Kinda Köfte (Well, my version, anyway…)

Recipes kindly sponsored by Flahavan’s

Watching Rick Stein prepare köfte on television the other day, I was reminded of how this dish, in all its geographically diverse variants, never fails to have a very positive effect on my gastric juices. And so, I decided to make some for myself.

Needless to say, I had not paid sufficient attention to Rick to recall what had gone into his so I simply headed off to Tallow where Bart O’Donoghue sold me what is in Co. Waterford rather confusingly called a shoulder of lamb. In fact, it’s the breast and shank rolled into a cheap joint for roasting.

He then minced it for me, producing a splendidly fatty mixture. That is the first requirement for köfte, as they say in Turkey, kefta in Morocco, kyuftein Bulgaria, qofte in Albania, kefte in Greece, kufte in Armenia and kofta in both India and Afghanistan. It’s clearly a well-travelled approach to lamb. For this bit of vocab, incidentally, I must thank the Oxford Companion to Food, edited by the late and remarkable Alan Davidson.

Here we call it that “minced lamb thing, you know, on skewers”.

Now this lamb affair varies widely but the common theme is pounded or minced lamb that is kneaded into a paste. Sometimes it’s mixed with something to lighten the texture, say with burghul in which case it heads off towards being the kibbeh of Lebanon and Syria, but that’s another day’s work.

What I wanted to produce was the long, sausage shaped version of köfte, flavoured with my favourite Middle Eastern elements and cooked, to get the final layer of authentic flavour, over hot charcoal. I suspect my version is unique to Carrigeen Hill, our small settlement that sits on the border of Cork and Waterford.

Anyway, I planned ahead. My lamb was minced and ready to rock and roll not long after breakfast. I put it – weighing 925g as it happens - in a big metal bowl and added the following:

My version of köfte:

3 tbsp ground coriander seed (homegrown, as it happens)
2 tbsp ground cumin seed
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 red chillis, finely chopped
3 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, not so finely chopped
1 tsp sumac
sea salt

(Needless to say, all of the spices – bar the fresh chilli – were ground immediately before use).

This mixture was then kneaded by hand until all the additions were evenly distributed and until it had developed a paste-like texture not unlike something unpleasant that would be extruded in a dodgy sausage factory. On the plus side, the aroma was heady and delicious.

This was then covered and left, at room temperature, for the flavours to infuse themselves, until I lit the charcoal in a kettle barbecue at seven o’clock. I then fashioned six cylinders of the paste around six metal skewers.

When the conflagration died down and the coals were merely scorching hot, I put the köfte on and cooked them very quickly. The fat melted rapidly and, naturally, this caused a lot of flare up. You have to keep them moving so that you don’t get that greasy, black deposit Dickens describes so horrifically in Our Mutual Friend (although, to be fair, that was a case of alleged spontaneous human combustion).

I’d imagine my köfte spent no more than five minutes over the hot coals. You just want them to take on some colour; it’s very easy to overcook them.

And, well, that was it. I rested them for a few minutes while we ate some fresh figs and prosciutto (as you do on the odd Saturday evening). Then we larrupped into the köfte, to use a technical phrase, with a carrot salad that I made as follows:


Carrot and sesame salad:

200g very fresh carrot, coarsely grated
a bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
1 knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 ½ tbsp roasted sesame seed oil
a handful of toasted sesame seeds
a generous dash of sea salt
1-2 limes, juiced
(depending on how much juice they produce)

All you have to do is mix the whole lot together and serve. This is a favourite way with carrots and as we’re enjoying our own crop at the moment, pulling them fresh as we need them, it’s a salad with considerable flavour and crunch.

Anyway, that was Saturday’s supper. We had a glass of Aldi’s delicious single estate Pouilly-Fuissé beforehand and some of O’Brien’s Cusumano Merlot with the köfte.