In France, meatballs are called boulettes (sounds better than “meatballs,” non?), and by far the most popular versions are the spice-scented North African type. In Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, former French colonies, that’s also what meatballs are called, at least on tourist menus. They are simmered in a spice-laden, saffron-scented sauce, with just enough hot pepper to keep it interesting. Served with steaming-hot buttered couscous, these nearly bite-size, tender boulettes make a warming, comforting meal. Fear not: although the ingredients list is long, this is really a very simple recipe, parts of which can be prepared in advance.
To make the sauce, heat the oil in a wide heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, without browning, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, tomato paste, cinnamon stick, and saffron and stir well to incorporate. Season generously with salt and pepper and allow to sizzle for 1 minute. Add the broth, bring to a simmer, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. The sauce can be made up to a day in advance and refrigerated.
To make the meatballs, put the bread cubes and milk in a small bowl and let the bread soak until softened, about 5 minutes, then squeeze dry and transfer to a medium bowl.
Add the ground meat to the bread and mix gently with your hands, then add the egg, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, ginger, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, cloves, coriander, and nutmeg, and mix well to distribute the seasonings. Add
With your hands, roll the meat mixture into small balls about the size of a quarter. Dust lightly with flour. Heat
Add the meatballs to the sauce, bring to a simmer over medium heat, cover, and cook for about 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly and the meatballs are tender. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, adding salt or cayenne as necessary.
Meanwhile, cook the couscous according to the package directions, then fluff gently and stir in the butter and raisins. Season with salt and the cinnamon and toss well.
Spoon the couscous into shallow bowls and top with the meatballs and plenty of sauce. Garnish with the remaining parsley, cilantro, and scallions.
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