Cooking Video: Make spiced kafta meatballs and tomato sauce with Bay Area chef Reem Assil
Here chef Reem Assil serves kafta bil bandora the traditional way, in a rich tomato sauce over seven-spiced rice. (Angelina Hong)

Cooking Video: Make spiced kafta meatballs and tomato sauce with Bay Area chef Reem Assil


We're big fans of comfort food. Even in the heat of summer, just the idea of a saucy, slow-cooked, richly spiced meal makes our mouths water.

Growing up, one of chef Reem Assil's favorite dishes was her mom's kafta bil bandora, literally meatballs and sauce. They weren't exactly the meatballs and sauce many American kids enjoyed. Instead, Assil's mom used the flavors of her Palestinian and Lebanese upbringing—spices like cinnamon and cumin and coriander—to create a more traditional stew studded with balls of meat that were closer in character to kebab than to the typical Italian-style meatball. Add some pasta and voila: spaghetti and meatballs in Levant-meets-American style.

That dish still reminds Assil of home and, in the second episode of The 7x7 Spice-In, the founder of Reem's California in Oakland and San Francisco, will be sharing her version with the world. After all, couldn't we all use a bit of comfort right now?

One of the best parts about the meal is the versatility of the sauce, she explains. "You can really do whatever you want with it. You can eat it with pasta, you can eat it with rice." If you live in the Bay Area, a bag of freshly baked bread from Reem's works beautifully for sopping up the stew.

And since no comfort dish is complete without a velvety, belly-warming drink to pair it with, Assil suggests filling your glass with a Georgian-style orange wine like Gotsa Family WInes 2016 Chinuri. Made with white grapes fermented with their skins and seeds still intact, orange wines are dry with aromas of sweet tropical fruit and hazelnut that will bring out the spices in the meatballs and sauce.

Happy cooking!

Recipe: Reem Assil's Kafta bil Bandora (aka Meatballs and Sauce)

Serves 4-6


Red Sauce

1 medium yellow onion, medium diced

2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

2 tsp of Reem's 7-Spice Mix* or ½ tsp of allspice + 1 ½ tsp of garam masala (The Spice Hunter)

1 ½ tsp salt

½ tsp of black pepper (The Spice Hunter)

28 oz can of San Marzano stewed tomatoes

*Reem's 7-Spice Mix

½ teaspoon allspice (The Spice Hunter)

¼ teaspoon cinnamon (The Spice Hunter)

¼ teaspoon cumin (The Spice Hunter)

¼ teaspoon coriander (The Spice Hunter)

¼ teaspoon cloves (The Spice Hunter)

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom (The Spice Hunter)

¼ teaspoon nutmeg (The Spice Hunter)

Kafta Meatballs

2 pounds ground beef (can use a mix of ground lamb and beef)

1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped

1 cup of finely chopped parsley, unpacked (about one bunch)

2 teaspoons allspice (The Spice Hunter)

1 teaspoon cinnamon (The Spice Hunter)

1 teaspoon ground black pepper (The Spice Hunter)

1 teaspoon sumac, plus 1 teaspoon for garnish

½ teaspoon nutmeg (The Spice Hunter)

1 ½ teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil for cooking


*If you are using Reem's 7-Spice Mix, toast allspice, cumin, coriander and cloves and grind with ground cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. Set spice mix aside.

Over medium heat, sauté the onions in the olive oil until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Add spices, salt, pepper and stewed tomatoes plus 1 cup of water and bring to a simmer. Let simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 15-20 minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, make your meatballs. Grate onion or blend in a food processor until it is finely mashed. Drain any excess liquid. In a large mixing bowl, combine ground meat with grated onion, chopped parsley, spices, salt and pepper. Knead meat-mixture with your hands like a dough until well incorporated. To keep meat tender, avoid over-kneading.

Roll kafta mix into ping-pong-sized balls and set aside.

When sauce is reduced to your liking, turn off heat and cool down. Adjust seasoning. Blend sauce in a food processor until smooth and set aside.

In a large sauté pan with vegetable oil, cook the meatballs over medium high heat until all sides are browned and the meat is cooked through, about 5-8 minutes. Add sauce and warm over low heat to prevent splattering.

Serve over pasta or rice. Garnish with olive oil and herbs.

Tune in August 20th for episode three of The 7x7 Spice-In—Chef Reem will be making mahalabiya, a sweet and creamy summer dessert.

We'll post the ingredients needed on on Monday, August 3rd; you can use the promo code 7X7SPICEIN to receive 20 percent off purchases from our partners at The Spice Hunter,

Thanks for watching!

About The Spice Hunter

The Spice Hunter was founded by a woman on a quest for the best spices from around the world. For the past 20 years, the California company has made it their mission to continue seeking innovative and global flavors that will bring inspiration and creativity to the home chef. Their spices and herbs are sourced from the finest growing regions in the world, and are both organic and non-GMO certified. Use the code 7x7SpiceIn to receive 20 percent off your purchase through September 1, 2020;

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