Meatballs are having a moment. And this harissa meatballs sandwich makes the most of it. With a few surprise ingredients and a sauce punched up with hot sauce (yet not so hot that the kids will turn up their noses at it), these brilliant meatballs help you level up any meatballs moment, whether it’s sandwich night or a spaghetti supper.-Jenny Howard


Don’t skimp on the fat content of your ground beef. You’ll want all the juicy moisture you can get. And be gentle with those meatballs while shaping them. Over-handling the meatball mixture will compact the meat, making them rubbery and tough, as well as drawing out that precious fat with your hot little hands.

A harissa meatballs sandwich, made with three meatballs stuffed in a sub roll along with cheese and topped with tomato sauce on a sheet of parchment paper.

Harissa Meatballs Sandwiches

5 / 2 votes
These harissa meatballs sandwiches are spiked with hot sauce and smothered in a spicy tomato sauce and tucked into sub rolls with melted cheese. Comfort food at its most surprising.
David Leite
Servings6 servings
Calories584 kcal
Prep Time55 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Total Time1 hour 20 minutes


For the harissa meatballs

  • 1 1/2 pounds 80% to 85% lean ground beef
  • 1 small yellow onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater
  • 1/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon store-bought or homemade harissa
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Diamond kosher salt or 1 teaspoon Morton kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the harissa sauce

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons store-bought or homemade harissa
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • One (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the harissa meatballs sandwiches

  • 6 Italian sub rolls
  • 12 thin slices provolone or fresh mozzarella


Make the harissa meatballs

  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, combine the beef, grated onion, olives, bread crumbs, harissa, Italian seasoning, salt, and a few grinds of pepper.
  • Roll about 1/4 cup (65 g) of the beef mixture into a golf ball-size meatball and set it on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining meat mixture. You should have about 14 meatballs.

Make the sauce

  • In a large sauté pan or saucepan with deep sides and a lid over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  • Stir in the tomato paste, harissa to taste, Italian seasoning, and paprika. Cook, stirring, until paste-like, about 30 seconds.
  • Add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a gentle boil. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  • Plunk the meatballs into the sauce. Cover and continue to simmer, tilting the pan to swirl the sauce occasionally, until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce has thickened slightly, 20 to 25 minutes.

Assemble the harissa meatballs sandwiches

  • Heat your broiler to high.
  • Slice the sub rolls in half and place them on a rimmed baking sheet. Place 2 slices of cheese on each side of each roll so that both cut sides are covered with cheese.
  • Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbling, 1 to 3 minutes.
  • Place at least 2 meatballs on each sub roll, spoon a little sauce over the top, close the sandwich, and devour!


Harissa Meatballs With Spaghetti variation

You can scrap the whole sandwich notion and instead plop these meatballs atop a plate of spaghetti with your favorite red sauce.
Food You Love But Different Cookbook

Adapted From

Food You Love But Different

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Serving: 1 sandwichCalories: 584 kcalCarbohydrates: 55 gProtein: 32 gFat: 27 gSaturated Fat: 8 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 79 mgSodium: 1487 mgPotassium: 893 mgFiber: 6 gSugar: 13 gVitamin A: 730 IUVitamin C: 17 mgCalcium: 143 mgIron: 16 mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2019 Danielle Oron. Photo © 2019 Danielle Oron. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

These harissa meatballs sandwiches were a really good recipe. My whole family enjoyed it. My 13 year old LOVED them. The meatballs part was familiar but with a unique flavor that was really good. We all really liked the recipe and I would totally make it again

A harissa meatballs sandwich, made with three meatballs stuffed in a sub roll along with cheese and topped with tomato sauce on a white plate.

Next time, I’d chop the olives smaller and add an egg to help the meatballs hold together (they didn’t fall apart, but it looked like they might for a while). We used a stock pot and all of the meatballs didn’t fit. We did get about 15 meatballs. They didn’t all fit in the pot so I baked the others for about 20 minutes. For a family of 4, we will get 2 meals out of it.

I used half 85% and half 90% ground beef. I added plain breadcrumbs. We used mild harissa and I put the minimum amount in the meat but 2 tbsp in the sauce. We served the meatballs with pain au lait hoagie or hot dog buns and provolone.

The kalamata olives and harissa make these meatballs deliciously spicy and tangy. I had never thought to add either of these ingredients to meatballs and now they will be my new secret meatball weapons! The kids loved them just as much as the adults and we enjoyed the leftover sauce and meatballs with spaghetti, although I preferred the meatballs in sandwich form.

This recipe turned out to be one of those rare dishes that draw simple expressions of pleasure. The meatballs were juicy and flavorful, easy to put together, and delivered a slightly spicy note from the harissa. But to me, the sauce is truly the star. It’s rich, thick, and a deep red color with a delicious (but not too spicy) kick that lends complexity with every bite.

I managed to get 14 slightly larger than golf-ball-size meatballs from the mixture and they held their size and didn’t dry out during cooking. The sauce came together quickly and easily with the garlic becoming fragrant in about 40 seconds, as did the tomato paste and spice mixture.

There’s nothing complicated in the preparations and the outcome is worth the time involved, however you choose to serve them. I chose not to do sandwiches and instead sautéed some spiralized zucchini in place of spaghetti.

My tasters said simply, “This is really good…” several times as they continued eating.

About David Leite

David Leite has received three James Beard Awards for his writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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