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.
Meatballs are little globes of deliciousness that can be used in all sorts of dishes. Whether you like them fried, baked, glazed, or simmered in sauce, they are super versatile and inexpensive. It’s just a matter of taking some ground meat, add some seasoning and herbs, form it into little balls, and cook! This lamb meatball recipe with feta, lemon and mint is fabulous, but you can always substitute the lamb for another kind of meat if you don’t like lamb. If I had to name one recipe that is ideal for slipping into a food coma, it would be this one.
If done right the meatballs are juicy and soft. To achieve this juiciness and softness it’s very important not to overwork the meat mixture, and make sure to simmer them gently. I use the lowest setting on the stove.
First time I saw the intriguing mix of ingredients in this recipe, I immediately wanted to try it. After tasting it I can now tell you that there’s a mouthful of incredible flavour in every bite you take of this dish! I can honestly say that I have never eaten meatballs in tomato sauce as good as these and I would love to be proven wrong. If you have a better recipe, please let me know…….
The meatballs are quick and easy to make, you just mix all the ingredients together and roll them into golf size balls. I don’t know about you, but I think there is something extremely relaxing about rolling the meat into little balls and browning them into perfection before you drop them into the delicious, rich tomato sauce. I told the kids they could choose what to serve them with and they chose a cucumber and strawberry salad and some crusty bread.
It is worth doubling up the quantities of the tomato sauce if you want to serve them with a pasta like spaghetti. You know what………….…..just thought of this, but you could also use this extra sauce to make a delicious lunch the next day. Simply heat up the sauce and then drop a few eggs in the mixture and poach them to perfection. Add a nice crusty baguette and you’re sorted. I will definitely do that next time I make them.
Once we were having meatballs for diner and my son asks me: mum, how much of this meatball is meat? So I tell him that about 90% of the meatballs is meat. Then he replied: So the other 10% is made of balls? Euhhhhh……..…….never thought of it like that. Luckily it did not change my way of looking at meatballs.
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. You can also 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: Adapted from ‘Smitten Kitchen’
- 750 grams ground lamb
- 1 large egg
- 60 grams panko breadcrumbs
- 60 grams crumbled feta cheese
- 3/4 teaspoon table salt
- a Pinch of red pepper flakes
- 2 small garlic cloves, minced
- 10 grams chopped parsley
- 35 grams tomato paste
- Zest of one lemon
- 5 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (for browning)
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic clove, minced
- 35 grams tomato paste
- 800 grams (2 cans) of crushed or pureed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Zest of half a lemon
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- Pinches of red pepper flakes (to taste)
- 75 grams pitted, chopped kalamata olives, plus more for garnish
- 5 grams thinly sliced mint leaves, plus more for garnish
- 5 grams chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
- Juice of half a lemon
- 30 grams crumbled feta, for garnish
In a large bowl, combine all meatball ingredients except the oil. I like to do this with a fork. Form the mixture into golf ball sized meatballs. Oil your hands so the meat doesn’t stick to your fingers. Always roll them lightly so they just hold together but they aren’t compressed to much. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes to set.
While the meatballs set in the fridge, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet and put it on medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and let it "brown" in the pan. By doing this and sauteing it with the onions, you can boost the flavour of this dish in a big way. This method caramelizes the natural sugars in the tomato paste, making the sauce sweet and delicious. Then you add a little water to the pan and scrape up any bits stuck to the pan. Add the tomatoes and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover with a lid and cook at the lowest setting for 30 minutes.
While the sauce is cooking you heat a little oil over a medium-high heat in a large frying pan and brown the meatballs. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Leave space so you can gently turn the meatballs around so they brown on all sides. You can fry the meatballs until cooked through but I prefer to finish them in the sauce. Once they are all browned, remove carefully with tongs and set aside on a plate. Repeat with the rest of the meatballs.
Add the oregano, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, pepper flakes, olives, mint and parsley to the tomato sauce. Then add the browned meatballs, cover the pan and cook again at the lowest simmer for another 30 minutes. By then the meatballs should be cooked through.
Before serving you sprinkle the meatballs with feta, parsley, olives and mint and serve immediately. We served this with a cucumber and strawberry salad and some crusty baguette to mop up all the delicious tomato sauce.