Lebanese meatballs (Dawood Basha)

September 21, 2011  •  Category:


Lebanon (and the rest of the Levant) was under Ottoman rule until the end of WWI and back then high-ranking officers were called basha; hence the name of this dish, after an Armenian governor or pasha (basha is the Arabic pronounciation since p as a sound does not exist in Arabic) who was appointed to govern the Lebanese territory.

My grandmother lived through this period of history and passed on many tales to me, the eager listener, while she was busy preparing dumplings in the kitchen or embroidering in her bedroom.

This dish is a homey dish and one that can be found with slight variations all over the Levant. Some people like to make it with lamb and omit the tomato paste so the sauce is just a dark, meaty sauce. It is easy to make, relatively fast  and popular.

INGREDIENTS: 4 servings

  • 1/2 pound of beef, 96% lean
  • 1 small onion+ 2 large onions
  • 1 egg yolk (optional)
  • 1/3 cup of pine nuts
  • 3 tbsp. of tomato paste
  • 2 cups of beef stock or chicken stock (can use a cube)
  • 1 1/4 cup of Basmati rice
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 3 tbsp. of butter (for the rice)
  • Spices: 1 1/2 tsp. of salt, 1 tsp of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp. of allspice or 1 1/2 tsp. of seven-spice


  1. Soak the rice in warm water with a dash of salt for 30 minutes or longer (after rinsing it a few times under running water)
  2. Chop the small onion and douse it in salt and let it spit out its water for a few minutes. Place the meat in the food processor, add the spices, egg yolk, drained onion and process until smooth. Form marble-sized balls and either bake them in the oven for 5 minutes at 350F or pan-fry them.
  3. Slice the large onions in rings and pan-fry them in some olive oil until translucent and golden; add the meatballs and 2 cups of beef stock along with the tomato paste (if desired). Let the mixture simmer gently for 25 minutes until the liquid is reduced and thickened and the meatballs are thoroughly cooked.
  4. Pan-fry some pine nuts in a little butter and add to the meatballs at the end.
  5. Drain the rice and boil in several cups of water till tender. Drain and rinse the rice. Place 2 tablespoons of butter in the pan and let the butter melt, add 1/4 cup of water to the butter. Place the rice over the butter and water and with the handle of a wooden spoon, dig holes in the rice in 3 places; cover the pan and let the rice steam for 30 minutes, first on medium-high heat, then on very low heat. Uncover after 30 minutes to check and add more butter to the rice if desired. Serve with the meatballs.


34 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Belinda @zomppa says:

    I am so trying this homemade recipe!

  2. Velva says:

    This is just the kind of simply prepared ethnic dish that I find so comforting. It’s soulful, it has history. Love it.


  3. Christine @ Fresh says:

    This dish looks quite comforting, and I imagine would be delicious with lamb as a substitute. Interesting technique for cooking rice. I’m looking forward to trying it.

  4. virginie says:

    hummm voila le repas idéal pour mes enfants, ils adorent les boulettes et moi aussi d’ailleurs !!

    bon jeudi plein de gourmandise

  5. Rosa says:

    A fabulous dish! So comforting looking. A dish I could easily eat at least twice aweek! ;-P



  6. Krista says:

    Oh this looks so good, Joumana. I love comfort food dishes like this, warm, savory, and so welcoming. 🙂

  7. Noura says:

    Your website is such a pleasure to visit. I always feel like I’m back in my tayta’s kitchen whenever I read your recipes and evocative descriptions of what you’re making. Your photographs are beautiful, as well. Even the non-Lebanese recipes are so creative and imaginative. You are a gem and deserve to be on TV.

  8. Banana Wonder says:

    mmmm mmmm these look so good! making my mouth water. I love the addition of pine nuts. There is something similar in Greek cuisine – prob a product of the same ottoman rule!

  9. Magda says:

    Your introduction was so interesting Joumana. I never new there was no p in Arabic.

