Lamb kofte, small, deep-fried meatballs, are filled with aromatic spices and crunchy bulgur. Served with a tomato, parsley, and pepper salad, they’re snacking perfection, as well as dinner.
Usually in Crete, we call these “keftedes”—small meatballs, deep-fried until crispy and served with lots of onion. They are a perfect snack to take to the beach, especially if there are children around. In Turkey, they add bulgur and lots of aromatic spices. The bulgur gives them a great crunch and the spices make them even more tasty. I add a few lamb hearts in there to intensify the flavor, but omit them if you prefer.–Marianna Leivaditaki
HOW DO I KEEP MY KOFTE FROM DRYING OUT?
Because these lamb kofte don’t have lots of “stuff” added to them—in particular eggs, milk-soaked bread, cheese, or even ketchup—you’re gonna have to find another way to keep these little meatballs from getting crumbly. If you keep things cool before cooking, then you won’t melt the fat before they hit the skillet and, hence, you don’t risk losing any of the resulting juiciness. Speaking of fat…don’t skimp on the fat content of your meat. You’ll want all the juicy moisture you can get. And finally, be gentle with those meatballs. Over-handling them will compact the meat, making them rubbery and tough, as well as drawing out that precious fat with your hot little hands.
For the lamb kofte
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil optional
- 5 1/2 oz lamb hearts chopped extremely finely and seasoned with salt (optional)
- 3/4 cup coarse bulgur
- 2/3 cup boiling water
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1 tablespoon walnuts very finely chopped
- 1 medium-large tomato (7 oz | 200 g) finely chopped
- 2 long green Turkish chile peppers or other peppers you like, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
- 1 handful each of fresh parsley mint, and dill, all finely chopped
- Sea salt
- 1 1/4 cups mild vegetable oil, for frying
For the parsley salad
- 1 bunch fresh Italian parsley (3 oz | 85 g) chopped
- 1 small tomato (6 oz | 170 g) chopped
- 1 small green pepper (3 oz | 85 g) deseeded and chopped
- 1 green chile pepper deseeded and chopped
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon about 3 tablespoons
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Bread for serving (optional)
Make the lamb kofte
- If using lamb hearts, in a skillet over medium heat, add the oil and lamb hearts, and fry briefly for a couple of minutes. Remove to a bowl and allow to cool a little.If you are not using lamb hearts, proceed to step 2.
- In a medium bowl, cover the bulgur with the boiling water, and let it sit until slightly softened, about 10 minutes. Drain, if necessary.
- In a large bowl, combine the lamb hearts, if using, drained bulgur, and all the remaining kofte ingredients, except the salt and oil, and mix very well. Season with salt and form into even balls about the size of walnuts.
- In a deep saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the oil until hot but not smoking (the oil should bubble as soon as you lower the kofte into it). Working in batches, fry the lamb kofte in the oil until golden and crispy, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Use a slotted spoon to remove from the saucepan and drain on paper towels.
Make the parsley salad
- Put the parsley, tomato, pepper, and chile on a cutting board. Go over them again and again with a big knife until you have something that looks a bit like a salsa. It’s a bit messy but it’s totally worth it.☞TESTER TIP: To speed up the prep of the salad, toss the parsley, tomato, pepper, and chile in a food processor and pulse just until everything is finely chopped.
- Dump the parsley salad into a bowl and season with the oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
- Serve with the kofte and some nice bread, if desired.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
I was intrigued by the recipe's use of bulgur as a binding agent. My first thought was that it wouldn't be absorbent enough to hold the meatballs together after a brief soak in hot water, but I was totally wrong. The bulgur also greatly extends the quantity of food, which is a nice trick. The quantity of lamb kofte I made was pretty surprising for only a pound of ground lamb. These were delicious with a nice mix of flavor and texture, if a bit time consuming, and the parsley salad is an excellent pairing - do not skip it!
It's a busy recipe. I felt like I was prepping food the entire time with no waiting and the results were definitely worth it! Even though it's busy, it's not hard and it doesn't take too long if you have everything prepped and ready to go. The lamb kofte are well-seasoned and juicy tender, and the lemony parsley salad is a great addition to balance out the richness of the fried lamb. I served with chickpea flour flatbreads and homemade tzatziki.
These lamb kofte were outrageously delicious! Everything from their texture, to their flavorings and their crusty browned exterior were wonderful. To be honest, I am usually more of a baked meatball kind of cook, but the crust that was formed by frying these in hot oil might just change my regular meatball repertoire. And it wasn't just the meatballs themselves that were a huge hit at the dinner table, the parsley salad was the perfect fresh finishing touch---perfectly spicy and acidic at the same time. I served the kofte and salad on top of white rice, with a side of goat cheese-stuffed zucchini boats.
Originally published April 12, 2021