Ssssssstttttt………..don’t tell anyone, but I’ve had a love affair with Middle Eastern food ever since I took my first bite. Middle Eastern cuisine comes from various countries and cultures ranging from North Africa through Asia. It includes Arab, Iranian/Persian, Israeli, Assyrian, Armenian, Kurdish, Cypriot, Azerbaijani and Turkish cuisines (sorry if I forgot some countries). It’s so broad you will always find something you like in this cuisine. I’m so fond of this type of food that I’m yet to cook something from it I don’t like.
Today I made Ottolenghi’s kofta b’siniyah from his cookbook Jerusalem. Kofta is essentially a meatball often seasoned with onion, herbs, and spices that can trace it’s origin across the Middle East. It comes in many varieties, each with its own unique heritage and specific preparation technique. Depending on the region, kofta can be made with any kind of ground meats. This version of kofta is made with half & half mixture of ground beef and ground lamb and served on a creamy tahini sauce.
Some recipes will tell you to use olive oil to cook the meatballs. I would advise against this because all the flavour of olive oil will disappear while cooking at high heat and the kofta is more likely to burn. Vegetable oil (like sunflower oil) has a higher smoking point and is better suited for the job.
Make sure to rest the shaped meatballs in the fridge for about 30 minutes or more before cooking, that helps the meatballs to firm up and the flavours to settle.
Before you start rolling the meatballs check the seasoning of your mixture by cooking a piece of it in the pan. Taste it and if it needs more salt or pepper, add some to the rest of the meatball mixture. Good seasoning is very important and is hard to correct once cooked.
This recipe uses tahini, but many people don’t like this paste, because they never had good tahini. I don’t buy the Turkish brands, because I find them too bitter and difficult to use (to thick). Buy a good brand tahini and don’t skip on the tahini-lemon sauce. It provides a smooth and creamy contrast to the fragrant meat. A good brand for example is ‘Al Yaman’ which I bought in ‘Tanger’, a Moroccan supermarket in Amsterdam. Two other brands I can recommend are ‘Al Nakhil’ and ‘Al Arz’. Surely you will find one of the three, either in a store or online.
I usually serve this with pita bread and a cucumber and tomato salad. Unfortunately I did not have time to make pita today so I served them with some corn on the cob.
So if you have the (meat)balls to try a variation on your standard meatball, it’s time to consider kofta. Trust me it will make you fall in love with middle eastern food in no time.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. If you try it, please let me know! Leave a comment, telling me what you think of it. Tag your photo on Instagram with @culyzaar or post it on my Facebook page so I can see it. I love seeing your takes on the recipes on my blog!
Source: “Jerusalem” – Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
- 400 g minced lamb
- 400 g minced beef
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
- 50 g toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped, plus extra whole ones to garnish
- 30 g finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus extra to garnish
- 1 large medium-hot red chilli , deseeded and finely chopped
- 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1½ tsp ground allspice
- ¾ tsp grated nutmeg
- 1½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1½ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil for baking the Kofta
- 75 g light tahini paste
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- enough water to make the sauce runny
- 1 medium garlic clove, crushed
- sweet paprika, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Put all the kofta ingredients (exept for the sunflower oil) in a bowl and use your hands to mix everything together well. Now shape into long, cigar-shaped cylinders, roughly 7cm long (about 50g each). Press the mix to compress it and ensure the kofta is tight and keeps its shape. Arrange on a plate and chill (at least 30 min) until you are ready to cook them.
In a medium bowl whisk together the tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, water and a quarter of a teaspoon of salt. The sauce should be a bit runnier than honey; add more water if needed one tbs at the time.
Heat the sunflower oil in a large frying-pan and sear the kofta over a high heat; do this in batches so they are not cramped together. Sear them on all sides until golden brown, about six minutes for each batch. At this point they should be medium-rare. Lift out of the pan and arrange on an oven tray. Put the tray in the oven for two (medium) to four (well done) minutes.
Spoon the tahini sauce on a serving plate so it covers the base of the tray and place the kofta on the sauce. Scatter with pine nuts and parsley and finally sprinkle some paprika on top.
Serve at once.