The Tajine Virgin Cooks North African Meatballs in Spicy Sauce.

North African Meatballs (12 of 12)There is something pretty exotic sounding in ‘Tajine Virgin’. Visions of fleeting glances at the desired mysterious, shrouded in veils, on the edge of a Souk, conjure up that feeling of raw animal anticipation. The allure tends to fade a bit as one realises that the virgin is in fact a baldy, past middle-aged man, with a penchant for flinging himself in at the culinary deep end at every opportunity. Having said that, I suspect there are few better ways to consummate your culinary coming of age than to cook this version of North African Meatballs in Spicy Sauce.

As one would expect when preparing a virgin dish, one doesn’t want to make things too hot. So, I balanced the warmth of the sauce with a serving of Pearl Couscous with Dates. I will avoid any lurid reference to virgins and dates as I am sensitive to the sensibilities of my readers. There may be some new readers too and I wouldn’t want to scare them off on our first date either. Now, back to the matter in hand, North African Meatballs in Spicy Sauce. The ingredients list is long enough.

For the Meatballs

  • 1 kilo minced round beef 
  • 2 onions
  • 3 teaspoons cumin
  • 5 cm of fresh ginger, minced.
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of chilis flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 small tin of tomato purée
  • 1 egg
  • 1 large handful of panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 large handful of parsley
  • 1 large handful of coriander

For the sauce

  • 1 tin of whole tomatoes 
  • 1 small tin of tomato purée
  • 1 teaspoon of chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 pinch or two of allspice 
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 large handful of parsley
  • 1 large handful of coriander
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the Date Couscous 

  • 400 grams of pearl couscous
  • 16 or so dates
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • A handful of chopped spring onions 

The hardest part of this dish is getting everything together. If, you are like me, you will have the ingredients secreted in various presses and drawers around the kitchen. When you have gathered them all together, start by slicing the onions and adding them to a hot tajine to sweat them down a bit.

North African Meatballs (2 of 12)

I avoid all references to the virgin (previously unused) tajine making the onions sweat.

Next, prepare any spices you are grinding yourself (Not something one expects to catch a virgin doing). I prepared the cumin from seed (no joke here) and ground it, having toasted the seeds in a pan.

North African Meatballs (1 of 12)

A good circular motion ensure the seeds are well dispersed and all the flavour gets released….

Gather all the meatball ingredients together and place them in a large mixer.

North African Meatballs (3 of 12)

Everything on the list above is in the bowl. It saves a lot of manual labour.

Mix the ingredients together until combined. Next, make up your balls, as it were.

North African Meatballs (6 of 12)

15 balls from the ingredients above. They are pretty chunky.

Next add all the ingredients for the sauce into the tajine. There will be no need to have washed it after the onions were cooked. It would be a waste of flavour.

North African Meatballs (4 of 12)

The tomatoes will break down when the heat is applied. They have a lovely colour.

When all the ingredients are added, stir to incorporate and turn on the heat to simmer.

North African Meatballs (5 of 12)

There’s lots to talk about in the sauce ingredients. The turmeric adds lovely earthiness.

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. While this bit of foreplay is going on, it’s time to brown your meat balls. (I could have been very rude here but, I avoided it.)

North African Meatballs (7 of 12)

If I had been better organised, I could have browned them in the tajine. I wasn’t, so I didn’t.

Add the browned balls to the tajine. They might not all fit in. They will if you have a big one. Cover and place in the oven for 30 minutes at 200ºC.

North African Meatballs (9 of 12)

Lovely steamy action going on in the tajine. A virgin no more.

Cook the couscous according to pack instructions and then stir in the other ingredients. Squeeze the lemon juice over and stir again.

North African Meatballs (8 of 12)

The dates add a lovely sweet contrast and the spring onions add a bit of bite.

Gather the diners together and let them witness your coming of age as an experienced tajine cook. You are no longer a virgin.

North African Meatballs (10 of 12)

The spicy sauce and meatballs are sweetened and eased by the lovely date couscous.

There is no going back. You will remember your first time if you cook this delicious take on a classic North African Meatballs. Delicious.

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  • Looks very nice. “Lekker” As we say in Holland.

    • I had to use the translator. It tells me it means “Yummy” That pretty well fits the bill, if you will pardon the boastfulness.
      Thanks for visiting and for commenting.
      Best,
      Conor

  • You are a saucy one: so many ribald puns I could hardly focus on the food. Thanks for cheering up dreary Tuesday morning. And your meatballs look luscious, btw.

    • I have no idea about any of that. I am innocent in this. Virginal, one might say…

  • For a, “virgin” you put on quite a show. That looks amazing. All of my favorites:dates, cumin, and great kitchen gadgets – tajine, mortar/pestle

    Lovely photography and clear descriptions as always.

    • You are trying to get me going, mentioning virgins putting on shows and all that. The mind boggles!

  • Thank you for making me laugh on a dreary Tuesday! I fear though I may have read smutty puns even in the most innocent of sentences here.
    The meatballs look delicious. A lot of recipes I read for North African dishes are sadly lacking in flavour but I suspect this has the perfect complexity of spices.

