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)

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

jc March 27, 2011 at 7:36 am

You are experiencing technical difficulties. The pic after “fair warning” is a red x.


TKW March 27, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Thanks, jc!


Lyndsey March 27, 2011 at 8:13 am

I do love Indian food and was so excited that I found some urad dal at the farmers market yesterday. It was the one dal I had a hard tome finding.
I have been using onions like that for my daughter for awhile now. I also use shallots (diced or I should say minced) in place of onions. After a bit you can use them larger, sorta ease them into onions. ;D I always have to adjust the heat factor for hubs!

Wonderful recipe! Can’t wait to try it.


Winn March 27, 2011 at 9:58 am

I heart you more than ever!


Maria March 27, 2011 at 10:19 am

OK, Kitch, because it’s you advising, I will attempt Indian food. I have never stepped foot in an Indian restaurant. The recipe looks interesting and I am game for trying something new. Just one question, can we shrink our ass and use ground turkey or chicken instead of ground beef or lamb?


Meister @ The Nervous Cook March 27, 2011 at 10:52 am

You’re hilarious. I love this and promise not to freak my shit on you!


Sherri March 27, 2011 at 10:52 am

I love Indian food. Yummage on this. I completely dig meatballs too – of any kind, pretty much (what I missed back in my vegetarian days). Always looking for a great recipe of this kind… Putting it on the dinner menu at least one day this week…. on a day that will allow me to work on it a bit (this particular recipe new to me – sounds so good).


Erica@PLRH March 27, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Ok, I’ll admit that this does look yummy and I want to try it.

But one question – How imporatant is the cinnamon? The one time I did try Indian food I couldn’t get past the taste of the cinnamon with the meat. I blame my anglo/saxon/norman/gaelic tastebuds.


Klz March 27, 2011 at 4:09 pm

I really think I’d prefer if you just started to cook at my house :)


Melissa March 27, 2011 at 4:33 pm

This looks yummy and easy. I have never had much interest in Indian food, but since being pregnant anything with red meat and flavor sounds amazing! Maybe I will attempt this soon!


Velva March 27, 2011 at 4:58 pm

I love Indian food. I shy away from making it, as it seems complicated and easy enough for me to enjoy, at someone else’s house. Your recipe makes my excuse pretty lame. Very cool recipe.


Yuliya March 27, 2011 at 5:09 pm

You’re right I have’t seen this in Indian restaurants, I must try t sometime!


Kelly March 27, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Oooh, I think my family would love this. I’ll let you know if we try it!


Katybeth March 27, 2011 at 10:11 pm

I did not freak out. This looks like something I might be able to make. After all tonight I made a Crown Roast which was very easy but blew my food budget through April. The good news is I have most of these spices…I think from one for your other recipes and the rest of the ingredients are reasonable so this recipe might just keep us from starving. Thank you.


theUngourmet March 27, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I love Indian food! I love all of the aromatic spices in this dish. Delicious!

You have a Super Target?! You lucky girl! ;)


The Curious Cat March 28, 2011 at 3:05 am

I’m stupidly hungry today…and it isn’t even lunch time yet…this is not helping! Looks delicious! xxx


TKW March 28, 2011 at 7:11 am

Maria, I think it would work just fine with chicken or turkey–just don’t get the super-lean kind or the meatballs will be dry.

Erica, I don’t think you’ll miss the cinnamon, although you can reduce the amount called for significantly and just add a dash, if you are worried that it won’t taste right. But I think it’ll be fine!

Ungourmet: there is no life without SuperTarget.


BigLittleWolf March 28, 2011 at 7:40 am

I suspect this is too much work for (impatient, overscheduled) moi. But I will say – it looks divine.

(That “personal chef” job is still open, Kitch. You could occupy the Latvian Suite, you know?)



SuziCate March 28, 2011 at 8:36 am

Sounds like comfort food!


Jenna March 28, 2011 at 9:11 am

Yum! I am not intimidated by your ingredient list. Back in my college days when I first started dabbling in Indian food, I stocked up on all the spices. So I realize that some of the ones I bought in bulk may not be at their freshest . . . but whatever! =) I’m really looking forward to more Indian recipes from you. I really want to try your kofta once I get through the insanity of the next few weeks (trips, visitors, blablabla, all which makes meal planning a little challenging).


