Moroccan Sardine Ball Tagine

This sardine ball tagine is a very traditional and popular Moroccan dish especially all along the coast. Don’t like sardine? Make it with any fish you fancy!

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

sardine ball tagine in a clay tagine
Sardine ball tagine

Sardines in Morocco

Did you know that Morocco is the world’s largest exporter of sardines? And given that it has a long coastline, seafood is a way of life all along the coast.

On our last stay in Morocco, which was for a month, I just couldn’t get enough of this sardine ball tagine. We stayed in Salé, sister town of Rabat, the capital, and were just a couple of minutes walk away from so many eateries. We’d often see the local sardine seller hawking fresh sardines on his bike with a makeshift cooler.

In fact, sardine kefta are so common in Morocco that you can find fresh sardine balls sold alongside fish in many places.

I think I must have had it a couple of times a week in the time we were there. One of my favourites was also fried sardines wrapped in flatbread and topped with a hot sauce sold by street vendors, as in the image below.

Moroccan Street Food
street vendor selling fried sardines in Rabat

Sardine Ball Tagine Recipe

It’s a very easy recipe to make, even taking into account the fact that we have to make the sardine balls or kefta sardine. Or I guess you could even call them boulettes de sardine (sardine balls in French, a main language in Morocco).

So everything in our sardine ball tagine, is made from scratch. This is what we’ll be doing:

  1. Make the sardine ball paste (kefta sardine) paste, leave to rest.
  2. Get the tomato sauce going.
  3. Form the balls while the sauce is simmering.
  4. Place the balls in the sauce and cook for 20 – 30 minutes (quicker in a saucepan).

It’ll take about 1 hour, including the forming of the sardine balls.

sardine ball tagine in a clay tagine
Sardine ball tagine

The Fish in Kefta Sardine Tagine

Naturally, we want sardine to make this traditional Moroccan recipe. Other fish? Keep reading.

Fresh sardines are the traditional choice in this recipe. If you can get them, great. You’ll have to clean them and get rid of the scales, big bones and the heads. Get your fishmonger to do if possible. See below for how to clean and fillet fresh sardines.

I’m lucky to be able to buy cleaned and butterflied sardines, so I just need to rinse, dry and process.

You can also use canned sardines to make our kefta sardine. The best flavour comes from sardines in regular olive oil. A little lemon juice in there is great too. Drain all the liquid, rinse, then pat your fillets dry before proceeding with the recipe.

Naturally, if you’re going to use canned sardines, go for the boneless and skinless ones, to make it easy.

You could also make this recipe into just a Fishball Tagine, using any fish you fancy. I’ve made this with salmon, which is just amazing, but also with just regular white fish.

How to Clean and Fillet Fresh Sardines

Time needed: 2 minutes

If you can only find whole fresh sardines, this is how to clean them before use. Time above is per sardine.

  1. Cut off the Head

    Using a pair of scissors, snip off the head.

  2. Lose the Scales

    Rinse off the scales off the body of the sardine.

  3. Pull off the Dorsal Fin

    This is on the fish’s back. Give it a strong tug and it’ll pull free.

  4. Clean the Insides

    Using a pair of scissors, snip along the belly line. Then using your fingers, dig our all the gunk and rinse well.

  5. Remove the backbone

    Open up the sardine by pulling away the two halves where you snipped it. Pinch the top end of the backbone and slowly, pull it away from the fish.

  6. Tidy and Rinse

    Now snip off the tail and rinse off any noticeable bones. The rest of the bones will be processed and cooked and you won’t notice them.
    Your sardine is now ready to be used.

How to Serve this Fishball Tagine?

I think bread makes the best accompaniment. Whether it’s Moroccan bread (khobz), pita, focaccia, baguette or anything you fancy, it doesn’t really matter. Just get that bread and scoop all that deliciousness up!

I usually top this sardine ball tagine with some pickled chillies, for those who like their heat (ME!). Yeah, I forgot them for the photoshoot!

A little salad on the side makes a wonderful contrast to the tomato and paprika flavoured oil sauce, like Monk’s Salad or Turkish Shepherd Salad.

Shall we get our aprons on?

If you enjoy the recipe, drop me a comment and let me know. And if you are feeling like a star, don’t forget that 5-star rating! Shukran!

If you make this recipe, post it on Instagram and tag me @azlinbloor.

