Saturday, 14 May 2011

Meat Lovers 101: Kofta (Egyptian ‘Meatballs’)

Every country has their own twist on what to do with ground beef.  Meatloaf, meatballs, shepherd’s pie, are all innovative ways to use ground beef. In the Middle East, a well known ground beef recipe is Kofta. To find one Kofta recipe is impossible, since it differs from country to country, region to region. Here in Egypt, I can mention 4 Kofta recipes off the top of my head. . Even though I have translated Kofta as a Meatball, most Kofta in Egypt aren’t round, but rather finger-like. One type of round Kofta, Koftat Daoud Basha, is infused with crushed rice, and simmered in a spicy onion sauce. Of course, there is the variable of ‘family recipes’ as well. I bet that everyone’s grandma will swear that her version of Kofta is the ‘right’ one.

Being always in a rush while cooking, my Kofta recipe is the simplest of the many versions out there. A small variation on the way my mom used to do it, I find my way a little more effective when shaping the Koftas. I prefer to chop the onion, garlic and parsley with a little oil in the blender, so it turns into a well mixed emulsion, and then slowly add in the meat, rather than mixing in the onion mixture by hand, while the processor is still on. This keeps the Koftas very moist, and prevents crumbling both while shaping and after cooking; which is a problem when using lean meat.

Ground beef is generally a more popular meat choice for most people, since it is easy to use and usually much cheaper than other cuts of meat. However, very cheap ground beef usually is very fatty and I prefer lean ground beef. To ensure your butcher is giving you the real deal, ask him to grind lean stew meat. You could even pick put the stew meat you want him to chop. This helps you control the amount of fat you have in your ground beef. No longer do you have to settle with the ‘surprise meat’ in the ready-made plates in the supermarket.


½ Kg lean ground beef
1 medium sized onion
3 garlic cloves
1 cup of chopped parsley
1 Tbsp Olive Oil 
1 Tbsp Salt
1 heaping tsp. Black pepper

 Preparation: (Time: About 20 mins total)

In the food processor, add in the onion, the garlic, parsley, olive oil, and the salt & pepper. After the mixture turns into a creamy emulsion, add in the meat slowly while the processor is on through the top attachment. It should all mix nicely, and turn into a big ball.

Take out the meat, and mold using your hands into finger-like shapes.  The Koftas shouldn’t be too fat, to prevent them from being under cooked in the center. The best size is an amount the size of a golf ball or a little larger, roughly the inner part of your palm, and work from there to mold. The half kilo of meat makes about 10 Kofta. It’s also important to try to keep them about the same size, so they take the same amount of time to cook.

In a frying pan or grill, add about 3 Tbsp of corn oil and heat well. Add in the Kofta one by one. It’s ok to crowd them a little, since the meat shrinks anyway. When browned on one side, turn them over on the other side. They should take no longer than 10 mins total, 5 mins on each side. If using less oil and a non-stick pan, and they start to smoke, you can add about 3 Tbsp of water and lower the heat. Make sure to wait until all the water evaporates.

My Experiments:

- This basically works for any combination of spices; Garlic and parsley only, coriander instead of the parsley. For a different twist, use green pepper and chili instead of the parsley.

- Prepare the Koftas and shape them, then freeze in portion sizes; Always good for a long day with no prep time. Just be sure to cook them after they’re thawed.

- In the summer, grab a bunch of skewers (flat ones are the best), and shape the Koftas a little longer and flatter. Throw them on the grill and you’re in for a treat! Not to mention a big hit in any BBQ party.


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