Wherever you go in the world, you’re likely to find that the cuisine includes some form of meatball. Whilst part of their appeal is that they can make a portion of meat go further, for me it’s the level of flavour the additional ingredients bring, lifting fairly cheap cuts of meat into something sumptuous & satisfying.
Whilst no one culture can categorically say they invented them, Persian cuisine can certainly claim to be a key proponent of the art, with their kofte (from kufta, meaning “to beat” or “to grind”) introduced to the Ottomans & the Arabs, then through them to Italy, Spain & North Africa, & from there to the New World.
As a journey through my love of the food of the Eastern Mediterranean, kofte seemed a perfect place to start. This version uses pine nuts to add some crunch to these flavour packed meatballs. They can be served with a salad, bread & yogurt, or added to a spicy tomato sauce to eat with rice.
Serves 4 generously (16-20 kofte)
500g minced lamb – not too lean if you can find it
1 large onion, very finely chopped (I use a food processor)
2 cloves of garlic – crushed or thrown in food processor with the onion
50g pine nuts – lightly toasted / dry fried
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp of ground cinnamon
½ tsp of ground allspice
1 ½ tbsp of sea salt, crushed (if crushing the garlic – do both at same time)
Small bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaves & stems finely chopped
Small bunch of mint, leaves picked & finely chopped.
- Preheat oven to 150 °C / 130 °C fan / gas mark 2 (used to keep the kofte warm when batch frying). Preheat a large non stick frying pan over a medium heat to cook the kofte in.
- Put all the ingredients except for the oil into a large mixing bowl. Using your hands, work the mixture together well – take a few minutes over this to ensure all the ingredients are well combined.
- Take a small handful of mixture, a bit larger than a golf ball, & shape into the kofte – you’re looking to make a fat sausage shape, about 5 cm / 2 inches long, with tapered ends. I usually lay out a piece of baking parchment to put the finished kofte on. You can then fry straight away, or just store them in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.
- Pour a small amount of oil in the preheated frying pan, & cook the kofte in batches. The goal is to give them a nice crispy browned crust – so don’t overcrowd the pan (if you do, they will steam rather than fry) & don’t turn them over until you see the crust has developed.
- Once browned on all sides, place the kofte on a baking tray lined with parchment & pop in the oven to keep warm whilst you’re cooking the remaining kofte. You can then keep all the kofte there whilst you finish off the rest of your dinner preparations, although ideally for no longer than 10-15 minutes, otherwise they may start to dry out.
*Tip* If you’re grinding any of the spices you’re using for this recipe, toasting them first can enhance their flavour. I toast my pine nuts in the dry frying pan I’m pre-heating for the kofte, & just throw the spices into the pan afterwards until a rich toasted smell comes off them, & pour straight into the pestle & mortar. Leave then for a minute to cool, then grind away. Multiple pan use also saves on washing up!