Lin xx

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sardine ball tagine in a clay tagine

Moroccan Sardine Ball Tagine

A delicious and traditional Moroccan recipe for sardine balls poached in a thick and tangy tomato based sauce.
5 from 9 votes
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Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Moroccan
Keyword: chinese fishballs, kefta, tagine
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 4 (4-6)
Calories: 186kcal
Author: Azlin Bloor


The Sardine Meatballs

  • 500 g fresh sardines (deboned weight) or the equivalent drained weight canned sardine (see Notes below and article above)
  • 1 medium clove garlic
  • 1 mild green chilli
  • 1 small handful parsley
  • 1 small handful fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)
  • ½ medium onion (the other half goes in the sauce) about 80g pre peeled weight
  • 1 tsp cornflour (cornstarch in the US)
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric
  • ¼ tsp sweet unsmoked paprika
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp fine salt
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • freshly ground black pepper

The Sauce

  • ½ medium onion about 80g pre peeled weight
  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbsp EV olive oil
  • 400 g chopped tomatoes from a can this is 1 large can in the UK
  • 1 tsp sundried tomato paste
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp sweet, unsmoked paprika
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1 handful parsley
  • 1 handful fresh coriander leaves
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • freshly ground black pepper


  • fresh coriander leaves and parsley
  • whole pickled chillies optional


Clean the Sardines

  • I get mine already filleted and mostly with their skin off, so I don't need to do much here.
    Easiest way to debone the fresh sardines is to butterfly them from their fronts, then just pull the main bone off. Don't worry about all the other tiny bones, they'll get soft with the grinding and cooking.
    Peel off the skin if you want, or leave it on. Set aside while we do the aromatics.

Making the Sardine Kefta (balls)

  • Peel the garlic and place them in a food chopper. Halve the green chilli and add to the chopper. Chop until fairly fine.
  • Add the parsley and coriander leaves (cilantro) and chop again to mix, until the herbs are fully chopped. Scrape down the sides a necessary.
  • Add the sardines and everything else, the cornflour, spices, salt, lemon juice and some freshly grated black pepper.
    Pulse your chopper to mince the fish and to integrate everything thoroughly. Scrape down the sides and keep pulsing.
    If your chopper isn't big enough, do the sardines in batches, then mix everything up well in a large bowl.
    When done, tip the whole lot into a large bowl. Cover and leave aside for the flavours to develop while you get the sauce going.

The Sauce

  • Chop the half onion and garlic finely.
  • Heat the oil in a tagine or deep frying or saucepan. If using a tagine, keep the heat medium-low. Otherwise, medium will do.
    If using a tagine, don't forget to use a diffuser.
    When the oil is hot (in a tagine, this could take 5-10 minutes, depending on the heat), fry the chopped onions for 3 minutes.
    Add the garlic, stir and fry for 1 more minute.
  • Pour in the chopped tomatoes, sundried tomato paste, spices, salt, sugar and herbs (reserve about 1 tsp each herb for garnish). Stir well to mix, cover and bring to a simmer. This will take about 10 minutes, we'll go form the sardine balls in the meantime.
  • Sardine Balls. Using your hands, form little balls with the sardine paste. The traditional size is pretty small, slightly smaller than ping pong balls. But you can make them bigger, if you prefer.
    The paste you have will give you about 20-30 balls, depending on the size.
  • Slowly place the sardine balls (or kefta) into the tomato sauce in one layer. You'll need a large tagine or pan for the recipe here.
    Grab a small spoon and ladle a little sauce over the balls. This is optional, but I like to do it, for flavour. Cover and cook on low for 30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the balls are done.
    In a saucepan, this will only need 20 minutes.
  • When done, take it off the heat, drizzle the lemon juice all over and finish off with the herbs and freshly ground black pepper.
    If you wish, serve with some whole pickled chillies and bread.


Cooking time is for a tagine. A saucepan will only take about 30 minutes or so, altogether.


Calories: 186kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 0.4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 32mg | Sodium: 430mg | Potassium: 382mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 481IU | Vitamin C: 13mg | Calcium: 269mg | Iron: 2mg
Did you make this recipe?Mention @azlinbloor and tag #linsfood!
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6 thoughts on “Moroccan Sardine Ball Tagine”

  1. 5 stars
    I love a good tagine dinner, especially in cold weather. There is something very heartwarming about it! These meatballs look super delicious. And very easy to find ingredients list too.

  2. 5 stars
    I made this with salmon. It blew our minds, so different from any tagines we’ve had before.

  3. 5 stars
    Made these for some friends tonight. One of them is Algerian and do you know what he said? Just like his mum’s! We all loved it, thanks Lin.

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