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.

Tepsi (beef and eggplant casserole) had actually been floating through my cooking feeds for a while now and I was really excited to see and try this recipe for baked kofta.

There were quite a few steps to get through, but the end result was worth all the effort and hands on cooking time. This recipe may not be everyone’s favorite in terms of how long one is actively preparing it. But if you make it in steps and have some time in-between to drink a cup of coffee or get on with other commitments and come back to the next process then I think it’s no problem at all. It took 70 minutes of solid hands on time to get it into the oven and then another hour to get it on the table. Total time 2 hours 10 minutes.

The portion sizes were generous and it presented beautifully, the flavors were delicious and harmonious. I think 6 as a main and 12 as a side would be a good guideline for serving sizes.

I used store-bought tomato puree as I didn't have enough time to make my own, but the flavors were so good that I regretted not tripling the sauce in the end as I liked it so much and could have used it later on for something else. I also didn't have Aleppo chile, so I used red chile flakes instead.

Baking times of eggplant slices took 20 minutes to bake in my SMEG oven with fan assist on. Onions took 5 minutes to brown nicely and the sauce reduced nicely and developed well in the 20 minutes allocated. My daughter couldn't stop "testing" it.

The kofta mixture comfortably made 12 well sized kofta with the measurements given, my mixture was wet, but formed the patties well. Baking dish times were spot on and the dish came out richly aromatic. The kofta stacks remained intact and did not fall apart when removing from the dish.

I had around 3/4 cup liquid from the dish that I reduced for around five minutes and then spooned about 1 tablespoon over each kofta.

There were definitely 12 well sized servings. I could imagine making this in a few trays ahead for a party and then reheating to serve. It was a delicious dish for both adults and children and I'd definitely make it over and over again. However, in future I would plan the processes ahead of time to limit all the hands-on time at once.

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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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