One of the great things about living in New York City is its wealth of street food, which provides us with easy access to dishes from the four corners of the earth.
One of my all-time faves — a favorite in the Middle East and Far East — goes by many names, the most common of which is kofta kebab.
It is heavily spiced ground meat — usually lamb or beef or a combination of the two — that’s been molded into sausage-like oblongs, grilled on skewers, and served with a garlicky tahini/yogurt sauce in a pita pocket or flatbread. So good! It’s no wonder that, with minor variations, kofta is a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine from Afghanistan to Turkey.
Happily, it’s quick and easy. One of the dish’s two key elements is texture. The meat should be firm, not to say springy. If you buy your meat at a supermarket, just follow the instructions in the recipe and pulse it in a food processor until smooth and almost paste-like. If you buy your meat from a butcher, ask him or her to grind it extra fine. Then, after adding all the spices, knead the meat on the counter (yes, like dough) until it’s smooth and sticky. This will take 5 to 10 minutes. (It’ll also do wonders to tone up your forearms.)
The second of the recipe’s key elements is its spices. Different cultures call for different spices, so I chose the mix that most appealed to me: cumin, paprika, allspice, pepper and fresh parsley. Onions and garlic are universal, but they’re always added in raw form. I opted instead to sauté the onions and garlic to maximize their flavor and sweetness before adding them to the meat mixture.
Once the meat has been seasoned, it needs to be chilled. This firms up the meat so that it holds its shape on the skewers when grilled. It also gives the seasonings time to permeate the meat. Three hours of chilling is good; 24 hours is better. One tip about shaping the meat on the skewers: The meat will be easier to mold if you keep wetting your hands with cold water.
GRILLED GROUND LAMB KEBABS
This recipe calls for a succulent mix of lamb and beef, but you’re welcome to go all one way or the other.
>> Start to finish: 35 minutes plus 3 to 24 hours for chilling
>> Servings: 4
For the kofta:
- ½ cup finely chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing on the meat
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- ½ pound ground beef
- ½ pound ground lamb
- 1½ teaspoons paprika, preferably hot smoked
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1/3 cup minced parsley
For the sauce:
- 1/3 cup tahini, stirred well
- ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
- 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon minced garlic
- Four 6-inch pitas with pockets, ¼ of the top cut off to form pocket
- Shredded romaine lettuce for garnish
- Hot sauce for garnish
Make the kofta:
In a medium skillet, cook the onion in the oil over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and chill until it comes to room temperature.
In a food processor, combine the cooled onion mixture, the beef, lamb, paprika, cumin, salt, allspice and pepper and pulse the mixture until it forms a paste and is tacky to the touch. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the parsley.
Divide the meat mixture into 8 equal portions and shape each portion into a log around a skewer, about 5-inches long and 1-inch wide. Cover and chill the skewered meat for at least 3 hours and up to overnight.
Meanwhile, make the sauce:
In a medium bowl whisk together the tahini, yogurt, lemon juice, garlic and 3 tablespoons water, adding additional water if necessary to achieve a pourable consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the grill to medium. Lightly oil the meat on both sides and grill it, turning often for about 6 minutes or until it Is firm to the touch and cooked through. Pull the meat off the skewers and transfer two logs to each of 4 pitas. Top the meat with one fourth of the sauce and some shredded lettuce and serve with the hot sauce on the side.
Nutrition information per serving: 482 calories; 255 calories from fat; 28 g fat (7 g saturated fat; 1 g trans fat); 74 mg cholesterol; 722 mg sodium; 25 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 32 g protein.
Sara Moulton is the host of public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals.” She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows, including “Cooking Live.” Her latest cookbook is “Home Cooking 101.”