Kefta Mkaouara (Meatball Tagine)

Kefta Mkaouara - donea curvy moroccan

Since it’s been so long between posts here, I figured I’d give you all a two for one. So this is a restaurant review and a recipe all rolled into one.

So recently while dining with a dear friend in Subiaco we ventured into Meeka. It’s a relatively new restaurant, having been around for a year or so now, down the not so business end of Subiaco’s Rokeby Road. The menu is middle eastern in appearance, with a hat tip towards Morocco, serving a number of classic Morrocan dishes and a series of tagines.

Unfortunately the names of the dishes on the menu were about as close as Meeka got to ever giving us a North African experience. We ordered a chicken pastilla (bastilla, bisteeya, b’stilla – take your pick), and a meatball tagine. Some Israeli couscous as a side dish and a bottle of wine.

Sadly the chicken in the pastilla was dry to the point inedibility. We picked at it like disinterested vultures might at 3 week old roadkill. Hoping to find at least one juicy morsel worth eating. Sadly, there was none. The meatballs on the other hand, were a whole different story. Simultaneously raw on the inside, and completely devoid of moisture, is not something i thought was actually possible. They came presented in a tagine with a tomato sauce of nondescript origins, and defied all attempts to be enjoyed.

The couscous however was tasty and refreshingly edible. A small bowl of hope in an otherwise desert of a meal.

Somewhat incensed by how something that should have been so good, wasn’t. I went home and started looking up meatball tagine recipes. I love cooking with a tagine and I love Moroccan flavours. The combination of sweet and savoury elements coming together to confuse the palate and build layers of complexity is always rewarding when done well. So I was glad to be able to find this dish that completely restored my faith that it was indeed just a miraculously bad experience.

Kefta Mkaouara

For the meatballs

Minced beef or lamb (I used beef, but a combination might be good)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 onion chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 egg to bind
salt and pepper to season
sprinkling of finely chopped parsley
ghee for frying

For the sauce
1 onion, finely sliced
2 cans chopped tomatoes (or equivalent passata)
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp hot paprika
1 tablespoon honey
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
4 eggs (or more)

How I made mine

Combine the meatball ingredients together in a bowl. Mix the meat and spices through thoroughly with your hands, add the onion, garlic, and parsley and crack the egg in. Mix the egg throughout the mixture well so that it binds together well.

Then start to form small balls by taking a palm full of the mixture, flattening it out to remove air pockets, and then rolling between your hands to make golf ball sized meatballs. Obviously you can make them as big or as small as you want, and at this point I often start playing around with the seasoning to add more of a particular spice if I think it needs it.

Now get your tagine (you can just use a regular frying pan with a lid if you don’t have a tagine, but then you have to call it meatball frypan dish, which is infinitely less sexy) and add a little ghee to the bottom, then fry the sliced onion til it’s mostly cooked through.

Add the meatballs on top of the onion and fry them til just browned all over. Turning them over every few minutes to make sure they’re cooking evenly.

Once the meatballs are browned, add the tomatoes (or passata) over the top til it’s mostly covered. At that point sprinkle in the other spices and drizzle over the honey. Give the whole dish a gentle stir mix the spices through. Now put the lid of the tagine on, and turn the heat down to quite low to let the flavours infuse and the sauce to soak into the meatballs. If the level of liquid in the dish is a bit low, then add some more tomato passata.

Now give this ten minutes or so to simmer and for the meatballs to cook through, and then the master stroke of this dish is ready to happen. Take the lid off and crack the eggs into the sauce (in between gaps in the meatballs). Add a sprinkling of fresh parsley and perhaps some coriander over the top, and another good seasoning with salt and pepper, and then put the lid back on the tagine. Now basically you’re poaching the eggs in the sauce until they’re cooked to your liking. I left mine in for a few minutes til they were just soft and still runny inside.

To serve, either get authentic and make up some couscous, or just do what I did and gingerly spoon the meatballs into a bowl while trying not to break the eggs, and then devour with thick slices of crusty bread.


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A Moroccan Dinner

Moroccan Dinner

What do you cook to impress you friends ? What if those friends happen to be chefs ?
Such was the quandary I faced recently when deciding what to cook for some new friends. One of whom just happens to work at a very well respected rustic Italian restaurant in this fine city (of Perth). So risotto was out the window… and that floury pasta I manage to pull together occasionally just wasn’t going to cut it anymore… even if it was made with beetroot.

So Italian was off the menu… it was too warm for a roast… too passe for duck, and too expensive for my other idea of stuffing abalone, foie gras, truffles inside a whole sirloin of grade 12 wagyu… (another night perhaps).

So the idea came to me… Moroccan. Carrying on from recent Moroccan adventures, I decided to continue my little virtual journey through that magical slice of North Africa. It was just the right combination of something a little different that was easy to prepare a head of time, and might sound slightly exotic to anyone who doesn’t think about it for too long :)

After getting a bunch of great ideas from Deb, my ethno food consultant extraordinairre. I managed to pull together what would prove to be a pretty decent little combination of dishes.

