Here’s a recipe for Moroccan Meatballs (Meatballs with Harissa), plus how-to on Harissa, a condiment I’ve loved since I discovered it in—of all places—Quebec.
Can you remember the first time you ever had couscous? I sure can. It was in the early ’80s, at an Algerian restaurant called La Fleur d’Oranger in Quebec city, where I was studying French.
I remember loving the house version of the Near East stew; it came with hearty lamb—still on chunks of bone—plus chick-peas and loads of vegetables, all in a light and spicy tomato sauce. I especially remember being fascinated by the unique, moist and beady texture of the couscous itself. What was this crazy stuff?
What tied it all together for me, however, was the harissa—that condiment of all kinds of herbs and spices and chiles in olive oil. I loved the way it added brightness, heat, depth, and exoticism to everything I dabbed it on. I couldn’t get enough of it.
After my foray to Québec, back home for my senior year at the University of Iowa, my friends and I had a “Sunday night dining club,” where every week one of us would take turns making dinner for each other. It wasn’t a party–it was simply a meal together before we all went our separate ways to study. It was a terrific tradition that bonded us forever; I’m still great friends with all of the people in that group. Ah, the power of good food.
When it was my turn to make dinner, I’d often cook some variation of couscous. Depending on how flush I was, it might be chicken; in leaner weeks, it would be vegetarian. But no matter what, it was cheap and good and satisfying. And it was nothing anyone else knew how to make (this was long before the days of looking recipes up online).
When I moved to Brooklyn after college, couscous was no longer my specialty. If anyone wanted a great couscous, we only had to walk three blocks from our Schermerhorn Street flat to Atlantic Avenue, a hub of Middle Eastern restaurants.
I’m not sure I’ve made couscous since before my Brooklyn days. And right now, far from Brooklyn, I’m sitting here wondering why not. (It would be a perfect recipe for the braiser, now wouldn’t it?)
While I might not make couscous much anymore, I do use and cook with harissa quite often.
What Is Harissa?
Found in Middle Eastern markets, this Tunisian condiment combines hot red pepper flakes and olive oil with dashing flavorings such as garlic, cumin, onions, coriander, and vinegar.
Yes, it’s fiery hot, but it’s deeply, intriguingly flavored, too–no one-note wonder here! In fact, anything Sriracha sauce can do, harissa can do much better.
Where do I find Harissa?
Look for Harissa at well-stocked supermarkets. Sometimes it’s in the condiment aisle, sometimes it’s in the Asian food aisle (go figure). You can also find it on Amazon.
How do I use Harissa?
Put it on the table, as you would Sriracha; however, use a little spoon for serving it. You only dab a tiny bit of harissa onto or into something on you plate, and let it meld into the dish.
A few other ways I use Harissa:
• Use harissa to spice up an aioli: Add a bit to your favorite aioli recipe–and serve it with everything from turkey burgers and grilled vegetables to fish. Yum.
• Use harissa to spice up deviled eggs: Just a dab on the top of your favorite deviled egg recipe. You’ll love the way the lushness of the egg contrasts the heat and spice of the harissa.
• Use harissa in my Moroccan-spiced meatballs recipe. Conveniently, the Super Bowl is coming up….but these will be great on any party appetizer table.
Did I mention that a 1 1/2-quart braiser would be perfect for this recipe? Here’s why: You can take it from stovetop to table. Once on the table, the pan is not only very pretty, but also shallow enough to serve from handily. Plus, the braiser retains heat well. But if they do get cold, whisk them back to the stove for a few minutes and heat them back up.
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1 to 2 tablespoons harissa
- 1 pound frozen, fully-cooked beef or lamb meatballs
- Snipped fresh cilantro or parsley
- In a medium skillet, sauté the onion in hot oil until tender but not brown; add the garlic and cumin and sauté 15 seconds more. Add the tomatoes, harissa, and meatballs; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes or until flavors have melded and meatballs are hot. Sprinkle with snipped fresh cilantro or parsley to serve. Makes around 20 meatballs.
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