Moroccan Sardine Balls in Spicy Tomato Sauce Recipe

tiny sardine balls in tomato sauce
Moroccan Sardine Balls in Tomato Sauce. Christine Benlafquih
  • Total: 65 mins
  • Prep: 20 mins
  • Cook: 45 mins
  • Yield: Serves 4

Zesty homemade tomato sauce forms the basis for many tasty Moroccan dishes, including this classic Sardine Balls recipe. You can make the boulettes as your main course, but they usually appear on the table as a side dish or as part of a fish dinner with several entrées, where they're traditionally eaten by hand, dipping in with pieces of Moroccan bread (khobz).


  • For the Sardine Balls:
  • 1 lb. (about 1/2 kg) fresh sardine fillets
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • Optional: 1/8 teaspoon ground hot pepper
  • 2 tablespoons parsley (finely chopped fresh) 
  • 2 tablespoons coriander/cilantro (finely chopped fresh)
  • For the Tomato Sauce:
  • 6 or 7 large tomatoes (fresh)
  • 2 tablespoons parsley (finely chopped fresh)
  • 2 tablespoons coriander/cilantro (fresh, finely chopped)
  • 2 cloves garlic (finely chopped or pressed)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Optional: 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne 
  • Optional: 3 or 4 saffron threads
  • Optional: bay leaf

Steps to Make It

Make the Sardine Balls

  1. Wash the sardine fillets one-by-one in a bowl of water, taking care to remove any stray bits of bone, fins, tails and scales. Drain thoroughly in a colander.

  2. Place the cleaned fillets in a food processor. Pulse or process on high speed until the sardines are pureed or finely ground to a thick paste-like consistency.

  3. Transfer the pureed sardines to a bowl. Add the spices, parsley, and coriander and mix well with your hands, kneading the mixture to distribute the spices evenly.

  4. Set out a small bowl of cold water. Lightly wet your hands and shape the sardine mixture into small balls the size of large marbles or cherries. Dip your fingers into the water as needed to keep the sardines from sticking to your hands.

  5. Set the sardine balls aside, covering and refrigerating if they won't be cooked immediately.

Make the Tomato Sauce

  1. Peel, seed, and chop the tomatoes. (Or, if the tomatoes are very soft and ripe, you can cut them in half crosswise, seed them, and grate the tomatoes instead.)

  2. Transfer the tomatoes to a 10- or 12-inch skillet or base of a large tagine. Add the spices, parsley, coriander, garlic, and olive oil. Stir to combine.

  3. Bring the tomato mixture to a simmer over medium heat (or medium-low heat if cooking in a clay or ceramic tagine) and cook, covered, for 15  to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and mashing the tomatoes to a puree with your spoon as they soften. 

  4. When a rich, smooth sauce has formed, stir in a few tablespoons of water and add the sardine balls. Cover, bring back to a simmer and cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, occasionally stirring, until the sardine balls are cooked through.

  5. Serve warm with crusty bread for scooping up the sardine balls and sauce.


  • You'll need to fillet your sardines first.
  • The sardine balls can be prepped a day in advance and refrigerated until cooking time. You can also plan to cook the entire dish in advance. It will keep well for two or three days in the refrigerator; simply reheat gently to serve.