Recipes for Alzheimer's - North African Meatballs

North African Meatballs

From The New York Times

DAVID TANIS       Time1 hour 15 minutes     Makes about 36 meatballs

These North African Meatballs are classified as a Mediterranean diet entree. The Mediterranean Diet has long been thought to protect against Alzheimer’s. If something guards the brain against damage from disease, there is a good chance that it will also slow progression of the disease as well.

This is a fun do-together recipe. Mixing the spices into the ground meat—by hand—and rolling out the meatballs provides wonderful sensory feedback for a person with dementia. Almost all of the spices in this dish are thought to provide protection to the brain. I recommend frying in coconut oil.

North African Meatballs



  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cups finely diced onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 inch piece cinnamon stick
  • Large pinch saffron, crumbled
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water


  • 1 and 1/2 cups cubed day-old firm white bread
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 pound ground beef or lamb
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped scallion
  • All-purpose flour, for dusting
  • Coconut oil or olive oil



Heat oil over medium-high heat in a wide, heavy bottomed saucepan. Add onion and cook without browning until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, cinnamon and saffron, and stir well to incorporate. Season generously with salt and pepper, and allow to sizzle for 1 minute more. Add broth and simmer gently for 5 minutes. May be made several hours in advance, up to a day.


  1. Put bread cubes and milk in a small bowl. Leave bread to soak until softened, about 5 minutes, then squeeze dry.
  2. In a mixing bowl, put squeezed-out bread, ground meat and egg. Add salt, pepper, garlic, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, paprika, cayenne, cloves, coriander and cumin. Mix well with hands to distribute seasoning. Add 2 tablespoons each of parsley, cilantro and scallion, and knead for a minute. May be prepared several hours in advance, up to a day.
  3. With hands, roll mixture into small round balls about the size of a quarter. Dust balls lightly with flour. Heat a few tablespoons of oil, or a quarter-inch depth, over medium-high heat and fry meatballs until barely browned, about 2 minutes per side. Drain and blot on paper towel. Simmer meatballs in saffron-tomato sauce, covered, over medium heat for about 20 minutes, until tender.
  4. Garnish meatballs with remaining parsley, cilantro and scallion.

Serving suggestions:

  • Couscous
  • Brown rice
  • Roasted tomatoes
  • Pilaf
9 replies
  1. Andrew Jansen
    Andrew Jansen says:

    Hi, is the most important thing the spices or the food part or both. Have known about coconut oil for some time, but my interest is prevention rather than reversal of condition. Cheers Andrew.

  2. Kathy Bresnahan
    Kathy Bresnahan says:

    Hi John,

    Thank you for your website. My father has Lewy Body Dementia. I have felt for some time now that his diet…mom loves to eat out, is a big contributor to his quick downfall. I am excited to get them to start eating your healthy recipes and keep my fingers crossed to see an improvement in his health and mine as I will be sharing these with my family as well.

    So here is my question. Do you find that once dementia patients start eating healthy they are able to stop the meds (which I don’t find are helping my dad)?

    I am so frustrated with medical doctors and their pills!

    I am just looking at every avenue for dad and excited to start this journey.

    Thank you kindly for your thoughts!


    • John Schmid
      John Schmid says:

      Hi Kathy – Somehow this comment got lost in the system and I apologize for that. Please do not alter any drug regimen that was prescribed by your medical professional. That said, I have seen reports of doctors themselves stopping meds once they see improvement like this. Good luck with your journey, and we are pulling for your dad.


    • John Schmid
      John Schmid says:

      Of course, Trudy. As a vegetarian, you probably know much more about meat substitutes than do I. The important thing here is the spices and the coconut oil.

      I would love to hear how it turns out…



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