    • Donna,
      If I manage to bring mirth to an attractive young thing like yourself, I have succeeded. It must be inadvertent though. Because I have no idea what you are reading into my innocent ramblings.
      Best as always,
      Conor

      • You’re making me blush now Conor! I have to re-read your post now with an innocent mindset 🙂

  • I’ve never considered cooking meatballs in the tagine. It’s always been lamb chunks, gussied up with dates or apricots or raisins. Being GF, I use quinoa instead of couscous (although now you can actually get a GF version I haven’t tried yet), and it’s all spiced with ras-al-hanout. I shall have to try this as a change for my north African hit!

    • Happy Oz Day,
      I mused about the ras-al-hanout. I am tempted to make up some of my own. I have an aversion to pre-mixed spices. The home made are always so much better. However, I also have an income to earn and perhaps this may be a spice too far. Delighted there is a suitable work-around for you. I have a couple of recipes coming that will be well within your dietary restrictions. All good international fun. BTW. That Cloth of Heaven is fantastic. Keep up the great works.
      Conor

      • Ras-al-hanout is one of my favourites; I love the combination of cinnamon and cumin with a little heat. But with just the two of us I simply don’t get through it fast enough to warrant making my own, although I agree that freshly made is infinitely superior. I thank you for the meatball inspiration – mine are *always* pork with fennel and chilli, perhaps it’s time for a change!

  • Excellent – I’m very tempted to cook something like that this evening now 🙂

    • Hi MD,
      This is the sort of stuff that is second nature to you. There is still a bit of ceremony about it for me. If I do more of it, there will be less of it, if you know what I mean.
      Best,
      C

      • Now you’ve lost your virginity you’ll be at it all the time 🙂

  • Another winner from the baldy, past middle age chef!

    • I appreciate your removing some of your normal formality. I have to admit I am at the age where lots of people call me “Sir”. I am more comfortable with PMAC – so much more descriptive.
      Best,
      Conor

  • We do seem to have the very same tajine. As opposed to a tajine virgin, I am a complete tajine slut. Although it’s difficult here to find ingredients for the generic food of England ( Indian, Chinese, Thai for example) the flavours, ingredients and spices for tajines are ubiquitous.

    • Those English generics have made their way across the Irish Sea too. They reside here with the Mexican, Spanish, French, Greek and a raft of other ethnicities (It seems obscene to use the word raft in the same sentence as ethnicity). Thanks be to goodness for their arrival as our traditional Irish fare is pretty limited. I have found the French to be slow to adopt the foods of the world (bar KFC and McD’s which seem to occupy pride of place beside each and every roundabout in the country).

  • Your balls look great, Conor. Despite (or because of) the unconoresquely long list of ingredients.

    • Stefan, Only you could get away with such a complement!
      Best to you and Kees,
      C

  • Good job. Finishing the meatballs in the sauce reall adds some body. Must be a great dish for the season in your part of the world ☺

    • Thanks Adam. Yes, it is. It almost makes it worth enduring the wind, rain and pestilence.

  • I had to laugh at Stefan’s comment. You are right, only someone like him could get away with that handily. 😀 That being said, I’ve been on a meatball/croquette kick here lately. I think I’ve found one more to add to the repertoire, I love all the spices in this! Although I don’t own a tajine (virgin or otherwise), I’m sure a Dutch oven could be used.

    • You could borrow Stefan’s!

      • Is it a sign that Conor finally went too far with this post if I admit that a Dutch oven sounds absolutely filthy to me?

        • I don’t know what you are talking about!

  • Absolutely puntastic, Conor. Tasty too. But I think you might be wrong about the audience for baldy past-middle aged virgins. Don’t know about you, but I’m seeing a screenplay here.

  • I recently cooked Moroccan food myself and I know I’d enjoy your meal. I’ll definitely have to try adding dates to the couscous next time round.

    • Hi Karen,
      It is a lovely foil for the spicy flavours in the meatballs and sauce. Well worth trying.

  • This is some dish, Conor. Makes me wish I had put more thought into tonight’s dinner. Things would be so much easier it I had a tajine — not to mention a virgin or two.

    • Thanks John. You are virgin’ on the verge….

  • As a meatball tagine virgin, on the ridiculous, I really enjoyed making this today and the couscous was an eye-opener. I am lining up a goat tagine for next time, camel not being available locally. Incidentally I like your liberal use of large handfuls of ingredients, no doubt to encourage virgins to leap right in, throw caution to the wind and to hell with the consequences.

    • The goat tajine appeals to me too. I have great difficulty in getting goat here in Ireland. My brother who lives in Dar es Salaam has no such issues. The handfuls approach has served me well. My mother, now 85 has always made bread this way. The brown loaf she makes is delicious. However, there is no recipe apart from a handful of this, a few handfuls of that and a pinch or two of the other. Great stuff.

  • Saucy. Spicy. Slightly smutty. I like it. And the recipe sounds good, too. 😉

    • Thanks Lisa. It’s how I roll!

      • Yes, and you do it so well. That’s why I follow your blog. 🙂

  • I love the way you took care to balance the spicy and sweet while preserving the dish’s authenticity. Plus, I just adore dates!

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