So the menu for the evening was as follows:

– Baked turkish bread with olive oil and dhukkah
– Lemon Myrtle Cheddar and Triple Brie on craquers (crackers)
– Sumac fried squid on cherry tomato salad with lemon viniagrette

– Chermoula king snapper
– Honey apricot lamb tajine
– Deb’s roast vegetable couscous

Palate Cleanser:
– Orange and rosewater palate cleansers

– Blood orange tart with double cream

Out of courtesy to my guests, I didn’t take photos of every dish all night long. Because as much as I like to record the meal, I think you lose something in the mood and conversation if you are constantly snapping shots of every dish. So you’ll have to make do with the snippets here, along with a relatively detailed description of what went into making each.

Continue reading A Moroccan Dinner

Moroccan Chicken Pie with 3 Bean Salad

Moroccan Chicken Pie and 3 bean salad (with a Moroccan funk to it)

So I should admit from the outset that I am to Moroccan cuisine what “Hey Hey it’s Saturday” was to quality television. But just like Darryl and Ozzie and that crazy crew of pranksters with their wacky hijinx… I just refuse to quit. So this post is my homage to not being particularly good, but giving it a bloody good go anyway.

If you’re thinking that this should possibly be called bstilla, or bisteeya, or b’steeyilla, or cheryl… then you are right (unless you said cheryl). Bstilla is indeed the dish I had in mind when I started making this, but then i got half way through and towards the end I realised I had no almonds, no icing sugar, no ground ginger, and little desire to intricately layer 500 sheets of filo pastry on top of each other to make it properly… hence I give you… Moroccan Chicken Pie !

The dish was based loosely on a combination of versions made by Jules of Stone Soup and Melissa of Travellers Lunchbox. Both excellent sites and great recipes. Sadly, I had neither the time nor the patience to follow the directions set out by either of these ladies, and so the resultant dish is suitably less refined.

Moroccan Chicken Pie

  • Chicken (the ladies used thighs, I used 2 large breasts… no really)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 stick of cinnamon crushed
  • Tablespoon or two of fresh ginger, minced
  • 150g butter
  • 300 ml chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayene pepper
  • 4 eggs
  • handful of chopped coriander
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 sheets of puff pastry

Moroccan Chicken Pie

How i fooled the Moroccans
Basically I cooked the onion and garlic together in the butter, until they were soft and breaking down. Then added the ginger and other spices. At this stage it could be the basis for an interesting Moroccan Risotto… but i’ll save that for another day. I added the chicken breasts whole, and when they were mostly browned all over, poured in the chicken stock and stirred it all around.

Once the chicken was completely cooked, I took it out of the mixture and let it cool, then shredded it into little bite sized chunks, before turning up the heat on the stock mixture and letting it reduce right down.

When the stock had reduced to about a third of its original volume, I added the eggs, which had been beaten together with the coriander and the lemon juice. This creates a kind of thick spicey egg slurry, that could quite easily turn into scrambled eggs if you wanted it to… but I keep stirring it over a low heat until it had just come together and then took it off the heat.

Now in a pie dish, butter up some sheets of pastry and lay one in the bottom of the dish. Add the shredded chicken first, and then spoon over the cooled egg mixture. Now add the other sheet on top, fold it all in nicely so it’s looking like a pie, and pop it in the oven on 180C for about 25 minutes or so.

If you were really making a bstilla, you would have used flat filo pastry instead of puff pastry, and layered many levels on the bottom along with blanched almonds and ground ginger… and then folded the pastry over the top of the mixture, and then decorated the top with more almonds and icing sugar… Of course we weren’t doing that, so the jury will disregard everything I just said…

Now onto the bean salad.

Three Bean Salad

  • 1 cup kidney beans
  • 1 cup haricot beans
  • 1 cup broad beans
  • Lots of olive oil
  • 1/2 diced red onion
  • handful or two of spinach
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 teaspoons crushed cumin
  • salt and cracked pepper

A salad mostly consisting of 3 kinds of beans

How I overcame bean adversity

I have to admit that beans and me do not sit well together. I think it all stems from the fact that when I was growing up, my sisters were always given baked beans on toast, and my brothers and I were given spaghetti on toast. I think I honestly believed for a long time that girls were supposed to eat beans and boys were supposed to eat spaghetti… But gender alignment issues aside, I thought it was time to give them a go, and not from a can for once.

So having procured a few different varieties of dried beans, I had to find out how to prepare them. There were 3 options as I saw it.

      1) Soak the beans overnight in cold water in the fridge
      2) Boil the beans in hot water for 10 minutes and then leave to sit in hot water for a few hours
      3) Boil the beans in hot water for as long as they bloody well take to soften up, regardless of how much they split in the process

Clearly I chose option 3. Into a pot of salted water with enough to cover the beans by an inch or two, and then onto the low heat
for what was probably an hour or so in the end. I forget exactly but I was testing each type of bean every 10 minutes or so for softness, and eventually I got to the point where I really didn’t care if they were soft enough anymore. Which fortunately coincided with the exact right time to stop.

