These Syrian Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce are a fruity, tangy crowd pleaser. We have our son, daughter-in-law Frances and granddaughter visiting us this week. Originally scheduled to come for New Year’s and our son’s birthday, when my husband contracted Covid and the trip was postponed. Airlines were cancelling flights right and left as well. It had been so long since we had had them for a visit to Chicago that I had begun to feel that this day would never come. Thankfully, my husband recovered and because we both had been vaccinated and boostered, I managed to remain negative!
I had been dreaming of their visit forever and all of the things that we would do and meals that I would cook. Well, unfortunately the weather has been quite cold and they are used to California temperatures. So between that and Covid restrictions, a trip to the grocery store and one walk along the river is as exciting as it got. However, Nana and Grandpa made sure that we had lots of stories to read and toys to play with and Juliana helped Nana cook. Our granddaughter is only two so she has not yet been vaccinated and we wanted to be careful.
Well, I may not be able to control very much these days, but I could at least feed everyone well. As soon as I came across this recipe for Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce, I knew that I had a winner. I did make a few changes to quantities and method, but there is no one way to make these and every family has their own version.
These delicious meatballs are often served for Jewish Holidays, including Passover. Mine were made using breadcrumbs, but equal amounts of matzah meal could easily be swapped out to make them Kosher for Passover. Of course, you don’t have to Jewish to enjoy these yummy and satisfying meatballs and they likely are also made in non-Jewish Syrian communities. Traditionally served with rice, I used whole wheat couscous when I served them.
The meatballs call for a fairly large quantity of pine nuts, which are not inexpensive. A reasonable substitute would be blanched slivered almonds. However, if pine nuts are within your budget, I would encourage you to use them. Their unique flavor, especially when lightly toasted, just makes this dish truly celebratory.
The seasonings are warming baharat , Aleppo pepper and allspice with loads of chopped fresh herbs. And tamarind, which can be found in Indian and Middle Eastern stores is readily available online or in many spice stores these days.
The recipe I made called for ground beef, but ground lamb could be used instead. Meat has become quite expensive and normally my husband and I only eat it once a week, if that. However, the recipe does make 40 meatballs and will feed a crowd, especially with the usual array of salads and dips that are a part of every Middle Eastern/North African meal. Everyone, including my 2-year old granddaughter loved this dish!
Yield: 40 golf-size meatballs
For the Meatballs
About 1 Tablespoon EVOO, Grapeseed or other oil
3 pounds of ground beef
5 large eggs
1.5 cups of pan-toasted pine nuts
3/4 cup fine dried bread crumbs (or matza meal)
About 2 cups of bread crumbs or matza meal for lightly coating the meatballs (I used a mix of Panko and regular fine dry bread crumbs.)
1.5 teaspoon kosher salt
1 heaping Tablespoon of baharat or allspice
1.5 teaspoons Aleppo pepper
2 large handfuls of fresh herbs, finely chopped. (Parsley, cilantro, dill and mint are wonderful)
For the sauce
2 teaspoons EVOO
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
4 cups water
10 Tablespoons (1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons) good quality tamarind paste in concentrated form
6 ounces tomato paste
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Oil two sheet pans with about 1/2 Tablespoon on each pan.
Combine all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl except for the oil. I like to use glass or stainless steel when working with raw meat. Wearing disposable gloves or with your hands moistened with cold water, roll the meatballs into golf-sized balls. You should get about 40 meatballs.
Place the 2 cups of bread crumbs in a shallow dish. Roll each meatball in the crumbs for a light coating. Add breadcrumbs as necessary. Place 20 meatballs on each sheet pan, with about 1 inch in between.
Place the pans in the oven and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until well-browned.
Meanwhile in one or two large skillets, mix the ingredients for the sauce. Stir and simmer while the meatballs cook.
When the meatballs are browned and the sauce has simmered, add the meatballs to the sauce. Simmer for about 30 minutes, The sauce should have thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Spoon some of the sauce over the meatballs and serve over rice or couscous.