A recently released cookbook that piqued my interest is ‘Jerusalem‘ by chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. While flipping through the pages, I found myself conjuring up the taste of many of the recipes and the ingredients that comprise them. The recipes reflect dishes I’ve eaten over the years with family or friends in some of the incredible restaurants in Jerusalem itself or throughout Israel. A number of the dishes are ones I prepare in some variation and are on my menu of comfort food here in California. This wonderful kofta recipe included.
Full of flavor, these savory meat kofta kebabs are incredibly appetizing. Good luck getting them plated, it’s hard to resist eating one or even a few straight out of the pan. Certainly guests will appreciate them on plate garnished with toasted pine nuts and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds.
Kofta (in Arabic) translates to meatball, though the flavor of this Middle Eastern variety differs from its Italian or American-Italian inspired counterpart. In Hebrew we call them ktsitsot, from the root word meaning chopped. Ktsitsot can be either comprised of ground meats or poultry, vegetables or some combination thereof, and there are even fish ktsitsot as well. Relatively easy to prepare, it’s a popular dish served in many homes. Sometimes we interchange the “torpedo” shaped ktsitsot basar (meatballs or meat patties) with the word kebab (also written kabab) like the Persian dish kabab koobideh. Kofta, ktsitsot, meatball, kebab, it all translates into something delicious, so let’s get to the recipe.
14 oz/ 400g ground lamb
14 oz / 400g ground veal or beef
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
7 tsp / 50g toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped, plus extra whole ones to garnish
1/2 cup 30g flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus extra to serve
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
2/3 cup / 150g light tahini paste
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 medium clove of garlic, crushed
2 tbsp sunflower oil
sweet paprika, to garnish
* I’ll add a note here about tahini paste. Outside of Israel and the Middle East, tahini paste can be found at specialty markets and can even be found in some supermarkets. Whichever brand you buy, be sure to taste the ground sesame paste as is before mixing it up to create the sauce. Good tahini starts with great tahini paste and it should taste great on its own.
• Put all the kofta ingredients in a bowl and use your hands to mix everything together well. Now shape into long, torpedo-like fingers, roughly 3 1/4 or 8cm long (about 2 oz / 60g each). Press the mix to compress it and ensure the kofta is tight and keeps its shape. Arrange on a plate and chill until you are ready to cook them, for up to one day.
• In a medium bowl whisk together the tahini paste, lemon juice, water, garlic and a quarter of a teaspoon of salt. The sauce should be a bit runnier than honey; add one or two tablespoons of water if needed.
• 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. If you want them medium or well-done, put the tray in the oven for two to four minutes.
• Spoon the tahini sauce around the kofta, so it covers the base of the tray. If you like, also drizzle some over the kofta but leave some of the meat exposed. Place in the oven for a minute or two, just to warm up the sauce a little.
• Scatter with pine nuts and parsley and finally sprinkle some paprika on top. Serve at once.
The story behind these two men and how they came together to capture the flavors of Jerusalem in one story is compelling. You can read more about it in Gourmet: When Yotam Met Sami. There’s even more meatball recipes to enjoy by Yotam Ottolenghi, and certainly grab a fork to enjoy kofta b’siniyah. Bon appétit, in Hebrew we say b’tayavon and in Arabic belhana wel shefa!
Be sure to follow #TastingJrslm on Twitter to enjoy more Jerusalem recipes.