claudia roden's daoud basha (lamb meatballs with pine nuts in tomato sauce)

lamb meatballs with pine nuts in tomato sauce (daoud basha)
I don't know if the Daoud Basha was a good governor of Mount Lebanon in the 1860s and the last decades of the Ottoman Empire, but he did have this delicious but simple lamb meatball dish named after him. So I'm guessing he either got something right or was just well-known for his love of good food.

I've made various versions of lamb meatballs over the years, and some have been stuffed with pine nuts, (which makes an intriguing surprise when you bite into them). However, this recipe for lamb meatballs with pine nuts in tomato sauce is yet
another of Claudia Roden's great recipes from Arabesque: A taste of Morocco, Turkey + Lebanon. Not only is it one of the easiest as well as tastiest meatball and tomato sauce dishes ever.

lamb and pine nut meatballs
with vermicelli rice
These delicately spiced meatballs are somewhat deceptive. The combination of a little aromatic spice, lamb, onion and tomato is completely beguiling. Once you have tasted one meatball, you don't want to stop. (Of course, that could just be me - I am a little greedy!) I love these so much that recently I have got into the good habit of setting a few aside for lunch next day; they are perfect stuffed into a toasted pitta bread with a load of crunchy salad.

The meatballs are initially baked, rather than frying them, which means that they are less likely to fall apart. Whizz up a raw tomato sauce which is then cooked with the meatballs. The lamb meatballs infuse the simple tomato sauce with an extra layer of savoury flavour.

Serve with vermicelli rice and dream of sunnier days.

Serves 6
Skill level: Easy

2 x English onions, very finely chopped or grated
750g lean minced lamb
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
100g pine nuts
olive oil
1kg tomatoes (I use a mixture of tinned plum and fresh tomatoes)
2 x garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-2 tsp sugar
fresh parsley or coriander, roughly chopped (to serve)

  1. Whizz up the onions in a food processor. Drain, reserving the onion liquid.
  2. Combine the chopped onion in a bowl with the lamb, salt, pepper, ground cinnamon and allspice. Knead into a ball with your hands until the spices are well mixed and a rough paste is formed.
  3. Wet your hands and form the paste into balls about the size of walnuts. (It's easier to do if your hands are slightly damp.)
  4. Poke a hole into each meatball with your forefinger and stuff the cavity with 3 to four pine nuts, then close up the hole.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 200C / Gas Mark 6.
  6. Pour a little oil into a shallow dish and roll the meatballs in the oil.
  7. Place the oiled meatballs in a large ovenproof dish and roast for 15 to 20 minutes until the meatballs have lightly browned.
  8. Whizz up the tomatoes in a food processor with the garlic, salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon of sugar. You may need to use another teaspoon of sugar - depending on how naturally sweet your tomatoes are.
  9. Remove the meatballs from the oven and give the dish a bit of a shake to make sure that none of the meatballs have stuck to the bottom. Pour over the raw tomato sauce. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, carefully turning the meatballs over once.
  10. Serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley or coriander.


  • Serve with plain or vermicelli rice, or couscous or bulgur wheat.
  • Perk up the sauce with a splash of lemon juice or a ½ teaspoon of chilli flakes.
  • Serve the meatballs on a stick with tomato sauce for dipping!
  • Leftovers are fabulous with salad stuffed into pitta bread and make a great packed lunch.


Karen S Booth said...

I love Claudia Roden and this recipe represents what she does so well, it looks amazing. I am also am Ottoman cuisine junkie - when I lived in Turkey, I went to an Ottoman cooking class and was hooked......I also prefer to bake my meatballs too. A glorious recipe and lovely imagery in your post! Karen

hala said...

i love your blog...and all the great recipes. i'm syrian and when i saw this daoud basha dish i nearly fell off my chair! yes there really was a daoud basha ottoman ruler in syria and he fell in love with this dish and eventually it was named after him. just to set the record straight it is not a turkish nor a lebanese dish it is a syrian dish full stop :)
i want to send you my mother's recipe (the cook of the ages, syrian women are famous for their home cooking - lebanese are famous for their mezza) if you would like. anyway love your blog :)

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Karen, thank you! When I first moved to London, a boyfriend introduced me to Mangal Restaurant in Stoke Newington and I have been hooked ever since. Up to then I was just familiar with Indian spices, which are blunt force trauma compared to subtle Ottoman and Persian spices. It is wonderful to explore this rich cuisine!

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Hala - thank you so much. It means a lot to me :)

I would LOVE to see your mother's recipes. I am obsessed and I would really enjoy knowing more about true Syrian cooking. It would be an absolute privilege! You can email me at marmadukescarlet at gmail dot com

Thank you!

heathcliffe said...

Are these the same meatballs you brought round for dinner at mine? If they are, then I'm going to chuck in my recommendation that everyone should eat these at least once before they die. You know that I hid some in the fridge so I'd be able to eat them all over again the next day? :-)