Weeknight Indian: Kofta

March 27, 2011

So many of you professed a love–and fear–of Indian food when I talked about Lentil Love that I decided to break out this recipe for you.

For the lovers: Kofta (sometimes spelled Kofte) is a delicious North Indian meatball dish. It contains all of the exotic flavors you enjoy at your favorite takeout place. Ginger, cumin, coriander, garlic…they’re all in there.  If you’ve never heard of kofta, it’s probably because it doesn’t appear on a lot of menus at Indian restaurants. I don’t know why, because kofta rocks.  Maybe because kofta is so easy to prepare at home?  Maybe restaurants just assume that their patrons are craving something they can’t easily whip up in the home kitchen…you know, like something cooked in a Tandoor.  Which hey, I’d love one of those suckers in my kitchen, but that’s not gonna happen.

For the fearers: Did you pick up on my remark that kofta is easy to make? It is, I promise. The only thing intimidating about kofta is the array of spices involved, but I assure you, once you’ve gone to the grocery store to purchase those items, the rest is simple.  Forming the meatballs takes a bit of time, but midget meatballs are fun and cute, to boot. This recipe is a mildly spiced dish, so those of you with delicate tongues need not worry.  Spice Shoguns can always amp up the amount of jalapeno or cayenne involved (as I do), but the recipe given doesn’t have fangs. Truly. Lots of flavor, but no fangs.

Kofta can be served with rice or naan (my SuperTarget carries great naan–how lucky am I?) and any vegetable you like.

If, like me, your children think onion is the Devil’s Instrument, I recommend grinding it in a food processor or grating it finely with a microplane zester. This is sneaky, I know, but it’s genius. I do it all the time, and my onion-loathers are none the wiser. If your kid likes meatballs, most likely s/he will gobble up kofta. And my kids are picky with a capital P. On this night, the girls had other dinner plans, so I just diced the onion, but normally, I’d pulverize that stuff.

One of my favorite things about kofta is that you can double the batch, form the meatballs, and pop half of them in the freezer for later use. Maybe for one of those days when the cat vomits and the dishwasher explodes and somebody just flushed a GoBot down the toilet.

Ahem. Not that I have days like that.

Fair warning: this recipe looks long. Don’t freak your shit on  me, okay? At the end of this post, I’m going to make a list of spices/flavorings you’ll need for an Indian-friendly pantry. I’m going to be posting more Indian-inspired recipes in the future, so…if you’re feeling racy, just buy the ingredients ahead of time. Then we can party together all month, red dots optional.


adapted from Maya Kimal MacMillan’s Curried Favors

serves 6

For the Meatballs:

1 pound lean (at least 90 percent) ground beef or lamb

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (I use bottled)

1 tablespoon grated onion

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon salt

dash pepper

1 beaten egg

1/2 cup plain, dry bread crumbs

Vegetable oil

For the Sauce:

1/2 to 1 cup finely grated onion (or just chop it if you don’t have onion-haters)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon minced, seeded jalapeno pepper (use serrano pepper for even less heat)

1 cup tomatoes, either diced or crushed, whichever you prefer (canned are fine)

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon (or to taste, I use at least 1/2 teaspoon) cayenne pepper

1/4-1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg or cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup water, or more as needed

Make the meatballs:

Combine the ground meat, onion, and spices in a large bowl. Gently stir in the beaten egg and bread crumbs. Form into small meatballs  (about 16). In a large, non-stick skillet, heat a small amount of oil (about a tablespoon, tops) over medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs, shaking the pan frequently so that they brown on all sides. Don’t worry about cooking them through; they will cook in the sauce later. Remove browned meatballs from skillet and drain on paper towels.

Wipe out skillet.

Make the sauce:

In the same skillet (or you can use a Dutch oven), heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until edges begin to brown. Add garlic, ginger, and jalapeno; cook 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes, all spices, and salt. Stir until tomatoes begin to break up (if using diced tomatoes). Add water; bring to a boil.

Put it together:

Add the meatballs to boiling sauce, turn the heat down to a low simmer, and cook, partially covered, for 30-45 minutes, adding more water if necessary to keep the sauce from drying out. By the end, the sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon.

If desired, stir in Garam Masala. Adjust sauce for salt/pepper.

Serve with rice/naan and your favorite vegetable.

Suggestions for an Indian-Friendly pantry:

-ground coriander

-ground cumin

-ground turmeric

-ground cinnamon or nutmeg

-ground cayenne pepper

-fennel seed

-Garam masala

-mustard seeds

-red pepper flakes

-bottled ground garlic (fresh)

-bottled ground ginger (fresh)

-bay leaves

-dried red chiles (like chiles de arbol)

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