Spicy Moroccan meatballs with butternut squash and tomato sauce, lemon couscous

photoWhile this is not exactly an authentic Moroccan dish, the flavors and spirit of the food we had in Marrakech are there, from the harissa spiced meatballs and sauce, to the lemony couscous, and even the butternut squash, which we were rather surprised to find in one of the several tagines we tried. Even the yogurt, which is the secret ingredient that makes these meatballs so moist and tender, is something that reminds us of our stay in the Riad Lorsya, where we were served yogurt every morning at breakfast.photo(2)

This is an easy, fast meal to pull together, especially if you make the meatballs ahead. The meatballs freeze and reheat beautifully, losing none of their moistness or flavor. I have not tried making this with lamb, but I’m sure it would be equally delicious.

If you’ve never used harissa, it’s a common flavoring in Moroccan cooking. It comes in a tube, like tomato paste (or at least that’s how I have found it). Note: this recipe makes a lightly spicy meatball, but a VERY spicy sauce. Cut back on the harissa in either one if you don’t care for heat.

For the meatballs

  • 1 1/4 lb ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 T harissa
  • 2 T chopped parsley
  • 2 finely minced scallions
  • three-finger pinch of kosher salt
  • few turns of cracked black pepper

photo(3)Preheat oven to 400°.

Add all of the above ingredients to a large bowl, waiting until you have added everything before you start mixing, very gently, with clean hands. Mix just enough until you no longer see streaks of the yogurt or harissa. Form mixture into ping-pong-ball-size meatballs (I use a spring-release tablespoon scoop, which makes life really easy) and place onto a parchment-lined half sheet pan. You should get about 36-40 meatballs.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until just lightly browned and cooked through with no pink. Remove from oven and add to sauce (below), or if not using right away, let cool on pan for about 15 minutes, then refrigerate for up to 1 day, or freeze to use later.

For the sauce

  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed & chopped
  • 2 T harissa
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • about a 1/2 cup of chicken stock (or water)
  • 1 cup roasted butternut cubes *
  • 16 oz crushed tomatoes

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat; when hot, add bell pepper and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes until softened, and then add the harissa and spices, stirring to mix with the vegetables and cook for another minute or two. Add the chicken stock/water, bring to a simmer, and then add the butternut and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer again and cook for 5-10 minutes. Can be held longer before eating, but turn down to very low to just keep it at a low simmer, checking occasionally to be sure it doesn’t stick, until you’re ready to serve it.

Serve with couscous (below), which can be made while the sauce simmers. A nice accompaniment to the meal is some plain yogurt, with or without a little lemon zest and juice added.

*I used butternut I had roasted previously: half a butternut, peeled & seeded, drizzled with olive oil, salt & pepper, roasted at 400° for 30-45 minutes until fork tender, then cubed. If you want to cook the butternut in the sauce, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and add to pan before peppers, cooking about 10-15 minutes until slightly softened; continue with rest of recipe. You may need to cook a bit longer with the tomatoes to be sure the butternut is tender.

photo(1)For the couscous

  • 1 cup chicken stock (or water)
  • 1 cup couscous
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley

In a saucepan, bring stock or water to a boil. Add couscous, cover and remove from heat; allow to sit for 4-5 minutes. Add lemon & chopped parsley to pan, and fluff/mix with a fork.

5 thoughts on “Spicy Moroccan meatballs with butternut squash and tomato sauce, lemon couscous

  1. This looks brilliant! Can’t wait to try. I’ve had a few Moroccan wines, and they’re very earthy and spicy, I think a Sonoma coastal Syrah would be a great substitute and go great with this dish, I might try the Trader Joe’s whole wheat Cous Cous as well! Thanks for this!

  2. Thanks! I will definitely be making this again, it was really tasty. I had a Cotes du Rhone with it that worked well, but I do think a single varietal Syrah/Shiraz would go very well. When we were in Morocco we couldn’t get enough of the local rose wines, so nice with seafood and lighter dishes!

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