Navigate to Food section

Keftes Garaz: Sweet-and-Sour Syrian Meatballs

June 09, 2021
Photo: Dan AllenPhoto: Dan Allen

Most Americans associate meatballs with spaghetti and tomato sauce. Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jews think of albondigas or keftes—patties that are often eaten at Hanukkah, because they are sometimes fried in oil.

This Syrian sweet-and-sour keftes recipe—flavored with dried sour or sweet cherries and tamarind sauce and baked rather than fried—has been handed down in the family of Melanie Franco Nussdorf, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who loves to cook the dishes of her ancestors who came to New York from Aleppo five generations ago.

Featured in: How To Put a Syrian Spin on Your Hanukkah Feast

Great for: Hanukkah


For the meatballs

  • ½cup pine nuts
  • 2sweet onions, diced
  • 2tablespoons olive oil
  • 2pounds ground beef
  • 2cloves garlic, minced
  • 1⁄2 cup matzo meal or bread crumbs
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground Aleppo or Marash pepper
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2large eggs
  • 1teaspoon tamarind concentrate
  • 2teaspoons tomato paste or ketchup

For the sauce

  • 4tablespoons olive oil
  • 1diced onion
  • 1tablespoon tamarind concentrate
  • 1 1⁄2 cups pitted sour cherries (If you cannot find sour cherries, frozen Bing or dark sweet cherries will work just fine)
  • 1 1⁄2 cups dried cherries
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1teaspoon ground allspice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1cup beef stock
  • 1cup red wine
  • 2tablespoons chopped parsley or cilantro
Yield: 6-8 servings


To make the Keftes Garaz: Sweet-and-Sour Syrian Meatballs

  • Step 1

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  • Step 2

    Mix ground beef with one diced onion in a large bowl.

  • Step 3

    Toast the pine nuts, stirring often, in a small dry skillet over medium heat, until lightly brown, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove to a medium bowl.

  • Step 4

    Sauté half the onions in oil on a nonstick frying pan until lightly caramelized, about 20 to 30 minutes.

  • Step 5

    Add the onions to the bowl with the pine nuts, then add the ground beef, garlic, matzo meal or bread crumbs, 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.

  • Step 6

    Mold into small balls, about 1 1⁄4 inches in diameter. Put on 2 rimmed baking sheets and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until done, but still juicy. You should get about 40 meatballs.

  • Step 7

    While the meatballs are baking, make the sauce. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add the onion 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, uncovered, for about 20 to 25 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened.

  • Step 8

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