My Recipe Box

Spicy Meatballs with Fragrant Tomato Sauce


Serves 4

  • by from Fine Cooking
    Issue 62

These are not your average meatballs and sauce. This dish is a twist on Italian-style meatballs; here they've been kicked-up a notch with cayenne and warm spices, giving them exotic flavor.

  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 28-oz. can diced tomatoes, with their juices
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. ground beef (preferably 85% lean)
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

Combine the breadcrumbs and milk in a mixing bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tsp. of the cumin, the cinnamon, and 1/8 tsp. of the cayenne and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and their juices, 1 cup water, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a steady simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

While the sauce simmers, prepare the meatballs: Mash the breadcrumbs and milk with a fork to a smooth paste. Add the beef, the remaining 1 tsp. cumin, half of the cilantro, 1-1/2 tsp. salt, several grinds of pepper, and the remaining 1/8 tsp. cayenne to the breadcrumbs. Mix with your hands until thoroughly combined. Wet your hands to keep the mixture from sticking to them and roll a couple of tablespoons into 1-1/2-inch balls; you should have about 30. Nestle the meatballs into the sauce, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes to thicken the sauce. Stir in the remaining cilantro and season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

Serving Suggestions

Serve over couscous or white rice.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 460, Fat (kcal): 26, Fat Calories (g): 230, Saturated Fat (g): 9, Protein (g): 28, Monounsaturated Fat (g): 14, Carbohydrates (mg): 31, Polyunsaturated Fat (mg): 2, Sodium (g): 1180, Cholesterol (g): 75, Fiber (g): 6,

Photo: Scott Phillips

I really like this recipe, and enjoy the spiciness. I made it exactly as written and it was perfect. I can never understand people who change a recipe and then say that they didn't like it. I will often change things a second time if I think that the recipe needs something a little extra.... but not this one. It freezes well so I will often make it ahead as a go-to meal when I have company for an extended time. Always popular!

These are wonderful and are just as good the next day. I have served these many times for crowds and they are always a hit. No need to put them over a starch as they are great by themselves along with a salad.

Excellent. Cooking them in the tomatoe sauce adds flavor to the meatballs and to the sauce. When gently placed in the sauce they did not fall apart. I hate frying anything so these are my kind of meatballs, no splatter anywhere. Will do them for a Pot Luck as they are great to do ahead of time.

These were great! I added an egg (could have used two) and all the spices plus garlic to the meatballs and not to the sauce. We grilled them and then added to sauce. They were spicy and tasty!

These were great! I added an egg (could have used two) and all the spices plus garlic to the meatballs and not to the sauce. We grilled them and then added to sauce. They were spicy and tasty!

Very easy and heartwarming for a family weeknight dinner. My 3 and 5-year old children loved it! I served it over couscous. The meatballs might not be the best I've made, but they had a good flavor and were very tender. They did need to be handled gently due to a tendency to fall apart. I did not have all the ingredients handy and had to change a few things: I used Panko instead of fresh bread crumbs (added a little more milk to moisten them correctly), Italian parsley instead of cilantro and a little allspice. Also, I browned them in a skillet for a few minutes before adding to the tomato sauce, which I'm glad I did. The sauce itself had some basil from the canned tomatoes I had, and again, a little allspice (I had only very little cumin). The whole meal tasted somewhat Moroccan to me, so it was a nice change of pace -but I probably won't be serving this at a dinner party :)

I would not make this recipe again. The meatballs were so soft that they fell apart when I served them, I never have seen a recipe for meatballs that does not include eggs as one of the ingredients. Not the best meatball recipe out there

Easy to make and nice flavor -- not boring. I only used half the cilantro it called for and served it over white rice.


This used spices & flavours that we usually really like so it appealed; as well, we don't often make meatballs so it seemed like a nice change. I used turkey instead of beef to keep it more lean, but would have liked lamb if we could have found it. It was nice enough but not exciting...enjoyed it for a change of pace but we agreed we'd probably not bother with this again as there are many other more interesting recipes out there we'd rather try first.

Delicious and easy!

Really good! We used ground venison and served over steamed rice. The sauce was very flavorful and a lot more interesting than the usual meatballs in tomato sauce. I would add garlic next time, and I would make it again.

I make this often and LOVE it. I serve it with the pearled couscous as shown in the photo. It's comfort food and exotic at the same time! I use the ground beef, but I think it would be great with ground lamb or turkey.

I have never fixed lamb before, but really enjoyed this. A bit fiddly as there are lots of steps to go through, but worth every bite! I used dried bread crumbs and would use fresh next time. Used red wine and enjoyed it. Mixed fresh parsely and mint and with the drizzle of yogurt over whole wheat couscous--mm-mm good!

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