Baked Kofta

Baked kofta stacks warmly spiced beef and lamb patties on top of eggplant, then blankets them with an Aleppo pepper-rich tomato sauce.

A ceramic baking dish filled with baked kofta -- meatballs on top of eggplant slices, all covered in tomato sauce.

Kofta are something of an obsession throughout the Middle East. These meat patties can be baked, fried, grilled, braised, stuffed into pita and drizzled with tahini, or baked in a tomato sauce and served with rice.–Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley

Why can't I use lean meat?

For kofta kebabs, the amount of fat makes a huge difference. Lean or extra lean ground beef is just too dry for recipes like this. Not only does it ensure that your kofta remains juicy but it also helps to stop the patties from shrinking. Dry meat will shrivel up and crumble, which is the last thing you want in a meal like this. If 20% fat makes you uncomfortable… then maybe you’d prefer something green and crunchy? However, if you’ve made peace with yourself, there’s a good reason to suggest a higher-fat meat.

Baked Kofta

  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Glance
  • 1 H, 10 M
  • 2 H, 15 M
  • Serves 6
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Ingredients

  • For the eggplant
  • For the tomato sauce
  • For the kofta
  • To serve

Directions

Bake the eggplant

Preheat the oven to 450°F (232°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the eggplant slices in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper and pour in the oil. Mix well to combine, then spread out on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes.

Decrease the oven temperature to 425°F (220°C).

Make the tomato sauce

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it has softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for 30 seconds more.

Stir in the canned tomatoes, sugar, mint, chile flakes, water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and a good grind of black pepper. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and rich, about 20 minutes.

Make the kofta

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients, along with 1 3/4 teaspoons of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Mix well, then divide the mixture into 12 large balls. Shape into patties, each about 3 inches (7 cm) wide.

Assemble and serve

In a deep 9- by 13-inch (23- by 33-cm) baking dish, arrange the eggplant slices. Place one kofta patty on top of each slice and place a slice of tomato on top of this, to create a kind of sandwich.

Tester tip: If you have a flame proof baking dish of a similar size, use it for baking the kofta, and then you can reduce your sauce in the baking dish without transferring it to another skillet.

Spoon a generous 1 tablespoon of the thick tomato sauce on top of each sandwich, spreading it out slightly so that it drizzles down the sides. Sprinkle with the green chile, cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil, and bake for 20 minutes.

Increase the oven temperature to 475°F (245°C), remove the foil, and bake for 18 minutes more.

Remove the dish from the oven and, using a spatula, lift the kofta out of the liquid (don’t discard the liquid, though), trying to keep the eggplant slices intact. Place on a large platter or individual serving plates.

Pour the cooking juices from the baking dish into a medium sauté pan or skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has thickened and reduced by half, 5 to 10 minutes.

Spoon this sauce over the kofta and sprinkle with the cilantro, basil, and pine nuts. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

This baked kofta took me back to my beloved Mediterranean world. I love to use cinnamon as I do in any other stew. The 12 kofta would serve at least 6 as I couldn’t eat more than one as a main dish (I served it with bulgur.) The baking time was accurate and the sauce was thick and yummy. It was delicious.

I can see why these baked kofta are "something of an obsession in the Middle East," as the headnote says. The flavors in the meat patties, from the garlic to the cinnamon, allspice, chili flakes and tomatoes are so good against the beef and lamb. Then to add the creamy eggplant and acid from the tomato on top and it's pretty much a perfect package. And of course, the pop from the green chile on top. Don't forget to toast some pine nuts to sprinkle on top before serving - they provide a nice nutty crunch that simply accents everything.

The recipe itself was straightforward if on the complex side. By complex I don't mean complicated. It did take time but you have the option of doing the sauce and the meat mix a day ahead, which can be very helpful. The instructions were spot on. I wouldn't really change a thing but if you really like the flavor of lamb, maybe go three-quarters ground beef, one and one-quarter lamb.

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Comments

  1. I really like the meat mixture here and wonder if it would hold up to a broiling or grilling as an alternative to the full baked meal presented here. Thank you for your input.

    1. We haven’t tried this Denise, so we can’t say how it would turn out. I think that you could cook only the meat patties by whatever method you prefer, but you’d have to watch them closely to avoid drying them out.

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