My sister came for a visit and I told her that I was making kūbide—a Persian mixture of lamb and beef with sumac that is grilled and usually served either plain with rice or bread. I was rather free with my ingredients and—when I started to write up the recipe—I realized that what I had ended up with could not really be called kūbide—which is a specific kind of Persian kofta.
Many different countries—in a wide band from the Balkans down throughout Northern Africa and across to Iran and south to India—make what they call some variation of the word kofta—spiced and grilled ground meat. One site suggested that the difference between them is mostly in translation and a spice or two. Each country has its own blend of spices and ingredients. In examining the variations of this dish, I think mine kofta ended up being closest to the Palestinian version.
Note: For a recipe like this I usually use half a pound of each kind of meat. Today, I used a full pound of each—so that I would have leftover meat for another meal. I doubled each of the other ingredients—feel free to halve the amounts for the kofta. As written, this recipe would serve 10-14 people as a main dish.
Kofta are usually served with some kind of sauce. Sesame sauce is a standard Middle Eastern sauce used with this grilled meat. To go with the kofta, I made za’atar pizza and a tomato, cucumber, and artichoke salad.
Seasoned ground meat can be used in a variety of ways—like baked in a layer with sliced potatoes, but the most common way for kofta is as a meatball. For many cultures the meat is formed more into a log one inch thick by 3-4 inches long. For myself, I prefer round balls because your diners have more control over their portions.
Note: Daughter Miriam cannot eat garlic or onions—except for the green parts of scallions. While the Palestinian version of this dish does not include garlic, it usually uses a fair amount of onions. Feel free to replace the minced green onion with grated red onion.
Karl’s Palestinian Kofta with Sesame Sauce
½ cup warm water
½ tsp. Kosher salt
½ tsp. baking soda
½ cup bread crumbs
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. turmeric
2 Tbs. tahini (ground sesame seed paste)
3 Tbs. hot water
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)
pinch Kosher salt
1. Dissolve the salt and baking soda in the warm water.
2. Add the rest of the kofta ingredients to the bowl and mix well.
3. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour to meld.
4. Three hours before the meal, remove the meat from the refrigerator.
Tip: Set it on the counter and let the mixture come to room temperature for about one hour.
5. Wet your hands and scoop out 1-2 tablespoon(s) of the meat mixture.
Note: You are free to form the meat into your preferred shape, as a small log, or as large or small meatballs. Kūbide is usually formed into a flattened 10-14 log on a wide skewer. Personally, for soups I prefer a ½ tablespoon ball; for hors d’oeuvre bite-sized one tablespoon balls; and as a main dish I like two tablespoon sized balls, so that—while you get a nice crusty outside—the interior still remains tender.
6. Roll the meat into a ball and place it in a Pam-ed large, lipped baking pan.
Tip: Do not over pack the meatballs, they should not be touching.
Note: As an experiment, I placed a wire rack in the baking pan this time, so that the balls would not sit in their own juices as they broiled. However—between the bread crumbs and the baking soda in the mix—the meat shed very little moisture, so a rack is not really necessary.
7. Set the oven rack to the middle of the oven and broil the meatballs for 10-15 minutes, until the surfaces are crusty brown and the meat is just cooked through.
Tip: Flip the balls over half way through to get even browning.
8. Remove the tray from the oven and wipe any scum that has formed around the bases of the meatballs.
9. Remove the pan from the oven and tent with foil, while you finish making the sauce.
10. Add the tahini and hot water to a small bowl and mix it until it turns into a smooth sauce.
11. Stir in the lemon juice, garlic, and salt.
Tip: Over time this sauce will thicken as the ground seeds continue to soak up the liquid. You may need to add more hot water to thin the sauce. It should be thinner, rather than pasty.
Note: I left out the garlic until I had saved a portion of the sauce for my daughter Miriam—who cannot eat garlic at this time. I served the kofta plain, so that people could add the sesame sauce they wished at the table.
12. The normal presentation is to pour the sauce into a shallow serving bowl and nestle the meatballs into the sauce.
Tip: Ideally, you want the tops of the meatballs to be brown and crusty, rather than coated in the sauce.