Kafta fil Tagine (Moroccan Spiced Meatball Tagine)


I have a really hard time following recipes.  I get distracted, I estimate, and I improvise. I came across this recipe for Moroccan Meatballs on Leites Culinaria. Nothing was going to stop me from making this dish. It looked and sounded delicious. I also have a slight obsession with using my tagine. I have made and shared quite a few recipes on midEATS, including Chicken with Preserved Lemons, Beef Tagine with Sweet Potatoes, and Shakshouka. Kafta is a main staple in Egyptian cooking, but this recipe called for an entirely new flavor profile that I had never added to my meat before.  And the saffron water? Amazing addition.

I promised myself I would follow Paula Wolfert’s recipe to the T.  She is after all, the expert on Moroccan cuisine.  Despite my pulling out my measuring spoons, and mixing bowls, I got distracted. And I mean super distracted.  I was making the kafta in the food processor and it wasn’t binding.  Instead, it was quite flaky. I added an egg yolk.  Awesome – problem solved.

Measured Spices and Saffron Water

I then was worried about poaching the meatballs with egg as a binder. Would the egg cook entirely? I don’t want my kids getting sick off my kafta. So I consulted Dr. Google.  What is this I found? A recipe using tomato sauce and peas in the tagine?!  The Egyptian in me could not resist. Tomato sauce cannot be added to enough dishes.  I wondered if I would mess up the flavor profile by adding tomato sauce. I found all sorts of kafta tagine recipes, many included adding eggs to the tomato sauce to simmer alongside the beef. STOP! I forced myself to stop the madness.  My simple Paula Wolfert meatball dish was quickly about to turn into a complicated dish that I wasnt intending to make.


I decided to only stray off her recipe by adding the tomato sauce and peas to the dish.  I figured dear Paula wouldn’t be too offended by these changes  🙂  The result: pure heaven. The house not only smelled amazing, but my kids couldn’t wait for them to cool off to eat them fast enough.  The meatballs were perfectly spiced, a little fiery, but nothing the family couldn’t handle.  The saffron water definitely elevated the dish from a simple tomato sauce to an exotic Moroccan dish.  And the peas – these didn’t hurt anyone but didn’t add anything to the dish-just basically a simple way to sneak some veggies into the dish.  Maybe baby new potatoes next time? with the eggs too? Will have to try this…There I go again…improvising!

Thank you, Morocco, for once again introducing me to an amazing spice combination that will surely become a staple in our house!

Kafta fil Tagine (Moroccan Spiced Meatball Tagine)

by Brenda

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Keywords: Tagine saute entree gluten-free ground beef tomato sauce ramadan Mediterranean Moroccan

Ingredients (serves 4)

For the Saffron Water:

  • 1/8 tsp crumbled saffron strands
  • 1/2 cup hot water

For the Kafta:

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon, preferably Ceylon
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • Salt and pepper

For the Sauce:

  • 1 medium red onion, grated
  • 2 tbsp of grass fed ghee
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste1
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup saffron water
  • 3/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup frozen organic sweet peas


For the saffron water: In a small cup, add 1/2 cup of hot water. Let the saffron water steep until the water turns a light orangey-red color. Strain the saffron threads out, and set the water aside.

For the kafta: In the food processor, combine all of the kafta ingredients. Pulse until everything has mixed together evenly. It should have the texture of a thick paste.

Roll the kafta into ping-pong size balls. Set aside.

For the sauce: Heat 1-2 tbsp of pure grass-fed ghee into the bottom of a heat-safe tagine. Once the ghee has melted, add the diced onion and sauté. Add the kafta balls and sauté until a nice color develops on the balls.

Add the ginger, turmeric, cumin, paprika and salt. Stir and coat the meatballs with the spice mixture.

Add the saffron water and simmer gently. Let the water absorb into the meatballs. Add the tomato sauce, the remaining saffron water, a pinch of salt, and the frozen peas.

Reduce heat and cover the tagine. Let cook for 15 minutes. Prior to serving, add freshly chopped parsley and cilantro. ENJOY!

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  1. I posted this recipe on my site too! Isn’t it simply delicious? I was going to cook it for my family this weekend, but now I will keep your recipe in mind moving forward. Will def link my readers back to your version! Bisous!

    • I don’t see why not! Chicken tends to be a bit dry, so you may want to feel it out to make sure the meatballs are moist. The egg should help. Let us know if you try it!

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