Skip to main content

How to make this meatball meal from the Ottoman Empire

Dawood basha combines tomatoes and minced meat for a spicy main.
Like all the best food, dawood basha was named after a real person (@babylonbakehouse)

Syria? Lebanon? Iraq? Lots of countries have staked a claim to the origins of dawood basha, a meat-licious stew.

If the legend (and the internet) are to be believed, then this dish is named after a famous pasha - or high ranking officer - in the Ottoman Empire, whose heart was in modern day Turkey.

Dawood basha (we write "basha" instead of "pasha" as there is no letter P in Arabic) is said to have loved this meal so much that he ate it all the time and gave his name to it.

Can you blame him? This is a classic Middle Eastern dish, replete with tender, moist meatballs cooked in an aromatic tomato sauce -  a total crowd-pleaser.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


Serve it with plain or vermicelli rice, or even pasta and fresh bread if you wanted to change it up. Perfect comfort food for the body and soul during Ramadan.

Dawood basha can be served with rice or pasta (@babylonbakehouse)


Serves: 6

Preparation and cooking time: 45-55 mins

Is there any better comfort food than meatballs? (@babylonbakehouse)

1. Ingredients

For the meatballs

  • 750g (1lb 10oz) minced beef or minced lamb
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large egg
  • mixed spices (note: you can use any mixture to flavour the mince – we used 1 tsp curry powder and 1 tsp garam masala)
  • salt and pepper
Substitute more fresh tomatoes for canned if you wish (@babylonbakehouse)

For the sauce

  • vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 6 raw tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes (these can be substituted with more fresh tomatoes, if preferred)
  • 1l water
  • 1-2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • salt
  • ½ bunch of fresh parsley

2. Method

Making the meatballs

  1. Dice the onion in a food processor.
  2. Add the mince, spices, salt, pepper and egg to the food processor and mix.
  3. Remove the mixture and place it in a large bowl. Shape it into small meatballs and set aside on a tray.
  4. In a shallow saucepan, heat a oil. When hot, add the meatballs and fry until brown on all sides.
  5. Take out the meatballs, cover and set aside.
Perfect packets of onion-beef-spice wonderment (@babylonbakehouse)

For the sauce

  1. Add oil to a medium sized pot and heat before adding the chopped onion.
  2. Saute the onions for a couple of minutes before adding the fresh tomatoes. Cook for a further 2 mins.
  3. On a medium heat, add the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, paprika and salt.
  4. Add the water and increase the heat.
  5. Keep the sauce on a high heat until it thickens.
  6. Once thickened, reduce the heat and add the chopped parsley and cooked meatballs.
  7. Leave to simmer on low heat for approx 5 mins.
  8. Serve immediately.

Sura and Nuha are two sisters of Iraqi origin who want to create, showcase and champion the Middle Eastern food they grew up with. They have started Babylon Bakehouse, a London-based business, where they plan to showcase their dishes and provide catering services. You can follow them at @babylonbakehouse on Instagram or

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.