Merguez-style meatballs make a delish mezze snack when served with hummus, pitas, and anything else you desire. Ground lamb flavored with harissa, cumin, coriander, paprika, and garlic, they’re a little bite of perfection.
Adapted from Sophie Hansen | In Good Company | Murdoch Books, 2021
This is a recipe of fabulous ease and speed, but you’d never guess it to eat it. These meatballs taste as if they had been slowly and lovingly tended, and their deeply spiced sauce tastes as if it had been cooked over days.–Sophie Hansen
WHAT IS MERGUEZ-STYLE?
Merguez-style food is robustly and generously seasoned with an earthy heat that slowly creeps from the tip of your tongue to your toes. Not overly spicy heat, and not the kind of heat that has you gasping for air. Maghrebi (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia) cuisine is famous for their merguez sausage–a deep red, spicy, fresh mutton, lamb, or beef sausage. This recipe borrows the flavors common to that dish, like cumin, garlic, paprika, and coriander. You can also serve extra harissa on the side to really highlight the Maghrebi culinary traditions.
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon store-bought or homemade harissa*
- 1 tablespoon store-bought or homemade tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds ground
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- Pinch salt
- Chopped fresh parsley for garnish
- Hummus to serve
- Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, mix thoroughly using your hands. To check for seasoning, pinch off a small portion of meatball mixture and fry in a skillet until cooked through. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed.
- Roll mixture into walnut-sized balls and place on the baking sheet. You should have about 20 meatballs.
- Bake meatballs until cooked through and register an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C), 15 to 20 minutes.
- Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with parsley and with hummus for dipping.
*What is harissa?A deep red, earthy, and warmly flavored spice paste from Tunisia, harissa is used in dishes to add that certain something that evokes the taste of North African cuisine. It’s made from roasted red peppers, Baklouti peppers, garlic paste, spices such as caraway seeds, coriander seeds, and cumin, and olive oil to carry the oil-soluble flavors. Rose harissa is also made. Rose petals and rosewater are added to soften some of the heat of the chiles and the floral fragrance adds a counterbalance to the earthy spices.
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Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I’m a huge fan of merguez sausage and any kind of meatball, so a merguez-style meatball is a wonderful Mediterranean marriage of meaty goodness. The recipe comes together quite quickly, and I spent a good 4-5 minutes weighing out my 20 meatballs, so they all were uniform in size.
I let my meatballs chill in the fridge for about 6 hours, then let them come to room temp for about 15 minutes before baking them. They reached 160ºF in 15 minutes, so I pulled them and let them rest for about 20 minutes, covered in foil, until serving. I made a sour cream and harissa sauce to dip them in and paired the meatballs with hummus, a chickpea and orzo salad, and a corn and tomato salad.
WOW!!! What a fabulously delicious meal we had featuring these merguez-style meatballs! I’ve tried other recipes to make merguez sausage and most of them were adequate, resulting in a tasty meal. This recipe, however, is exceptional. This was actually better than any merguez I can remember eating, either at home or in a restaurant. The flavors are bold. They pop. They really stand out. They’re not at all subtle, something I find important in merguez.
Reading over the recipe before making it, I was concerned that the spices, the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds, were left whole. Instead of leaving them whole, I toasted all of the seeds in a cast-iron frying pan, and then ground them in my spice grinder. I recommend this step, rather than using ground spices. Toasting and grinding them yourself gives you aromatics that fill your kitchen as well as lend the meatballs a fabulous punch of flavor.
We had these meatballs as a main course. We ate them on warm naan bread. I made a cucumber/yogurt sauce, to which I added my homemade spiced, pickled, purple onions. We spread that sauce, as well as hummus on the naan before adding the meatballs. On the side, we had a bean dish for which I cooked thin garlic slices in olive oil until they started to take on a lovely golden shade. I then added a can of cannellini beans and some baby artichokes. Everything melded together nicely, and the flavors worked well with the merguez meatballs.
These merguez-style meatballs had excellent flavor, but they were a bit on the dry side after baking for 20 minutes; next time I’ll pull them out at 15 minutes. I put the dry spices in a spice grinder, and next time I will toast the whole fennel, cumin, and coriander seeds in a pan, then grind them.
These were a hit for me for three reasons: 1. Baking these is so much less messy than frying–sometimes I just can’t bear to clean up a grease-spattered stove! 2. They came together quickly for an extremely easy and flavor-packed weeknight meal. 3. They are fantastic for a keto-type diet (which I’m now desperate enough to try to get back to!).
Makes 4 servings (but I doubled it so I got 8 servings). I opted not to serve these with hummus but instead served with cucumber, tomato, and chickpea tabouli salad, tzatziki sauce, and warm pita–we made pita sandwiches out of them.
This recipe for merguez-style meatballs is a weekday winner. So easy, but so flavorful and can be paired with many great flavor accessories. We enjoyed ours with some couscous flavored with a little ras el hanout along with an Israeli salad and some labneh. I could also see hummus or some pita going well with this. I doubled the amount of harissa for extra flavor.
This recipe for merguez-style meatballs is straightforward, loaded with flavors, and perfect for a weeknight. I aimed for whole walnut-sized balls, which were easily portioned with a 1.5 tablespoon cookie scoop. We served ours with moutabal, a sprinkling of sumac, and minced cilantro. There were absolutely no leftovers and we plan to make these again. I think next time I’ll toast the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds a little before I grind them, as that should impart even more flavor into these little morsels.
Originally published September 2, 2021
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
I’ve always loved eating and cooking lamb. These flavor bombs come together with little fuss and have a lot of flavor. If you are looking for a new appetizer, these merguez-style meatballs are for you. The recipe is straightforward and uses ingredients found in most pantries.
I used 1/2 tsp of ground cumin and coriander since I didn’t have the seeds on hand. Next time, I’d break apart the lamb in a bowl before adding the seasonings. It would be easier to mix in the spices and would result in a less dense lamb ball. I served the balls with hummus-style dip.