8 ratings

Saffron Rice Pilaf with Lamb Meatballs, Red Peppers, and Dates


Saffron Rice Pilaf with Lamb Meatballs, Red Peppers, and Dates

Easy, delicious, and different is how I would describe this casserole. Petite meatballs prepared with ground lamb and seasoned with Moroccan spices are nestled into a baked rice pilaf during the last few minutes of cooking. The rice, scented with saffron, cooks to a rich, golden yellow and is accented with bits of red bell pepper and Medjool dates.

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For the Lamb Meatballs

  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 Teaspoons paprika
  • 1 Teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ Teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 Pound ground lamb
  • ¼ Cup very finely chopped onion
  • 2 Teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil

For the Casserole

  • 1¼ Cup long-grain rice, preferably basmati
  • ¾ Cup red bell pepper cut into strips, ¼-inch wide and 1½-inch long
  • 8 Medjool dates, pitted and cut lengthwise into quarters
  • 3½ Cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ Teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 Tablespoons julienned fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 Tablespoons julienned fresh mint


For the Lamb Meatballs

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375°F. Oil a shallow 2½-quart baking dish.

In a medium bowl, mix together the cumin, paprika, salt, and cayenne. Add the lamb, onion, and garlic and mix with two forks to combine well. Scoop 1 tablespoon of the lamb mixture into your hands and roll into a small ball. Repeat until all of the mixture has been used. You should get about twenty-four meatballs. (The meatballs can be prepared to this point 1 day ahead; cover and refriger­ate. Bring to room temperature at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour before continuing with the recipe.)

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the meatballs and brown on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside. 

For the Casserole

Spread the rice evenly in the prepared baking dish, and then scatter the bell pepper and dates over the rice.

Heat the chicken broth in a medium saucepan, covered, over medium heat until it simmers. Add the saffron, taste the broth, and season with salt if needed. Pour the hot broth over the rice. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake until almost all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the casserole from the oven and carefully remove the foil. Stir in the meatballs, re-cover, and bake 5 minutes more. Remove from the oven.

Combine the parsley, mint, and lemon zest in a small bowl and sprinkle over the casserole before serving.