    I love how small these meatballs are. Another wonderful dish! It’s right up my alley, I’m going to try it soon.

  10. Priya says:

    Those meat balls looks damn addictive and inviting..

  11. Chiara says:

    Yum, the sauce you cook the meatballs in sounds really good… wish I could soak it up with some bread right about now!

  12. sare says:

    Dear Joumana, when I finished reading the recipe, I said myself “I know it” as you had written.
    We have the same taste, but we don’t bake or fry.We add them in boiling sauced water. We also use some rice for meatballs.
    Next time I’ll try your recipe, thank you.

  13. Nuts about food says:

    I love meatballs of all kinds. I especially like small meatballs like these. I would love to hear some of the stories your grandmother told you.

  14. Joanne says:

    Those little meatballs are so tiny and cute! What a great meal!

  15. MaryMoh says:

    Wow…that’s a lot of tiny meat balls you made! I do need more patience when comes to cooking….haha. Love the dish. Looks very delicious….mmm

  16. Mark Wisecarver says:

    Excellent, as always. 😉

  17. Cherine says:

    I love this dish. Looks mouthwatering!

  18. Nadji says:

    Il faudra peut-être recenser le nombre de plats où les cadis et pachas sont à l’honneur…pour voir si on encense certains et si on se paye la tête de certains :
    un plat à base d’aubergines et de viande hachée, c’est le cadi sekran fedrouj : le cadi ivre dans l’escalier.
    Ton plat me semble des plus délicieux
    A très bientôt.

  19. Nicole says:

    The photos do a wonderful job of showing what a beautiful and delicious looking dish this is. I am so tempted to make these!

  20. deana says:

    Well the dish sounds great and that plate is fabulous… makes a great dish look even better. Love the pine nuts with beef… lovely idea!

  21. Caffettiera says:

    One of my favourite sauces for pasta is quite similar to this recipe, with a little more tomato. This Lebanese version looks really scrumptuos, homely and yet comforting and tasty.

  22. Kathy says:

    I love the simplicity of this dish…sounds so delicious!

  23. Oui, Chef says:

    I love the idea of the tiny little meatballs, not the monster, Italian ones I normally make. And the pine nuts for texture, YUM!

  24. domi says:

    Avec ces goûteuses petites perles on est sûr de ne pas faire de boulettes…

  25. Nour says:

    Finally my teta’s Dawood basha’s recipe! Thank you so much 🙂 And thanks for the name explanation, you have no idea how many times I fought about it over with my Turkish bf (who was insisting that my Teta invented this name to make the recipe sound more fancy lol)

  26. michelle says:

    I made this for dinner tonight and we all LOVED it!! It was so good and popular with kids and adults (and my picky eater loved it too!)

  27. valentini says:

    I made this dish and was delicious!!!! Thank you for sharing!!

  28. Hfriday says:

    This looks amazing! As you mentioned, there are variety of methods to make this dish. My favorite is with pomogranate molasses instead of tomato paste. If I wanted to put pomogranate molasses to your recipe instead of tomato paste, how much should I put and at what stage of cooking? Thanks!

    • Joumana says:

      @Hania: You would add the pom molasses (dibs el3enab) at step 3, when you are ready to simmer the meatballs for 20 minutes or so. If 15 minutes into it you find that the sauce needs more, add 1/2 tablespoon at that point. it is safer to go with less than too much; `i found that pom molasses vary in taste or sweetness so if yours is too sour, go ahead and add a teaspoon or more of brown sugar to the sauce. Glad you liked the recipe. Take care, `joumana

  29. Mariam says:

    Would like to make this but am wondering after frying and cooking in sauce won’t the meat balls be hardish and dry ? Technically I thought breadcrumbs and liquid kept meatballs tender but if not needed would love to forego them . Any thoughts? Thank you kindly

  30. Saly says:

    I think this is a Turkish dish not Arabic at all.

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