GROUND LAMB KOFTA
When I first met my husband Allen, and we would go out to restaurants, he always wanted to go somewhere for good ol’ American cuisine. I always wanted to explore ethnic restaurants. We learned to compromise, but he would almost always order beef and I gravitated toward fish or chicken.
When we returned to favorite places, Allen would usually order the exact dish he had previously. And of course, I wanted to try something I had not had before. I have to smile when I think of how we were always consistently different.
MIDDLE EASTERN MEATLOAF
Allen had a big appetite, and he always ended up eating some of whatever was on my plate. Sometimes he even would say, “Hmm, I should’ve ordered what you had.” Over the years, he began to experiment more with new choices. One of his favorite cuisines was Middle Eastern Food. He always wanted some hummus, a great salad, and usually kabobs. Then he discovered Kofta. There was no turning back, and he always ordered Kofta from then on when we went out for Middle Eastern Food.
For those who don’t know, Kofta is a meatloaf style dish flavored with garlic, onion, herbs and spices. The ground meat is usually lamb or beef, but sometimes even pork, chicken, or a combination of ground meats. Some recipes also add finely chopped/ground pine nuts or other nuts before forming the mixture into meatballs, patties, or logs. Many versions form the meat mixture around skewers. Variations are unlimited but all incorporate lots of herbs and spices for a complex burst of flavor. Add tahini or tzatziki sauce to make the dish even more authentic.
TOSS IN GARLIC, HERBS AND SPICES
Don’t let the list of ingredients deter you; it is mostly herbs and spices, so it really does go together quickly. Just put the pine nuts, garlic, and all of those lovely spices together in a small food processor and let her rip. Grating the onion takes the most time, but you can make it quicker by chopping it finely in the processor after grinding the nuts, herbs, and spices. Due to my son Karl’s uncontrollable intense reaction to onions, I have even mushed the finely chopped onion mixture through a fine sieve into the meat mixture to avoid gagging at the table. But most people won’t have to do that.
Ground lamb was Allen’s preference, and it is mine, too. However, the beef version is yummy, also. I have never felt the need to make it with other ground meat. Why mess with something so good already?
UNUSUAL INGREDIENT FOR GREAT TEXTURE
After our favorite Middle Eastern restaurant in Ann Arbor, La Marsa, closed due to parking issues, I was determined to make my own comparable version. Allen was determined to try as many versions as possible! I finally found a recipe that Allen and I both loved from America’s Test Kitchen: The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook. The unusual ingredient in this recipe is unflavored gelatin—strange, right? The gelatin contributes to a texture is remarkable because it is tender, juicy and firm without being mushy from breadcrumbs. I also like the fact that their version uses dried herbs. Now I can make it anytime without going out to get fresh herbs. Leave it to America’s Test Kitchen to figure it out—they did a great job!
I sprinkle the ground garlic mixture, grated onion, and gelatin over the top of the ground meat and start mixing with a fork to toss it all together lightly. Then I use my fingers to make sure it is all thoroughly and completely combined. Even though I try to make portions equal, I don’t weigh and measure. I just eyeball it, separate the meat and form it into logs.
DON’T FORGET THE SAUCE
I think it is easiest and best to grill the kofta in order to get a nice char on the outside, but a moist center. However, since it is cold and snowy outside today, I used the broiler instead. Try not to overcook the meat, so you can serve delectable and tasty logs with a bit of this simple Tahini Sauce. Serve Kofta in a traditional fashion with rice or change it a bit by serving it with garlic smashed redskins (recipe coming soon).
The Best Kofta
- 1/2 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 & 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried mint
- 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb, or ground beef
- 1/2 cup grated onion
- 1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
Place ground meat in a medium bowl. Process pine nuts, garlic, paprika, salt, cumin, pepper, coriander, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, parsley and mint in food processor until coarse paste forms, 30 – 45 seconds. Sprinkle over the top of the ground lamb or beef, then sprinkle the onion and gelatin over all. Mix until thoroughly combined.
Divide into equal 8 equal portions. Shape into cylinders about 4 inches long.
Grill or broil, turning once, until crispy on the outside and cooked through, about 10-12 minutes. Serve with Tahini Sauce.
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 1/2 cup water
- Zest and juice of 2 medium lemons
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
Stir all together until well blended.