Lisa’s Letters Home: North African Meatballs with Cous Cous

Lisa’s Letters Home: North African Meatballs with Cous Cous

Most meals I make are cooked in one pot because a) they are great time savers and b) I hate doing the dishes. I puffy heart love my slow cooker and use it at least once a week, and I’ve gained adoration for my pressure cooker (even though it still scares me a little). In the winter when I have a bit of extra time, I cook meals in a dutch oven, slow and on low heat for several hours. This week though, my one pot wonder is done on the stove top.

I bookmarked this recipe for North African meatballs ages ago and finally got round to trying it this week. I’m not entirely sure what’s North African about it (apart from the couscous) but it was damn tasty, even the next day. This dish is flavourful, delicately spiced, but quite simple. The lemon zest and coriander give it a freshness, and the cinnamon gives it a slightly earthy flavour without being weird.


The kids absolutely loved them too, although apparently olives are only acceptable as a food item when served cold or at room temperature. Fine, more olives for me then. Also, my youngest was confused about the absence of spaghetti, because meatballs always come on top of a pile of pasta.

Technically, this is actually not a one pot meal. Sorry about that. You’ll need two pans and another dish of some sort for the couscous. On the plus side, the couscous doesn’t involve any cooking. I’m counting this as a one pot meal because you could fry off the meatballs first then cook the sauce in the same pan afterwards, as you would for a pasta sauce. I didn’t do this only because it saves a little time, so my pot tally was actually two. Whew, I feel better for coming clean about this now.

This is a pretty quick dish to put together; I actually managed to do this one after work with no preparation ahead of time. I fried off the meatballs while the sauce simmered, and did the couscous just at the end before the meatballs and sauce were ready. All totalled from start to finish, it took me less than 45 minutes. That counts as fast food around here.

I didn’t add dates to the couscous as the original recipe suggests, or any other dried fruit for that matter as I didn’t have any in the house. The kids probably would have been okay with sultanas (green raisins) in the couscous or maybe dried apricots, though. I’ve not included a couscous recipe here – just follow the instructions on the package and you’re good to go. I tend to use hot chicken stock instead of boiled water, just to add a little more flavour.

North African Meatballs with Couscous

(Serves 4)

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lemon, zested*
1/2 cup pitted olives
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 can of tomatoes
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
Pinch ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper

For the Meatballs:

1 egg
2 tablespoons tomato paste/tomato puree
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander/cilantro
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch ground cinnamon
500g / 3/4 pound ground beef
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons oil
Chopped coriander, to garnish


First, make the sauce. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and fry the onion and garlic for a couple of minutes until soft. Add the white wine, bring it to the boil, and let it reduce for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the stock, tomatoes, sugar, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, lemon zest, and olives, and simmer gently for about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

While the sauce is simmering, make the meatballs. In a medium bowl, add the beef, egg, tomato paste, coriander, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and pepper, and mix with a fork until well blended. (I find using a fork helps you avoid mushy meatballs, as it keeps the beef a little more “intact.”) Roll into small meatballs, about 1-inch in diameter.

In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat, and brown the meatballs in batches until golden on all sides. Transfer the meatballs to the pan with the sauce and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. During the last 10 minutes, prepare your couscous according to the package’s directions.

Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve the meatballs over the couscous. *I hate waste, so I squeezed the juice of the lemon I zested over the couscous.

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1 Comment

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