Today’s recipe for beef meatballs is an exciting North African spin on meatballs. Unlike the Italian version, this meatballs recipe is egg, breadcrumb, and dairy free. Instead, the meatballs are infused with zesty garlic, sweet shallots, and bright cilantro before being browned and nestled in a spicy coconut cream sauce.
If you love meatballs but are feeling a bit bored with the old “spaghetti and meatballs” routine, these spicy beef meatballs are just what you need. The recipe is super easy to make and is a great way to get acquainted with North African cuisine.
You can make this recipe with either beef or pork. Personally, though, I think the secret is in the sauce. Deeply flavorful spice blends Garam Masala and Moroccan Harissa (Chili Paste) team up with sauteed shallots and silky smooth coconut milk to make a sauce that is a total magic carpet ride. These are not your grandmother’s meatballs!
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Shallots - Cousins of the onion, shallots are milder and add a slightly sharp, slightly sweet taste. Onions can be used in their place if necessary.
- Garlic - Brings sharp, pungent, and zesty flavor to the meatballs and the sauce.
- Meat - This recipe can be made with either ground beef or ground pork. If you are sticking to beef meatballs, I recommend using ground chuck. Its higher fat content helps the meatballs keep their shape.
- Garam Masala - This classic aromatic spice blend brings a sweet earthiness and warmth to the mix.
- Cilantro - Adds a bright and peppery pop of freshness.
- Salt & Pepper - This dynamic duo enhances the entire flavor profile.
- Oil - A high quality vegetable oil is needed to brown the meat.
- Harissa Paste - This spicy red chili paste made from chili peppers, bell peppers, and paprika delivers a nice dose of heat.
- Coconut Milk - Adds volume and just the right amount of creamy richness to the sauce.
HOW TO MAKE BEEF MEATBALLS
- Mix the Meat. In a large bowl, mix the ground meat, half the shallots, half the garlic, ½ cup cilantro, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and pepper together until just combined. Divide evenly into 12 portions and roll into balls.
- Brown the Meatballs. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons of oil. Cook the meatballs for about 6-8 minutes, turning occasionally, until brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Saute the Shallots. Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the remaining shallots and garlic and saute, stirring often, for about 2 minutes or until the garlic has softened. Then, stir in the harissa paste, coconut milk, and ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer for about 6-8 minutes or until slightly thickened.
- Add Meatballs to the Sauce. Carefully nestle each meatball into the sauce mixture, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover, turn the meatballs over, and cook for another 8-10 minutes, occasionally spooning the sauce over the balls. You want the sauce to reach the consistency of marinara.
- Serve with Rice. Serve your meatballs with steamed rice and plenty of sauce. Scatter freshly chopped cilantro on top and enjoy.
Do Beef Meatballs Have to Be Cooked All The Way Through?
Make sure that your meatballs get browned on all sides before going in the sauce to lock in the flavor and kick start the cooking process. The meatballs are then transferred to simmer in the sauce, where they will finish cooking. They are safe to eat when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. If you don’t have a meat thermometer on hand, simply cut open one of the meatballs and check for doneness.
Why Are My Beef Meatballs Falling Apart?
Since this spicy Tunisian meatballs recipe is free from breadcrumbs, eggs, and dairy, you may worry about your meatballs falling apart. No worries — a few simple tricks will help keep the operation together!
First of all, keep the meat as cold as possible throughout the process. The refrigerator is your friend here. This helps keep the fats solid, which helps hold the meatballs together. For the same reason, work quickly when forming the meatballs, periodically dipping your hands in cold water as you work. Be sure to make well-formed, tightly-packed balls.
Simmering the beef meatballs for too long in the sauce is another way to end up with mushy meatballs, so keep an eye on your timer.
What Should I Serve With Beef Meatballs?
These spicy Tunisian meatballs make a great potluck appetizer by themselves and also make a deliciously satisfying meal. I recommend serving them on top of steamed rice, quinoa, couscous, or even mashed potatoes. For side dishes, I like to pair them with a garden salad or a chilled salad like this Chilled Moroccan Carrot Salad.
Spicy Tunisian Beef Meatballs Recipe
- 2 medium shallots diced
- 4 cloves garlic diced
- 1 lb ground beef or pork
- 1 tsp. garam masala
- ½ cup cilantro, finely chopped plus leaves for garnish
- 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt divided
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoon vegetable oil divided
- ⅓ cup harissa paste (See Note 1)
- 13.5 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
- Combine ground meat, garam masala, half of the shallots, half of the garlic, ½ cup cilantro, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper in a large bowl. Mix until just combined. Divide and roll into 12 balls.
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Cook meatballs, turning occasionally, until browned all over, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
- Reduce heat to medium. Saute remaining shallots and garlic with remaining 2 tablespoons oil in skillet, stirring often, until garlic is softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in harissa paste, coconut milk, and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and cook until slightly thickened, 6–8 minutes.
- Nestle meatballs into sauce; cover and cook 10 minutes. Turn meatballs over; cook, uncovered, occasionally spooning sauce over, until sauce is about the consistency of marinara, 8–10 minutes.
- Serve meatballs over steamed rice topped with the sauce. Scatter cilantro leaves over.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.