Kofta with Yogurt-Tahini Sauce

There are many types of kofta, and spellings, including (but not limited to), kofta, kafta, and kufta, cooked in various countries and regions around the world. An unverified report on Wikipedia stated that in Turkey alone, there are 291 different kinds of kefta, or kofta. I don’t know how many kinds or varieties are available in the United States, but I know that if something comes from Tartine in San Francisco, you can be sure it’s going to be very good.
Started by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, Tartine Bakery & CafĂ© become became famous around the world for Chad’s hearty, air pocket-filled, crusty bread, and Elizabeth’s baked goods. Back in the day, that part of San Francisco was mostly known for its proximity to the Mission, where we all went for burritos and Mexican food.
But the small stretch of 18th Street where Tartine rests on the corner, now has an ice cream shop, a food shop, a couple of restaurants, and probably a few new places since my last visit.
Like me, bakers can’t live on bread and pastries alone (although some of us sure try!), and Elisabeth decided to share the recipes she makes for her family and friends at home in Tartine All Day: Modern Recipes for the Home Cook.
It’s always hard to describe “American Cuisine” because being a melting pot culture, we don’t have many constraints. It’s not unusual to have an omelet, sushi, tacos, and a hot dog, on the same day (and sometimes, in the same restaurant), all of which originated elsewhere.
And thank goodness, because it would be boring eating oatmeal and grilled steak every day. Although come to think of it, oatmeal may be from Scotland, and whoever can determine who grilled the first steak has a lot more time on their hands than I do.
Tartine All Day celebrates the variety of foods that Elisabeth makes at her home in San Francisco, including coffee cake, whole-grain “risotto,” cheese and corn soufflĂ©, lamb with mint salsa verde, pistachio madeleines, jams bars, cornmeal-ricotta upside-down cake, and the Tartine chocolate-almond cake. And thanks to her book, now we can too. Because Elisabeth has a gluten intolerance, the recipes were created with that in mind, although the rest of us wouldn’t feel like we’re missing anything if we made them.
Case in point is her kofta recipe. Cracked wheat (bulgur) is often used along with the ground meat, but Elisabeth’s version has quinoa in them, so they’re accessible to others. Who can argue with making food that’s more available to more people?
What I like about recipes like this one is that it takes a simple concept – grilled ground meat – but gets spiced and seasoned, turning it into something more exotic and interesting than just a plain ol’ patty.
And like the best cookbooks aimed at home cooks, Elisabeth gives options for hard-to-find ingredients and skips fussy techniques. For example, if you can’t find the ras el hanout spice mixture, she gives a quick recipe to make your own, or notes that you can just increase the other spices by 1/4 teaspoon. Yes, you can turn that famous Tartine chocolate cake into cupcakes. And if you don’t have tapioca flour for her sticky date pudding with hot toffee sauce, but really, really want to make it, you can swap it out with cornstarch.
Adding my own variation, for these skewers, if you don’t have quinoa, you could go traditional and use bulgur. I didn’t have any quinoa (or bulgur) on hand and ground a few wheat berries that I had, and used those. Similarly, you have a few different options for preparing the kofta:
– Make meatballs with the mixture and pan-fry or grill them, especially interesting if you want to serve them as an appetizer for a party.
– Wrap the meat around the skewers in long cylinders (like a cigar), rather than in flat patties.
– Omit the skewers and form the meat into patties, and pan-fry or grill them. If shaped into rounds, the kofta mixture would make good burgers, served on a bun.
Elisabeth recommends adding the meat to skewers in several (two or three) steps, which she says helps the meat stick together. I went rogue and made ovals, which worked – well, mostly. I did have one fall off the skewer when I turned it over, so next time, I’ll heed her advice.
Kofta with Yogurt-Tahini Sauce
4 servings
Adapted from Tartine All Day: Modern Recipes for the Home Cook by Elisabeth Prueitt I changed the recipe a bit, grating the onions rather than chopping them. While red pepper flakes probably aren't traditional, I liked the little bit of spiciness they added. If you have it, you could try these with Lebanese spice mixture, baharat in place of the ras el hanout, which would add another kind of spicy aroma. Because Elizabeth is gluten-intolerant, she uses quinoa in her kofta. She cooks 1/4 cup (45g) of rinsed quinoa in 1/2 (125ml) water with a large pinch of salt for 15 minutes in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and let sit for 15 minutes, covered. To plump bulgur, start with the same amount of bulgur and hot water, bring to a boil, cover, then remove from heat. Drain and gently squeeze out any extra water. But different types of bulgur can vary so check the instructions for the bulgur that you're using for recommendations on how to prepare it. I prefer to use regular, rather than Greek yogurt, for the sauce. Greek yogurt is quite thick and if you do use it, you may need to thin it with water or milk.
For the kofta
1 pound (450g) ground lamb
1/4 cup (60g) cooked bulgur or quinoa, (see headnote)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
teaspoon ras el hanout
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 small onion, peeled
For the yogurt-tahini sauce
1/3 cup (80g) tahini
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
1 cup (240g) plain yogurt, preferably not Greek yogurt
2 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
big pinch cayenne pepper or hot red pepper powder
Koftas
1. Soak 8 wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes. Put all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl, except for the onion.
2. Grate the onion into the bowl with the other ingredients.
3. Use your hands to gently mix the ingredients together until well-combined, but do not overmix them, which can make the kofta tough.
4. Divide the ground lamb mixture into 8 portions and using your hands, shape one part into an oval about 4-inches (10cm) long. Press one skewer in the center then use your hands to mold the lamb around the skewer, finishing by pressing it flat. Lay it on a tray or plate, and repeat with the remaining ground lamb and skewers.
5. The skewers can be cooked over a hot grill, brushed with oil, until cooked through, or in a grill-pan or skillet on the stovetop, turning them over midway during cooking. They'll take about 6 to 8 minutes, total, to cook.
Yogurt-Tahini Sauce
1. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the tahini, garlic and salt.
2. Stir in the yogurt, lemon juice, parsley and red pepper, until smooth. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with a small amount of water or milk. Add additional salt, lemon juice and pepper, to taste.
Serving: Serve the kofta warm with the yogurt-tahini sauce. It goes well the flatbread, as part of a meze (appetizer) platter, with a green salad, or alongside tabbouleh. Instead of the Yogurt-Tahini Sauce, you could also serve them with Tzatziki.
Storage: The uncooked kofta can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two days. The mixture can be frozen for up to two months. The sauce can be made up to five days ahead.

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