Photo credit: Getty/Nikolay Donetsk
Prep Cook Yield Ready In
10 minutes 1 hour 45 minutes Serves 6 1 hour 55 minutes

Syrian Meatballs in Cherry Sauce Recipe

Simple meatballs braised in a sweet and tangy sauce.

Kibbeh cherry (or “geraz” in Arabic) is a classic Syrian dish. It’s made up of a kibbeh roll, essentially a meat jelly roll, braised in a tamarind-laced sweet and tangy sauce. The roll is complicated to make, using ground beef and a mixture of beef and rice ground together, called kibbeh dough. I strip away the layers (literally!) and braise simple meatballs in the flavorful cherry sauce. Simple enough for a weeknight, though special enough for Shabbat, these meatballs are a family favorite. Like most saucy Syrian dishes, this is best served over a bed of rice to soak up the sauce. 

Note: This dish can be prepared in advance. The meatballs can be made a day ahead of time and stored on a covered plate in the refrigerator. The meatballs can also be frozen raw; there’s no need to defrost them before adding to the sauce. Alternatively, the finished dish can be frozen. Reheat, covered, in a 375 degree F oven or in a saucepan over low heat.

Tamarind Tips

Tamarind may seem out of reach, but it’s easier to find than you may think!

  •  If you have access to a kosher supermarket, look for “prepared tamarind” near the tahini. This tamarind is exactly what my grandma makes: pulp, sugar and lemon juice simmered and strained. It’s ready to go right out of the jar and is the consistency of pancake batter.
  • Pure tamarind is easy to find on Amazon or in the Thai section of your supermarket. Check for a small jar near the rice noodles — it’s the sweet and sour flavor in pad Thai. The consistency is thinner than prepared tamarind and it doesn’t have added sugar or lemon. To use this type of tamarind, add an additional 2 Tbsp of lemon juice and 2 Tbsp sugar. 
  • No tamarind? No problem! Swap in ¼ cup prune butter (lekvar) + 2 Tbsp sugar + juice of 1 lemon (and please don’t tell my grandma!).


For the sauce:

  • 1 Tbsp neutral oil
  • 1 small onion
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • ½ cup prepared tamarind (see above for swaps)
  • 2 cans sweet cherries in juice (or sub 16oz frozen cherries)

For the meatballs:

  • 1.5 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground allspice


  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil. Dice the onion and add it to the pan. Cook on a low heat for 10 minutes.
  2. While the onions are sautéing, prepare the meatballs. Combine the beef, salt and allspice in a medium bowl. Gently form walnut-size meatballs and set aside.
  3. Once the onions are translucent, add the lemon juice, sugar, salt, allspice, tamarind and cherries (with liquid) to the pot. Stir to dissolve sugar. Raise the heat to medium and let the sauce come to a simmer. Carefully drop meatballs into the sauce. Cover the pot halfway and simmer for 1.5 hours. Stir twice throughout cooking, lowering heat if needed.
  4. After 1.5 hours, the meatballs will be deeply browned and glossy, and the sauce will have reduced and thickened. Serve over rice.

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