Jerusalem has once again cast its sweet magic upon my kitchen. Though I’ve never been to Jerusalem before, I feel like I’ve eaten this dish a thousand times. The only familial connection I have to Jerusalem is that my grandfather grew up in under-developed Palestine before Israel was deemed its own country. My grandpa wasn’t the cook in his family so I never knew his cuisine. So why, with such a tenuous connection, do I love this food so much? Why does it feel like home?
My guess is for the same reason, arroz con pollo, Grandma’s roasted chicken and carrots, most meatballs, falafel, and even sometimes pho feel like home. All of these dishes have that quality of the simple, basic and familiar, so that even if your grandma didn’t make it, it tastes like someone’s did.
These kofta don’t bother masquerading as flawless round meatballs. Densely packed into the shape of torpedoes with the nuts and vegetables lending layers of texture, their dark mischief lies in their shape. Flanked by fresh herbs, pine nuts and warm spices, they are seared and then baked. The kinetic quality of their shape lends itself well to flying from plate to mouth in a perfect arc, the explosion softened only by the nuttiness of a toasty tahini.
This recipe was inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s article in the Telegraph.
- 1/2 pound minced lamb
- 1/2 pound minced veal or beef
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped, plus extra whole ones to garnish
- Handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus extra to serve
- 1 large medium-hot red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
- 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1½ tsp ground allspice
- ¾ tsp grated nutmeg
- 1½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1½ tsp salt
- I also added a handful of yellow raisins for a bit of sweetness, which was delicious.
For the sauce
- 2/3 cup light tahini paste
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 medium clove of garlic, crushed
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 30g unsalted butter or ghee (optional)
- sweet paprika, to garnish
Put all the kofta ingredients in a bowl and use your hands to mix everything together well. Now shape into long, torpedo-like fingers, roughly 2-3 inches long. Press the mix to compress it and ensure the kofta is tight and keeps its shape. Arrange on a plate and chill until you are ready to cook them, for up to one day.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
In a medium bowl whisk together the tahini paste, lemon juice, 2/3 cup water, garlic and a quarter of a teaspoon of salt. The sauce should be a bit runnier than honey; add one or two tablespoons of water if needed.
Heat the sunflower oil in a large frying-pan and sear the kofta over a high heat; do this in batches so they are not cramped together. Sear them on all sides until golden brown, about six minutes for each batch. At this point they should be medium-rare. Lift out of the pan and arrange on an oven tray. If you want them medium or well-done, put the tray in the oven for two to four minutes.
Spoon the tahini sauce around the kofta, so it covers the base of the tray. If you like, also drizzle some over the kofta but leave some of the meat exposed. Place in the oven for a minute or two, just to warm up the sauce a little.
Meanwhile, if you are using the butter, melt it in a small saucepan and allow it to brown a little, taking care that it doesn’t burn. Spoon the butter over the kofta as soon as they come out of the oven. Scatter with pine nuts and parsley and finally sprinkle some paprika on top.