Kefta Mkaouara

We are wrapping up our spring break holiday here. The girls went off to Singapore to see old friends, and we played host and tour guide to Andy's brother Mike here in Carthage. I was hoping to get to the gym regularly, meet a friend and her newly adopted daughter for coffee, drive out into the countryside, and get around to that "to do list". The reality however consisted of my coughing and wheezing, and alternately guzzling cough syrup and popping Tylenol for the first half of the week. Bronchitis is not a fun way to spend a holiday, though I'd take it over the stomach flu anytime.

While the cough and congestion lingers a little I was feeling well enough for a short outing here and there by midweek. Andy and I made it out to the ruins of Utica. Utica was the first Phoenician colony founded in North Africa. It was a sweet spot, the ruins aren't as impressive as Dougga, but they are easily navigated, and it's a nice place to stop for a picnic lunch and stroll through the hills.

On our walk through the hills we came cross a young man tending his cattle and then a few feet further down the path we ran across some sheep. The lambs were adorable, springing straight up in the air.

Another outing led us to Le Musee National du Bardo, the Bardo houses an impressive collection of mosaics taken from all over Tunisia. I was set to be underwhelmed, but the museum turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. Not all the exhibit space is open yet, there is extensive renovation going on. It will be fabulous when completed.

This mosaic of Poseidon was one of my favorites.

And the door....

I have a well documented thing for doors.

I don't know why this one wasn't painted blue as is the custom. Sometimes if they have the Star of David, as this one does, they will be painted yellow. I loved seeing this in its natural wood state. I think it's beautiful.

We also tried to treat Mike to local delicacies. There were a few Shwarma, and local seafood spots that were hit and at home, while not cooking authentically Tunisian/North African, I incorporated some of those flavors into what we ate. Beans with preserved lemon, Harrisa glazed chicken, and on Mike's last night I did a little research and made a tagine. Kefta Mkaouara, is a tagine of highly seasoned meatballs cooked in a spicy tomato sauce. Typically at the end eggs are poached on top, I omitted that step as I liked how the tagine looked and tasted without the addition of the rich egg yolks. Maybe next time.

This meal comes together fairly easily, we served it with couscous but I read that it is tradition to serve it with bread. The tagine is placed on the table and each person uses the bread to scoop out meatballs and sauce. Definitely next time. I used all beef for the meatballs though the recipe calls for a mix of lamb and beef. I also didn't use optional cinnamon in the meatballs, use it if you like.

If you don't have a tagine don't worry, a dutch oven or wide saute pan works just as well.

Kefta Mkaouara Tagine
adapted from Paula Wolfert
For the meatballs
1 lb. ground beef or lamb or a combination of the two
2 slices stale sandwich bread, crusts removed and the bread ground fine
1 medium red onion minced
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
For the tomato sauce
3, 15 ounce cans of tomato puree
1 medium red onion diced
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, your preference
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Olive oil
3-4 eggs (optional)

For the meatballs:
In a large bowl mix together the bread crumbs, onion, garlic, paprika, cumin, salt, cinnamon if using, cayenne pepper and the fresh herbs. Add the ground meat and knead all the ingredients to gether. Form the meat into walnut sized balls and set aside. 
Heat a large shallow saute pan over medium heat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil and saute the meatballs in batches until browned, but not cooked through. Set the meatballs aside while making the sauce.
For the sauce:
In a dutch oven, tagine base, or saute pan heat some olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and saute until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic, paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, brown sugar and salt. Saute for another 3 minutes. Add the tomato puree, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 5 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings. Add half fresh herbs reserving remainder for garnish.
Add the meatballs, cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through. 
If desired, break the eggs over the top of the meatballs and cook until the whites are solid and yolks are partially set approximately 7 minutes. Sprinkle with reserved herbs and serve.
To serve:
Kefta Mkaouara is traditionally served in the same dish in which it was cooked with each person using bread for scooping up the meatballs from his own side of the dish. Couscous is also lovely served with this tagine.


  1. That looks really good; I haven't had that one. Maybe you can still get one or two things on your wish list accomplished before the girls get back, though it sounds like a pretty nice week as it was.

  2. I'll have to make some next time we have you and Allan over. It's my new favorite dish.

  3. It looks great and from what you've reported tastes even better!