Meatballs with Celery and Saffron

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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.

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