Oh I do love a meatball. Pork, beef, lamb, whatever, it's all good by me. I started making these little beauties more than a few years ago when I got bored of my spaghetti&meatballs and since then they have evolved into this recipe I have dubbed Moroccan Meatballs. What makes a meatball Moroccan, I hear you ask? Well really it's all a matter of opinion, however, my reasoning for it is the combination of ingredients you would associate with that part of the world. My first thought is always a lamb tagine, which I do adore, but it involves hours of slow cooking in order to achieve the desired effect. Meatballs are speedy, make them from Lamb, bingo, they're Moroccan! Not convinced? Okay, there's also the inclusion of courgette and lentils (I often throw in an aubergine too) which scream Moroccan to me. Then there's the couscous. What's more Moroccan than those fluffy, uber-mini balls of wheat. Added extras complete the look, or rather taste, including dried apricots (they love adding fruit to savoury food, don't they?) and spices. The spices I use for this change periodically depending on what's in my cupboard but my current favourite is Bart's Ras El Hanout, which has that sweet, aromatic pungency that suits this dish so well. In the past I've also used Bart's Harissa paste and even made my own using cumin, cinnamon and chilli but it's the inclusion of those rose petals that make the Ras El Hanout a perfect match for these meatballs.
I'm not really bothered how authentic these are but what I am bothered about is how good they taste and the taste is present. Believe me. Everyone likes to switch it up during the week and by that I'm referring to carbs. We usually do pasta, potato and rice an equal two times, couscous once and shock, horror, a carb free night. So, this is a great way to make that couscous night a little more interesting. I enourage you to do the same, you have my assurance that you'll not be disappointed.
for the meatballs:
250g mince lamb
1 slice bread
3 cloves garlic
2 tsp Bart's ras el hanout
salt and pepper
for the sauce:
100g piu lentils
1 chicken stock cube
2 bay leaves
for the couscous:
4 dried apricots
3 spring onions
salt and pepper
tsp white wine vinegar
tsp olive oil
Right, I know that looks like a lot of ingredients and it is but this recipe really couldn't be easier so please bear with me. First thing to do is the meatballs. Make breadcrumbs by either blitzing or hand chopping as finely as you can. Put minced lamb, egg, breadcrumbs and seasoning in a bowl and mix. Then add the minced garlic, ras el hanout and combine thoroughly. Use a tablespoon to scoop out of the meat and roll it between your hands to create up to 10 perfectly shaped meatballs. Set in fridge until you need them.
Cook lentils in a saucepan. I use 1 part lentils to 2 parts water and simmer for 25 mins. Whilst they are cooking, heat butter and oil in a frying pan and add onion, carrot, seasoning and more ras el hanout but this is purely optional. If you are using an aubergine chop into small pieces and add now before the courgette. When they have softened add the sliced courgette - make sure they are sliced fairly thickly - and cook for several minutes. For the chicken stock, it's up to you, there are some great stocks available now but I still like a cube. I crumble it over the veg and top up with boiled water from a kettle. Stir to dissolve the stock cube, pop in the bay leaves and simmer for 10 mins.
Place the meatballs in the pan with the veg. It will be pretty snug in there but don't worry they will cook. Turn the balls after a few minutes to colour on the other side. By this time the lentils will done. Drain them and along with the sliced mushrooms add to the pan. Stir and cook for a further 15-20 mins. The meatballs really don't take long.
During the final cooking minutes of the meatballs you can get on with the couscous. Put couscous in a bowl. I use one part couscous to one part boiled water. Pour water over couscous and cover with a plate for up to 8 mins until the couscous has soaked up all the liquid. Chop apricots into tiny pieces (I like them tiny, you may like them not so). Ditto spring onion. Fluff couscous with a fork, season, add apricot, spring onion and mix. Make dressing using juice 1/2 lemon, honey, vinegar and oil and coat couscous.
This must be served in a bowl. Okay, if you don't have a bowl you can use a plate, if you must. But be warned it tastes better in a bowl. Heap couscous on one side and meatballs on the other. Spoon and fork required for eating.
p.s. another great way of cooking the meatballs would be to coat them in the ras el hanout and either bake them in the oven or fry in a separate frying pan before adding to the sauce.