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Simple Sardine Meatball Tajine in Tomato Sauce

Before I moved to Morocco I had never eaten a sardine. I had only encountered them from a tin when my grandpa would eat them on saltine crackers as a snack. I would never touch them. But then I had a few different sardines recipes in Morocco and in Portugal and my opinion started to change a little. I’ll admit they are never my first choice but I also am open to trying them. 

This sardine meatball tajine recipe is the precursor to the infamous sardine meatball sandwiches that make a regular appearance on our food tours. This is the original version of that albeit with fewer bells and whistles. You’ll find this tajine on a lot of menus in coastal cities across Morocco. In fact sardines are one of the food items you’ll find pretty much everywhere in Morocco. 

Top image is Moroccan sardine meatballs tagine cooked in tomato sauce, bottom image is the ingredients in making this dish

Trucks carrying this fish crisscross the nation daily. Even in remote regions it’s not strange to see sardine trucks. In neighborhoods you’ll often hear a man who rides a bicycle hawking fresh sardines from his improvised cooler. Here, you’ll pay $1 or less per kilo of sardines – which also makes it one of the most inexpensive “meat” options. 

Morocco is the world’s top exporter of canned sardines so chances are no matter where you are in the world if you pop open a tin of sardines to make this Moroccan tajine, you’re bringing a piece of Morocco to the recipe to begin with. Next time you’re at the store just check the labels to see, more than likely most of the sardines will have originated from Morocco!

Fresh sardines are easy to get in Morocco but I recognize that isn’t the case everywhere. While this recipe uses fresh sardines as the standard, I’ve also included instructions for tinned sardine recipes. Go with the lowest sodium option and stick to the ones packed in oil so that there’s no competing flavors.

Are Moroccan Sardines Good for You?

Moroccan sardines are an excellent addition to a healthy diet, especially when considering the Mediterranean diet’s renowned nutrient-dense dishes and heart-healthy benefits. These sardines are wild-caught in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Morocco, ensuring they are of high quality and rich in essential nutrients. They are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their cardiovascular benefits, reducing inflammation, and supporting brain health.

Sardine meatballs tagine ingredients

Incorporating Moroccan sardines into your meals can be a cornerstone of a healthy diet both globally and at home. These meaty, delicious fillets are not only convenient but also offer a sustainable and environmentally friendly protein source. The nutritional profile of sardines includes high levels of protein, vitamins D and B12, and minerals such as calcium and selenium, which contribute to overall well-being.

Sardine meatballs in a tagine with tomato sauce

By adding these nutrient-rich sardines to your diet with canned sardine recipes, you are embracing a simple yet effective way to enhance your health, aligned with the principles of the Mediterranean diet.

Is this Dish Worth It?

Absolutely! The simple sardines meatballs tajine in tomato sauce is a hidden gem. Here’s why:

  • Health Benefits: Sardines are a powerhouse of nutrition, loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and essential vitamins. This dish not only tastes great but also supports a healthy diet.
  • Flavor Explosion: The combination of sardines with warm spices like cumin, paprika, and cinnamon creates a unique and delightful taste. The rich tomato sauce ties everything together, making each bite a burst of flavor.
  • Ease of Preparation: This recipe is straightforward and doesn’t require advanced cooking skills. It’s perfect for a quick weeknight dinner yet impressive enough for guests.
Moroccan sardine meatballs tagine cooked in tomato sauce
  • Versatility: The dish is versatile and can be paired with various sides like couscous, rice, or bread. Plus, you can easily tweak the spices and add vegetables to suit your taste.
  • Cost-Effective: Sardines are generally affordable, making this dish budget-friendly without compromising on taste or nutrition.

Tips and Variations

One of the joys of cooking is tailoring a recipe to suit your personal tastes, and this Moroccan sardine balls tajine recipe is no exception. For those who enjoy a bit of heat, increasing the amount of cayenne pepper in the recipe can add a delightful spiciness that elevates the dish.

