Kibbeh m’Gerraz (Meatballs with Sour Cherries, Tomatoes, Allspice, Cinnamon, and Cumin)

photo taken by Victor Bayon, on November 22, 2009, CC licensing

Adapted by Jennifer Abadi from her book, A Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes From Grandma Fritzie’s Kitchen (©2002, used by permission from The Harvard Common Press)

Syrian rice is the perfect accompaniment to catch the luscious sauce. Jennifer’s recipe follows.                 

Yield: Serves 4 to 5/ Makes About 2 Dozen Meatballs Plus Sauce

Preparation Time: 45 Minutes to 1 Hour


For Meatballs:

  • 3/4 pound ground chuck
  • 2 tablespoons matzah meal or plain dry bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onions

For Sauce:

  • One 24-ounce jar or 3 cups sour pitted cherries
  • (I prefer the Hungarian kind that have less sugar)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onions
  • 1/4 cup unsalted tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Dark brown sugar
  • (amount depends upon how sweet the cherries are; if cherries are already sweet, leave out!)

For Serving:

1 recipe Riz (Syrian White Rice with Fried Onions and Pine Nuts (recipe       following)

1. Prepare the meatballs. Combine all the meatball ingredients in a medium-size bowl and squeeze together with your hands until well blended and the meat is very soft. Shape into small individual meatballs by rolling them between the palms of your hands, 1 tablespoon at a time. (Dip your fingers in a small dish of ice water and keep palms wet to keep the meat from sticking. If it does stick, scrape off with a blunt knife and return to the bowl.) Place each meatball on a plate and set aside.

2. Prepare the cherry sauce. Drain the liquid from cherries (do not discard!) and combine it in a medium saucepan with the onions, tomato paste, vegetable oil, and water. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the salt, pepper, and brown sugar (TASTE CHERRIES FIRST! If they are very sweet, leave out sugar; if they are on the tart side, add enough brown sugar—about 2 to 3 teaspoons—to obtain a sweet-tart flavor). Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Add the whole cherries and combine gently with a spoon.

4. Add the meatballs to the cherry sauce, mixing them in very gently so as not to break up the meat. Cover and simmer over low heat until the sauce thickens enough to coat a spoon when dipped into the liquid and the meatballs are cooked through and fairly soft but firm, 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Serve hot over the rice.

Sephardic or Askhenazi