Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kofta with Labneh

I often post pictures of foods I cook at home for my family’s dinner on Facebook.  One of them, Kofta, which I posted about a year and a half ago, recently sparked new interest from my friends.  So I decided to make it again – for you, my dear readers.

Ingredients for Kofta

Skewered and grilling over charcoal

Almost done

Yogurt being strained

Yogurt wrapped in muslin; whey in the bowl

Strained yogurt the consistency of cream cheese

Labneh with minced fresh parsley and drizzled with olive oil

Kofta, labneh, couscous and roasted vegetables

1 lb ground lamb
1 lb ground beef
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
5 tablespoons minced onion
5 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 ½ tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of nutmeg

30 bamboo skewers, soaked in water at least 30 minutes before use

1.        In a bowl, mix all of the ingredients together until well blended. 
2.       Divide the meat mixture into 30 balls.  Refrigerate for one hour, or overnight.
3.       Take one ball and form it into a flat oval around a bamboo skewer.  Repeat with remaining balls.
4.       Prepare gas or charcoal grill for moderate heat.  Oil the grate.
5.       Place the skewers on the preheated grill.  Cook to your desired doneness.


16 oz plain yogurt
1 teaspoon salt

1.  Mix salt into the yogurt.

2.   Line a large sieve or colander with muslin or double layer of cheesecloth.  Empty contents of 16 oz container of yogurt into the lined colander.  Tie the cloth to enclose the yogurt.  Weigh down with a small plate.

3.   Let sit 6-12 hours.  The longer it sits, the firmer it will be.  Drain and discard the whey, or reserve for another use.

4.  For a dip, minced herbs (parsley, mint, thyme, tarragon, etc.), spices (ground coriander, ground cumin, ground ginger, minced garlic, minced onion, ground chile, ground black pepper, etc.), chopped dried fruits or nuts may be added.  Ladle into a shallow serving bowl.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Serve at room temperature.


Kofta originated in Iran.  The name is from the Persian word kufta which means to grind or to beat.  Thus, kofta are made with ground or minced ingredients.  From Persia, the cooking and eating of kofta spread to neighboring countries and beyond.  Depending on the country or region, kofta is made from various ingredients and cooked in a variety of styles.  Kofta from Middle Eastern countries are usually made from lamb or mutton.  In India chicken, fish, legumes or vegetables are used.  And in other countries beef and pork may be used.  Some cultures serve kofta with gravy as they consider dry kofta as kebabs. 

Like kofta, labneh is a traditional food of the Eastern Mediterrean and Middle Eastern countries, as well as the Indian subcontinent.  It starts off as yogurt and then it is strained to remove the whey resulting in a rich protein-packed product whose consistency is like a soft cheese.  In some areas, labneh is formed into balls, flavored with herbs and spices, and packed in olive oil.  For portability, the Bedouins make a hard labneh which is sun dried.  In Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries milk from camels may be used.

It is not necessary to have labneh with kofta, however its coolness provides a nice counterpoint to the heavily spiced meat.  Its mild sourness and fresh herbs also goes well with the kofta.

One of the ingredients I listed is Aleppo pepper.  Although it is named after the ancient city in northern Syria, it is also known as Halaby pepper.  It is widely available as dried and crushed.  Aleppo pepper is slightly oily and has a mild-moderate heat level. 

For this recipe I used equal parts beef and lamb.  You may choose pure beef or pure lamb.  It is entirely up to you what kind of meat you use.  Some people are put off by the gaminess of lamb while others like it.  No matter what meat or combination of meat you use, it is important to let the meatballs sit and rest after forming them so that the flavors meld.  Additionally, they will be easier to skewer and transfer to the grill when they are a bit cool.  Just like my burgers, I like kofta to be medium so that I feel some char on the outside but taste the juiciness on the inside.  If kofta is to be eaten later, they may be grilled on the rare side to allow for additional cooking or reheating later. 

For dinner I served kofta and labneh with couscous and roasted vegetables.  Couscous is made from durum wheat, and is native to Northern Africa.  I made the couscous with diced roasted eggplant, yellow squash, onions, and dried apricots.  Kofta may be accompanied instead by a rice pilaf or flatbread.

What meat or meat combination will you use to make kofta?