Kafta, and kebabs, are ubiquitous in cultures across the Middle East. They’re now popular in North America too, because of their flavors and limitless variations. This version is made with your choice of ground meat and shaped into sausage forms that are perfect for tucking into a pita, drizzled with preserved lemon yogurt. But, as we said, your options are endless.
You would be hard-pressed to find a cuisine today that does not involve some version of a kafta or meatball, but the very first reference to finely minced well-seasoned balls of lamb meat dates back to a recipe in a tenth-century Arabic cookbook in which they were cooked and glazed in saffron and egg yolk. Although much has changed in terms of food since then, the ubiquitous kafta remains a rustic food prepared across cultures in similar ways. In Arab cuisine it is, at its most basic, ground meat mixed with onion and spices. Other additions like herbs and nuts also abound, but it is the shaping and cooking styles that are countless. From balls and discs to sausage shapes or flattened out in a pan, from fried or baked with tahini to simmered in tomato sauce or grilled over coals, where we call it “kebab.”–Reem Kassis
Kafta ~ Spiced Kebabs
- Cooking spray
- 2 pounds ground beef lamb, veal, or a combination
- 2 ounces pita bread or white bread with crusts removed
- 1 medium (7 oz) onion
- 1 clove garlic peeled (optional)
- Small handful of fresh cilantro
- Small handful of dill
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baharat or Lebanese 7-spice blend
- 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper* (optional)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Orzo rice, or flatbread, for serving
- Preserved lemon yogurt
- Place the meat in a large bowl and keep chilled until ready to use.
- In a food processor, combine the bread, onion, garlic, if using, cilantro, dill, salt, spice blend, Aleppo pepper, if using, and olive oil and pulse to a fine paste.
- Add the mixture to the meat in the bowl and mix with your hands until fully incorporated. Shape the meat into fat sausages (about 2 oz | 57 g each) and arrange them on the baking sheet or roasting pan. Flatten slightly with your hand, then use the side of your finger to make three diagonal indentations atop each sausage.
- Move them to the oven and broil until the tops are browned and you see some oil released and bubbling around the edges, and the internal temperature has reached 160°F (71°C), 10 to 15 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with orzo, rice, or flatbread, and the preserved lemon yogurt sauce on the side.
*What can I substitute for Aleppo pepper?Aleppo pepper can be hard to come by—it only comes from a small area of the world, specifically in parts of Syria and Turkey. Also known as the Halaby pepper, it has a fairly mild, fruity flavor similar to raisins. If you can't get your mitts on any, you can substitute ancho chile or a mixture of sweet paprika with a pinch of cayenne.
Originally published May 23, 2021