Recipe by Joan Nathan

Keftes Garaz, Syrian Meatballs with Cherries and Tamarind

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Meat Meat
Medium Medium
6 Servings
1 Hour, 30 Minutes

No Diets specified

One of the great gifts of the Syrian Jews to gastronomy is this meatball dish. Flavored with tamarind sauce and dried and frozen sour cherries, this sweet and sour keftes meatball recipe has been handed down for five generations in the family of Melanie Franco Nussdorf, a Washington lawyer who loves to cook the dishes of her ancestors, from Aleppo. We can tell that Melanie’s family recipe has been updated over the years, as it contains tomato paste, a relatively recent addition to Old World cooking. If you cannot find sour cherries, frozen Bing or dark sweet cherries will work just fine.


Yield: 6 to 8 servings



  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) pine nuts

  • 1 large sweet onion, diced (about 1 and 1/2 cups/350 grams)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 pounds (907 grams) ground beef

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground Aleppo or Marash pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice

  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

  • salt, to taste

  • freshly ground pepper, to taste

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate

  • 2 teaspoons Tuscanini Tomato Paste or ketchup

  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, fresh


  • 1/4 cup (59 milliliters) olive oil

  • 1 and 1/2 onions, diced (1 and 1/3 cups/165 grams)   

  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate

  • 2 cups (440 grams) pitted sour cherries or frozen dark red cherries

  • 2 cups (440 grams) dried cherries

  • juice of 2 lemons

  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice

  • salt

  • pepper

  • 1 and 1/2 cups (355 milliliters) beef stock

  • 1 and 1/2 cups (355 milliliters) Alfasi Cabernet Sauvignon or other red wine

  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley or cilantro


Prepare the Syrian Meatballs with Cherry and Tamarind


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and toast the pine nuts by stirring often, in a small dry skillet over medium heat, until lightly brown, about five to 10 minutes. Remove to a medium bowl.


To make the meatballs: Sauté the onions in the oil in a nonstick frying pan until lightly caramelized, about 20 to 30 minutes.


Add the onions to the pine nuts, then add the ground beef, garlic, Aleppo or Marash pepper, cumin, allspice, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Break the eggs into the bowl and stir in the tamarind and tomato paste or ketchup, mixing gently with your hands until just combined, then add just enough breadcrumbs for the meat to become clammy.


Take about one and a half tablespoons of meat and slap the beef several times into the center of the palm of your hand to emulsify. Shape into small meatballs, about one and a quarter inches in diameter. Put on two rimmed baking sheets and bake for about 20 minutes, or until done but still juicy. You should get about 36 meatballs.


While the meatballs are baking, make the sauce: Heat the oil in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until transparent, then add the tamarind, pitted sour or frozen cherries, dried cherries, lemon juice, allspice, salt, pepper, beef stock, and wine. Simmer together for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the sauce is slightly thickened.


Mix the meatballs with the sauce and serve, sprinkled with chopped parsley or cilantro, over rice.


You can make this dish ahead and freeze if you like. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight, then reheat in a pan, covered, over medium heat until warm.

About Tamarind

Tamarind, whose name comes from the Arabic word meaning “date from India,” is an ancient sweet and sour fruit that actually originated in Africa but traveled very early to India and throughout the Middle East, then was brought by the Arabs and Jews to Spain and by the Spanish to Latin America. Within Jewish communities, you know a dish has Syrian roots if you find tamarind listed in the ingredients.   Often used the way we use tomatoes today, to add acidity, depth, and sweetness to a sauce, tamarind has been a lovely flavor addition for centuries in Syrian, Persian, Iraqi, Georgian, and Indian Jewish dishes, as well as Sephardic dishes that eventually, in the 1500s, traveled with the Spanish and Portuguese to Mexico, the Caribbean, and other parts of Latin America, where it remains very popular today.   The only catch is that tamarind is somewhat difficult to use—it has to be peeled, soaked, seeded, and then squeezed through cheesecloth and mixed with sour salt, lemon juice, and/or sugar before being cooked down to a concentrate or paste. (Poopa Dweck’s beautiful book The Aromas of Aleppo describes the process.) As soon as tomatoes came from the New World to the Old, the more easily used red tomatoes replaced tamarind in many dishes. The unique flavor and tartness of tamarind, however, is becoming popular again, with easily dissolvable tamarind paste concentrates and bulk tamarind dissolved in a little water now available from India, other parts of Asia, Latin America, and even Texas.


Excerpted from King Solomon’s Table by Joan Nathan. Copyright © 2017 by Joan Nathan. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. (Purchase on Amazon.)

Keftes Garaz, Syrian Meatballs with Cherries and Tamarind

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