Meatballs with Celery and Saffron

Along with skhina, tagine of meatballs with celery is a chabbat dish. Its origins take us to Tangiers, a city in northern Morocco which hosted some of the first Jewish settlers due to its proximity to Spain. Even though the number of Jews dwindled over the years, it still has many of their landmarks including various synagogues and cemeteries.

A Jewish last name once popular in the northern regions is Azencot. In fact, the neighborhood where I spent a great part of my childhood in my beloved city of origin, Oujda, is still named Azencot to this very day. Tangierian Judaism was immortalized by Eugène Delacroix who, during a trip to Tangiers, painted a Jewish bride in a painting titled Mariée juive de Tanger, and a Jewish wedding in Noce juive au Maroc. Both paintings are displayed in the Louvre museum in Paris.

Meatballs with Celery Recipe

4 servings

1 pound ground beef
1/2 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 medium yellow onion, minced
12 sprigs parsley, finely chopped
1 generous pinch saffron threads
1/8 teaspoon turmeric powder
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup water
4-6 celery stalks, cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces
1 cup peas, optional
1 preserved lemon, quartered or ½ cup olives

Mix the ground beef with the salt, pepper, ginger, nutmeg, one tablespoon of the minced onion and one tablespoon of the chopped parsley. Reserve the rest of the onion and parsley for the sauce.

Shape the ground beef mixture into balls. Place the rest of the onion and parsley in a medium-large pot along with the saffron, turmeric and olive oil. Add the meatballs. Sauté the meatballs 5-7 minutes over medium heat, turning them once. Add the water and celery. Cover the pot and cook until the meatballs and celery are cooked, 25 minutes.

Serve topped with olives or preserved lemon.

Related Posts:
Chicken with Tomatoes, Honey and Sesame Seeds
Markat Hzina: Moroccan Salsa
Mhemmer Mufletas
Celebrating Jewish Moroccan Cuisine


20 Responses to “Meatballs with Celery and Saffron”

  1. 1

    Peter M — 03/03/2011 @ 12:05 pm

    This dish looks fab..rustic and would fit into taverna menus!

  2. 2

    peachkins — 03/03/2011 @ 1:26 pm

    this looks like super tasty meatballs!

  3. 3

    Jennifurla — 03/03/2011 @ 8:43 pm

    Oh what a gorgeous unique dish, love it! Thanks for sharing.

  4. 4

    Magic of Spice — 03/04/2011 @ 12:01 am

    I love the works of Delacroix. This a quite a lovely dish with fantastic flavors. My family does eat meat so I prepare on occasion and this looks like something that they would enjoy.
    Hope you are having a wonderful week.

  5. 5

    foodwanderings — 03/04/2011 @ 12:27 am

    Nice combination of saffron and celery. I usually don't but now I am tempted! :) Meatballs look delicious!! I can (almost) taste the dish!

  6. 6

    Kalyn — 03/04/2011 @ 2:21 am

    What a gorgeous dish. I have been to Tangiers, but didn't get to eat anything nearly this good.

  7. 7

    Bridgett ~ La Bella Cook — 03/04/2011 @ 3:42 am

    Ooooh, I could never resist a delicious meatball like this. Yummy!

  8. 8

    Mary — 03/04/2011 @ 5:38 am

    These are gorgeous! These look so tasty!!

    Great blog; happy I found you!

    Mary xo
    Delightful Bitefuls

  9. 9

    Emily — 03/04/2011 @ 5:19 pm

    I have some saffron I've been saving for just the perfect recipe. I think this may be it, who can pass up a good meatball?

  10. 10

    Table Talk — 03/05/2011 @ 12:55 am

    I love that my visits here always leave me with a bit of cultural history in addition to a scrumptious recipe. Maybe if they served food in history class I would have been a better student!

  11. 11

    Claudia — 03/05/2011 @ 2:12 am

    I love the spices in these meatballs. Fascinating how different cultures spice up their meat! And the peek into the history – food and culture so beautifully intertwined.

  12. 12

    Prerna@IndianSimmer — 03/05/2011 @ 2:35 am

    Another lovely lovely recipe by you! LOVE it! :-)

  13. 13

    Fran — 03/05/2011 @ 4:53 pm

    I love that this dish is served with olives. I am going to make these this week.

  14. 14

    Sara{OneTribeGourmet} — 03/05/2011 @ 7:42 pm

    Nisrine this meatball dish looks so good! I like the addition on celery & saffron! :)

  15. 15

    Lucy — 03/05/2011 @ 7:47 pm

    Meatballs are one of my favourite dinners – love this unique recipe.

  16. 16

    Maria — 03/10/2011 @ 6:00 pm

    Meatballs are so versatile and can be enjoyed in so many ways. Great flavors here and a wonderful way to add a little diversity to a typical meatball repertoire!

  17. 17

    A Canadian Foodie — 03/11/2011 @ 11:47 pm

    We love meatballs at our house and are always looking for a new recipe. This looks really yummy – but I have never eaten anything with preserved lemon, so I really have no frame of reference for how they might taste!
    I haven't posted for over 2 weeks which is a first to me in three years, I think. I have been knee deep in the throws of planning a local food conference with our local slow food convivia. Great work. Time well spent, but I miss cooking, writing, reading and YOU!
    I will catch up soon, I hope.

  18. 18

    Sarah — 04/25/2011 @ 8:23 pm

    I have made this dish several times (and a very similar Persian variation)and but didn't know it was considered Jewish. Now that I think of it all my Moroccan Jewish cookbooks have different versions of this recipe. Is it made also my others in Morocco?

  19. 19

    Nisrine Merzouki — 04/26/2011 @ 11:00 am

    Hi Sarah. I've only seen this one in Jewish households.

  20. 20

    @yumivore — 02/23/2013 @ 12:48 pm

    I should have left a note sooner, but my hands are usually busy forming the meatballs when I drop by this post! I encountered this recipe first here and has since gone into my own recipe book with your name on it. I love the flavors, and it’s something easy to prepare (especially as another entree for shabbat for example). Shukran!

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