Monday, September 14, 2009

I Say Kefta, You Say Kofta

Depending on the national boundaries within which you are standing when you order this particular dish, you may ask for kefta (Morocco), kyutfte (Bulgaria), qofte (Albania), kefte (Greece), kufte (Armenia), kofte (Turkey), or kofta (Afghanistan and India). [Thank you, Alan Davidson.] The category of "kefta" is a bit like the category of "meatball" or even "meatloaf" here in the states. It can be composed of innumerable ingredients; it can be spiced in myriad ways; it can be stuffed; it can be the stuffing; it can be braised, broiled, grilled or fried, it can be swathed in sauce, smooshed in a sandwich, or eaten on its own. But the principle is the same:

Ground meat + spices = little bites of heaven.

I'm calling this recipe kefta because of the Moroccan flavoring we slapped on it, thanks to the confidence-inspiring recipe writing of Claudia Roden. Yes, they look like little turds, but boy do they taste good.
One of the keys I'm learning to certain Middle Eastern meat preparations (like gyro meat, for example) is an absurdly fine grind. This means taking the already-ground beef [from the pasture-raised cattle of our friends at Springdell Farm] and spinning it again through the food processor, making a smooth paste of meat and spices. A paste you want to press around a skewer and grill to smoky, charred perfection. A paste you want to incorporate into every ensuing meal, including dessert. A paste you want to tell your grandchildren about.

I have not yet achieved paste-transcendence, but tonight's dinner was number 5 in a series of kefta attempts in our kitchen, and definitely the best one to date. I'm almost positive it was the quality of the meat and none of my culinary skills that elevated this meal, but I'll take the credit while no one's looking.

Serve kefta over a bed of cous cous with braised vegetables, in a spicy tomato sauce, or--like we did-- with flatbread, yogurt sauce, and a simple salad of chopped tomatoes, onions, and peppers in herbs and vinegar.

Kefta Moroccan Style
serves 2; start to finish about 30 minutes

1/2 lb. ground beef or lamb (do me a favor: skip the turkey and go for red meat; it really does make a difference)
1 small onion, grated
1 heaping Tbsp EACH of chopped parsley, cilantro, and mint
1/2 tsp EACH of ground ginger, cinnamon, coriander, and paprika
3/4 tsp EACH of salt, cumin, and black pepper
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix lightly with your hands. The entire mixture should fit in a small food processor, so throw it in and use quick pulses (about 20) to get it nice and smooth. Open the lid and push things around if you need to. IF you do not have a processor, I think it's possible to do this by kneading kneading kneading and squeezing the meat mixture until you achieve paste consistency? Claudia says so anyway. "Knead vigorously" is her exact phrase.
  2. Form the meat into 8 equally sized links and prepare to cook. You can do this in a number of ways: on the grill will taste absolutely the best. You can also broil for several minutes on each side or simply bake in a very hot oven for about 20 minutes. Alternately, use a stovetop grill pan or cast iron skillet to cook the turds on both sides--about 12 minutes total.

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