Amy @ Never-True Tales March 28, 2011 at 11:15 am

I can’t help it: this does seem scary. And my local Indian place is so yummy, and I’d just mess it up anyway, so…sending the hubs for take out, m’kay? I’ll try again after I’ve assembled my Indian cupboard!


Belinda March 28, 2011 at 12:41 pm

You’re right. I’ve never seen Kofta on the menu but I seriously want this right now. The colors are beautiful and everyone in my family loves meatballs. Sadly, my pantry is far from Indian friendly these days…thanks for the list you included there.

GoBot down the toilet? At my house, they end up taken apart and strategically placed where bare feet like to walk. Ouch!


Rocky Mountain Woman March 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm

So, this looks so amazing..

I don’t get to eat Indian food very often because my boyfriend doesn’t like it..

I’ll bet if I made this and didn’t tell him that it was Indian, he might just eat it..

It’s just meatballs, for Pete’s sake!


ayala March 28, 2011 at 2:06 pm

My husband loves Indian food. But this Kofta is similar to a Turkish-Armenian Kafta which is a meatball as well. Have you heard of it? Well it’s delicious -just the way yours looks-yum.


Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri March 28, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Kitch, I am impressed. I’ve had many homemade Indian meals and not a single auntie or my mom have ever attempted kofta. Too much and too hard is what I’ve heard. Your recipe looks delicious – any recommendations for a vegetarian substitute? If I made the veggie version of this, it would literally drop my mom’s jaw to the floor.


TheKitchenWitch March 28, 2011 at 2:53 pm


How about a ground chickpea/breadcrumb mixture similar to falafel?


Mary Lee March 28, 2011 at 3:14 pm

You are so witty I’d read your recipes even if you actually lived on Slim-Fast and just made these things up to amuse yourself.


tasteofbeirut March 28, 2011 at 3:15 pm

If I ever became a vegetarian, kafta would be the one meat dish I would miss the most! It does not matter from what area in the world it comes from ; I loe the spices in that one version, and I know how easy and delicious it would taste…


Erin March 28, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Those do sound simple, and I loooove all the spices. That’s what makes Indian food so tasty! Also, as an official freezer addict, I’m glad to hear you encouraging people to double the recipe and freeze some. I start to freak out when there aren’t a few random meals ready in my freezer :)


Dana March 28, 2011 at 7:15 pm

These look so tasty, and Indian cuisine during the weekday always seems so unlikely (unless you’re eating out). It’s interesting though, I’ve only ever seen kofte on skewers and grilled. I’m going to have to check out this version.


Paula (Salad in a Jar) March 28, 2011 at 7:17 pm

OK, 3 things Kitch:
1. Super Target has good naan? Who knew? Hope mine has it too.
2. Love that you are giving us Indian food. I mostly find the restaurant food too rich but love that I can make it myself with your tried and proven recipes. Which leads me to #3. Where is your print button? Am I missing it?


TKW March 29, 2011 at 6:20 am


People have print buttons? God, I am so computer illiterate. Tell me how to do it, pretty please?


Heather March 28, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Indian food truly makes me nervous… But, I’m trying new things these days so I’m on board. And grinding the hell out of onions??? My kids wouldn’t eat half my recipes if I didn’t do that! God bless that precious little tool :)


subWOW March 28, 2011 at 10:39 pm

That list at the end for a starter Indian kitchen is brilliant! You should consider starting your own line of Kitchen Starters (spice jars wrapped in ribbons and in a pretty basket?), starting with Indian spices. Because I am sure I am not the only one that when I see the list of spices needed in a recipe I go, “Where’s the phone?” so I can call for takeout.


camilla March 29, 2011 at 1:50 am

Oh yeah! Now, I’ll be making these for sure and I have to comment on your naan- it looks great!!
LOve that your rockin’ the kitchen as per usual x


Christine @ Coffees and Commutes March 29, 2011 at 4:21 am

I saw word of this painted on Twitter and I was excited to check it out. Mmmm, mmmm. I even think I might be able to get my children to eat this. And dammit, I need your cookbok, I’m not good at making recipes from my computer. I need a book that I can prop open on my counter. Like stat.


elizabeth March 29, 2011 at 8:50 am

Oh yeah. Michael is totally going to go apesh*t over this–can’t wait to show it to him!


deadlock April 14, 2011 at 3:37 am

Kofte is as Indian as curry is British. In other words, not at all.


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