Kofta is a general Middle Eastern to Indian term for grilled ground meat—usually mixed with other things. You may form the meat mixture into balls, loafs or stuff it into something—leaves, vegetables, whatever. What you flavor/add to the meat, and what you do with it then, is limited only by your own imagination. Koobideh is the Persian name for kofta made with beef or lamb, although I have frequently known it to be made from beef and lamb in the local Persian restaurants. Today, wife Jan asked for koobideh meat balls with rice for dinner. The traditional Persian accompaniment to the meat is steamed rice, called chelow.
Many authentic recipes for koobideh include only meat, a bit of grated onion, and a few spices. Jan has been encouraging me to add more vegetables to my meat dishes. I have also noticed that adding these vegetables can produce a more tender meatball/loaf. A panade of milk and bread crumbs also helps to both bind the meat together and prevent the strands of meat protein from linking together—which would produce a tough, chewy meatball. While what I am making is in no way traditional it should still be tender and tasty.
Grilled meat by itself can be a bit dry, so I looked online for a sauce to go with the koobideh. I found both garlic and mint flavored yogurt sauces. I adapted the mint recipe to my own tastes and produced a yogurt sauce to go with my meat.
Karl’s Chelow Koobideh with Mint Yogurt Sauce
Mint Yogurt Sauce
½ cup cucumber (English or Persian), sliced thin
Pinch Kosher salt
8 oz. Greek yogurt
2 Tbs. fresh mint, minced
1 clove garlic, crushed finely
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 Tbs. ghee (clarified butter)
1 cup yellow onion, finely diced
½ cup celery, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. turmeric
¼ tsp. celery seed
½ cup bread crumbs
¾ cup milk (I used 2% lactose free)
1 lb. ground beef
½ lb. lamb
Sprig of mint
10 strands saffron
1 cup basmanti rice
1 tsp. Kosher salt
2 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. olive oil
Useful to have
1 Tbs. cookie scoop
1. Slice the cucumber thinly and place it in a small bowl.
Tip: The bowl should not be too small—it should hold at least 2 cups.
2. Sprinkle the salt over the cucumber and toss to coat the slices with the salt.
3. Set the bowl aside for half an hour to sweat out the excess moisture.
Note: Cucumbers are very wet vegetables that release their liquid over time-especially if salted. I usually drain off some of their juices, so that my sauce does not become “watery.”
4. Melt the ghee in a sauté pan and add the onions and celery, over a medium high heat.
5. Sauté the vegetables until they are soft and starting to pick up some spots of browning.
Tip: I frequently pre-cook the vegetables that I am planning to add to meat balls or meat loaves. The vegetable flavors created by the Maillard reaction greatly enhance the final product.
6. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and sauté the garlic in the space in the center of the pan until fragrant, about one minute.
7. Stir in the bouillon paste, pepper, turmeric, and celery seed and sauté for one minute.
Tip: This is to bloom the spices.
Note: Better than Bouillon pastes are very salty—even the low sodium ones. Be careful about adding any more salt to a dish when you are using them.
8. Remove the pan from the heat and add ¼ cup liquid—water, wine, or beef stock—to cool the pan.
Note: You will be adding this to a raw egg mixture. You want it to be cool enough so that it does not cause the egg to start cooking when you add the vegetables.
9. Place the bread crumbs, milk and eggs into a large bowl and whisk them together—this is the panade.
Tip: I am using my standing mixer with the paddle attachment, but I found that there was not enough volume for it to mix effectively. I still had to use a hand whisk at this point.
10. Set the bowl aside for 10 minutes to allow the bread to completely hydrate.
11. Whisk the cooled vegetables into the panade and then add the beef and lamb.
Tip: If using a standing mixer use the paddle attachment—there is enough volume at this point for it to be effective.
Note: You do want to use a fairly high fat content ground beef (80/20%), so that the meat remains moist after grilling.
12. Mix the ingredients thoroughly.
Tip: I have found that a clean hand is usually the best way to do this, but recently I read an article on the uses of the various attachments for my new standing mixer.
Note: The whisk attachment would tear the meat proteins into tiny bits leaving you with a meat paste. The paddle attachment preserves mush of the meat’s integrity and resulting texture. Five minutes of mixing produces a uniform mix of the meat and vegetables.
13. Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.
Note: This chilling time firms up the mix and makes it easier to form the meatballs.
14. While the meat is chilling, drain the cucumbers.
Tip: Take the cucumbers in your hand and squeeze out as much liquid and you can.
Note: You may reserve this cucumber water to add back to the sauce, if it seems too thick later.
15. Set 2-3 slices of cucumber aside for garnish.
16. Mix the yogurt, mint, garlic, and pepper into the cucumbers.
17. Use a hand blender to break up the cucumber.
Tip: Do not over-blend the sauce—you want the cucumbers to be slightly chunky.
Note: You may also use a food processor or standing blender to do this.
18. Cover the cucumber sauce and set it in the refrigerator to meld.
19. Put the saffron in a small cup with ¼ cup boiling water and set it aside.
20. Put the rice and salt in a medium pot and add 4 cups of water.
Note: The pot should have a tight lid.
21. Bring the rice to a boil and reduce the heat.
22. Cover the pot and simmer the rice for 10 minutes.
23. Drain the rice and do not clean out the pot.
24. Melt the butter in the pot over a low heat and return the rice to the pot.
25. Push the rice away from the sides of the pot to form a cone.
26. Poke three holes into the rice and pour the olive oil evenly between the holes.
27. Strain the saffron threads out of the small cup and splash the yellow water over the rice.
Note: You are not trying to completely cover the rice with the saffron water. You want some white rice and some yellow rice.
28. Lay a clean thin dish towel over the pot and fit the lid tightly onto the pot.
Tip: This creates a firm seal on the pot so that the steam does not escape too quickly.
Note: Tuck the corners of the towel under to pot handle to keep them away from the burner. If your lid only has a knob handle, you can use a rubber band to keep the ends of the towel up.
29. Set the burner to a medium low heat and steam the rice for 10-15 minutes.
Tip: You want the heat low enough that all of the water does not steam away too quickly, but high enough that the rice at the bottom of the pot forms a toasted crust, called tahdig.
30. Lay parchment paper on a large lipped baking tray and preheat your oven’s broiling element to 500° F.
Note: Move your oven rack to the highest level.
31. Form the meat mixture into one tablespoon balls and set them one inch apart on the parchment paper.
Tip: The easiest way to produce even rounded meatballs is to use a one tablespoon cookie scoop. Wet the scoop and your hands and measure out one tablespoon of meat. Squeeze the release grip on the cookie scoop—a little wire scrapes the meat away from the bowl of the scoop—so that the meat falls into your palm. Roll the meat into an even ball and place it on the baking tray.
Note: The meat mixture has a lot of sticky fat in it, after two or three meatballs the fat will start sticking to the scoop and to your hands—resulting in rough meatballs. A bowl of warm water is a useful addition to this process. Rinse off the scoop and re-wet your hands before continuing to make your meatballs.
32. Continue until you have filled the baking tray with meatballs.
Tip: If necessary, use a second baking tray.
Note: I had a fair amount of the meat mixture left over—after I had filled my baking tray—so I formed the rest into a meat loaf—to save for another meal.
33. Broil your meatballs for 5-10 minutes—until starting to turn crispy brown on top.
34. Flip the meatballs over and continue broiling for another 5-6 minutes, until well browned and cooked through.
Tip: The easiest way to check if your meatballs are done is to cut one of them in half.
35. Transfer the meat balls to a serving dish and garnish with a sprig of mint.
36. Check the consistency and seasoning of your mint yogurt sauce.
Tip: Add more pepper, salt, mint, or liquid as needed.
Note: The blending of the cucumbers would have release a fair amount of liquid, so you will probably not need to add more, unless you like a very thin sauce.
37. Transfer the sauce into a serving bowl and garnish with the reserved cucumber slices.
38. Scoop some of the saffron rice out of the out of the pot and set it aside.
39. Place the loose steamed rice into a serving bowl and break up the crispy rice—the tahdig—into large pieces.
40. Arrange the saffron rice over the white rice—so that some of both colors are showing—and garnish the dish with the pieces of crispy rice.
41. Serve while the meatballs are still warm and the sauce is still cold.