The rest was simple. Into a bowl goes the beans, the diced onion and spinach, a healthy glug or three of extra virgin olive oil, a few good pinches of sea salt and a couple of cracks of black pepper. The juice of half a lemon (or a whole one if you’re feeling feisty), and a couple of teaspoons of that quintessentially Moroccan essence, cumin.

Stir it all up and serve.

And there you go… Invite your friends around and impress them to no end with your faux-Moroccan cuisine. If that doesn’t work, just drop the word Ras El Hanout a few times, as long as you’re not pronouncing it Rass Al Hannut, then you’re on your way to instant North African popularity.

My First Tajine


First off, lets clear one thing up. I have no clue whether I should be spelling it Tajine, or Tagine. Popular opinion would seem to favour Tajine with a ‘J’, but the labels on the box from one Mr Emile Henry, proud maker of my fancy new “Tagine” beg to differ.
Personally, I only get involved in linguistic battles when I think I can win, and having very little grasp on any other languages other than English (which is a tenuous one at best), I think i’ll stick to trying to cook one.

So, now that the formalities are out of the way, I have anti climatically bought my first Tajine. Yay ! After a long hard day of being dragged through furniture stores looking for a new lounge suite, I finally had enough and did what any well meaning, red blooded Australian male does to relax… head straight to the nearest kitchen supply store and start fondling crockery. I did my usual trick of picking up all the Le Cruseut stuff to see if it’s still as heavy as the last time I picked it up (it is), then casually scoffed at the lame excuses for non-stick frying pans they have, before wondering if I really needed to buy an industrial sized burner for caramelizing the tops of my creme brulee (I don’t, yet).

Finally, after eliminating all the other possible things I could waste my money on, I came across an object of desire that has passed my gaze many times and managed to get away. A Tajine. And not just any Tajine… but a RED one… which everyone knows is WAY more authentic than any other colour… and also goes faster. This particular model was by the aforementioned Emile Henry, and a finer model I’ve not seen.

It’s made from a high grade glazed ceramic that is both heat resistant as well as resilient to sticking, and hardy enough to be scrubbed with abrasive materials and not lose it’s lustre (a great benefit to lazy cooks the world over).

So… my purchase made, and my walk acquiring a new skip that only the knowledge of future dinner experimentation with new toys can bring… it was off home to get cooking.

Now, I know about as much about Moroccan cuisine as I do about Morocco. Thanks to Wikipedia, I do know the capital isn’t Casablanca (which is a movie I have still yet to watch), that it’s been inhabited by more cultures than one of Jerry Springers cocktail parties, and that Morocco ranks among the world’s largest producers and exporters of cannabis… possibly why the food tastes so good.

So to my first foray into Moroccan cooking, and the Tajine.

Moroccan Chicken

  • chicken breasts (I would have used meat on the bone for a more tender texture, but breasts were all I had)
  • 1 can of chickpeas
  • 1 can tomatoes, plus 4 whole tomatos chopped
  • duck/chicken stock (I had duck stuck left over from earlier experiments)
  • 4 potatoes
  • 1 large carrot
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 onion
  • 1 pack couscous (I’m still yet to fully grasp couscous as a concept)
  • Crushed Spice mix (cumin, clove, cinnamon, saffron, tumeric, fennel, coriander)

How I made mine

Basically put the Tajine over the heat and put a little oil in, fry the onion and garlic together til it’s a little soft and then add the chicken pieces and brown them off a little. Then add in all the other bits and pieces. The chick peas, carrot and potato, the chopped tomatoes and any other vegetables you may want to use. Once all the veges are simmering away, add the can of tomatoes and the stock, enough to almost cover the food, and then mix the spices well through the tajine. When you’re happy with how much liquid you’ve got in, turn the heat right down on the stove, put the lid on, and walk away… thats right… just walk away.

From what I can gather, Tajines gain much of their mythical popularity from the gorgeous flavours and textures you bring out, after slow cooking the food over a long period of time with a bunch of spices. So I left this cooking slowly for around an hour and a half, checking it occasionally to make sure the potatoes and carrots hadn’t completely disintegrated into some kind of unexpected (but totally planned if it tasted ok) Moroccan soup.

While that was going I made up the couscous. Now I have a bad history with couscous. It was a dish my sister used to butcher mercilessly when we lived together. Putting it in the microwave and a bit of water and nuking it to death until it turned into a fluffy cardboard tasting mess. So it was with much fear that I decided to give it another go.

Chicken Tagine

This time I simply put it into a pan on the stove with a bunch of butter, and simmered it slowly over low heat while adding more duck stock. Towards the end, sprinkling a little fresh chopped coriander into it. I won’t say that it was great. But it was at least good enough to use as a liquid absorber for the tajine… So we’ll call Matt vs Couscous round 1 a draw.

So after waiting longer than my meagre patience can normally stand, it was ready to go. Normally tajines are served straight to the table and people use their hands and bread to dip in and share the meal, but opting for the polite refinement of western disconnectedness, I served it into some big plates with the couscous, more fresh coriander, and some toasted turkish bread (I couldn’t find Moroccan bread).

It was a definite success, rich flavours, beautiful textures, and the subtle elements of each spice coming through just nicely. I think I’ve found something to occupy myself with for at least the next month. Mo-rock-on :)