Conversely, if you prefer a milder flavor, you can omit the cayenne entirely without sacrificing the rich taste of the other spices. Experimenting with the spice levels allows you to customize the dish to perfectly match your palate, making it a versatile option for any occasion.

Adding herbs and spices to the Moroccan sardine meatballs tagine dish

In addition to adjusting the spices, incorporating vegetables into the tomato sauce can enhance both the nutrition and texture of the dish. Adding chopped bell peppers or zucchini not only boosts the vegetable content but also introduces new flavors and a pleasing crunch.

This variation not only makes the meal more wholesome but also provides an opportunity to use up any leftover vegetables you may have on hand. Furthermore, for added convenience, the sardine meatballs can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to a day.

Moroccan sardine meatballs tagine cooked in tomato sauce

This prep-ahead tip is especially handy for busy weeknights, allowing you to simply cook the meatballs and sauce when you’re ready to eat, saving both time and effort while still delivering a delicious and satisfying meal.

What to Serve with this Tajine?

When serving Moroccan sardine meatballs tajine, consider pairing it with traditional Moroccan salads to complement this rich and flavorful dish.

  • Taktouka, a salad made from tomatoes and green peppers, is an excellent choice. Its fresh, slightly tangy taste balances the hearty meatballs and robust tomato sauce.
  • Another fantastic option is a salad of charred green peppers with preserved lemon. The smoky peppers and the unique tang of preserved lemons add depth to the meal, enhancing the complex flavors of the tajine.
  • In addition to salads, Moroccan Khobz bread is a must-serve accompaniment. This crusty, round bread is perfect for soaking up the savory tomato sauce, ensuring no delicious drop is left behind.
  • An Arabic salad, with its crisp cucumber and juicy tomato, offers a refreshing counterpoint to the warm, spiced tajine.

These sides not only round out the meal but also provide a variety of textures and flavors, making each bite a delightful experience. Feel free to choose your favorites among these options to create a well-balanced and satisfying meal.

How to Make Moroccan Sardine Meatballs Tajine

Moroccan sardine meatballs tagine cooked in tomato sauce
Yield: 4 servings

Moroccan Sardine Meatball Tajine

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

Cleaned sardines are mixed with spices to create a meatball tajine that is a favorite in Morocco.


  • 2 pounds fresh sardines (1 pound once cleaned)
  • 2 large tomatoes grated and skin discarded
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Palmful each of chopped parsley and cilantro
  • Juice of 1 small lemon
  • Handful of short grain rice (optional)
  • Palmful each of cilantro and parsley chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil


  1. Before you start cooking it’s easiest to make the meatball mix first. You will want to ensure the sardines are as clean as possible; removing all bones and skin. It’s a bit easier to do this if you use larger fresh sardines. See the notes section on how to use tinned sardines instead. 
  2. After the fish has been cleaned, add the meat, garlic, cumin, paprika, parsley, cilantro and lemon juice to a food processor. Turn on low power to combine all of the ingredients until it’s the consistency of a paste. If you are using the rice, mix it in at this point with a spoon.
  3. Make the sardine paste into meatballs the size you’d like; typically they are slightly smaller than a golf ball. 
  4. In the bottom of a tajine or in a skillet add the olive oil, garlic, and grated tomato flesh. Heat until it begins to bubble and add the remaining ingredients. Allow to cook on low heat. 
  5. Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce and cover the tajine or skillet. Allow to cook for 30-45 minutes on low heat until the meatballs are cooked all the way through. 
  6. Serve hot with bread for scooping up the dish. 
  7. You can also prepare a roast green pepper (either bell pepper or hot pepper), remove the blackened part of the skin and then cut into thin ribbons to places on top of the sardines for an added flavor. 


In this recipe, you can use tinned sardines however you will want to take into consideration the salt content before mixing it up. I recommend draining all of the liquid and rinsing the sardine filets first.

This simple sardines meatballs recipe is a delightful fusion of flavors that’s sure to become a favorite in your household. The combination of hearty sardine meatballs and robust tomato sauce is both comforting and exotic, perfect for impressing guests or simply treating yourself to a wholesome, delicious meal. Enjoy!

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