickened, about 10 minutes.
  6. Return the meatballs to the sauce and simmer over moderate heat until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chopped cilantro and the lemon juice, season with salt and serve.

Make Ahead

The meatballs can be refrigerated in their sauce overnight.


Ras el hanout, a Moroccan blend of up to 30 spices, including ginger, anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, peppercorns and cloves, is available at Middle Eastern markets.

Serve With

Pita bread.

Suggested Pairing

Although a red is the usual partner to lamb, the Middle Eastern spices here make this dish more compatible with an aromatic, equally spicy Rhône white.

Contributed By Published March 2004

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