Seasoned with a blend of allspice, cinnamon, coriander and nutmeg, my take on these Lebanese Kafta (finely minced meat) have well balanced flavours. No dry and hard meatballs here. Grated onions as opposed to diced onions keep them moist. The finely cut parsley in them adds a freshness and the pine nuts or almonds if you prefer, provides a good textural contrast to the soft meatball. It is a pretty decent meatball.

The cuisines of North Africa and the Middle East intrigue me. I like the food although strangely I have never had a meatball from either of these regions served to me that was to my taste. For a long time, despite scouring for and trying out numerous recipes for meatballs from these two regions, I was never able to roll out a good meatball. My diners will eat the obligatory meatball or two but the rest of the meatballs would inevitably end up disguised in some kind of tomato based pasta sauce. I had issues with the meatballs. They were invariably hard, either too strongly flavoured or rather bland. They were often gristly and had an odd crunchy texture. It was very discouraging. I wanted a morsel that was tasty and moist. It should never be hard. Some of the meatballs I had made could be used as arsenal! Not willing to give up, I ploughed on, one recipe and one experiment after another. How difficult was it to come up with a well flavoured meatball that incorporated a mix of at least four different spices? How much of each spice should I use? What was the best cut of beef to use for meatballs? Through trial and error, after many meatballs and even more pasta dinners drenched with tomato meatball sauce, I have a recipe for a Lebanese inspired meatball that I am quite proud to serve. No one stops at one meatball now!

These are ready for frying.

Beef Kafta – Lebanese Meatballs

Prep: 15 minutes 
Cook: 10 – 15 minutes
Inactive: 2 hours and up 6 hours in the refrigerator
Level: Easy
Makes: 16 2-tablespoons size torpedo shaped meatballs
Oven Temperature:
Can recipe be doubled? Yes.
Make ahead? Yes, you can shape the meatballs up to 6 hours ahead and fry half an hour before. It is fine to serve these at room temperature.

Ingredients

1 lb (450 g) minced beef*
2/3 cup grated onions (about 3 medium size onions)
2/3 cup lightly packed Italian/flat leave parsley finely cut + 1 Tablespoon for garnish
3/4 teaspoon allspice powder
3/4 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper powder
1/4 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 Tablespoons pine nuts or slivered/diced almonds
Update: 4 Tablespoons fried purple shallots**
1 to 2 Tablespoons of oil for frying the meatballs.
* I have tried minced beef from all and I do mean all my local supermarket chains. Supermarket quality mince will not do unless of course you know of a supermarket that provides premium mince beef. Inferior mince will give you meatballs that will be gristly or dry.  No amount of breadcrumbs or eggs will be able to soften and get rid of the gristle that is often added to supermarket mince. Goodness knows what other cuts of beef they use to produce their minced meat. This is the time to seek out and spend your money on reliable minced meat. Freshly ground beef with a good ratio of fat to lean meat from premium cuts can be purchased from specialty butcher shops. I am able to buy minced beef that is ground from sirloin, rib eye and chuck. A ratio of 75 – 80% lean to 25 to 20% fat is often the advice you will get for a good mince. Specialty butcher shops will have their own in-store mix of mince beef.  They pride themselves on the beef they supply so you can be more or less assured that the minced beef they offer will be flavourful because their reputation is at stake. Having said that, I do have my favourites when it comes to who I buy my minced beef from. There is one butcher shop from whom I will buy most cuts of beef but I will not buy their minced beef. It is not good enough. You need to invest some time and money and decide where you should buy your mince. Once you have a reliable butcher, you can make really tasty, juicy and gristle free hamburger patties. Isn’t that something else to look forward to?
** I had inadvertently left it out when I first published this post. Fried shallots can be bought locally ready fried from most supermarkets. Those from Thailand are the superior – the sweetest and most well fried purple shallots. 

Method

1. Set the grated onions over a strainer. Do not press down on the onions. Reserve any onion juice should you need it to add more moisture to the meatballs.
2. Your mince beef must be cold before you start. So only remove the beef from the refrigerator when you have all your other ingredients ready. If you don’t, the heat will start to melt down the fats in the mince, it will be stickier than necessary when you start to mix and shape the mince into torpedo shape balls.
3. Mix all the dried ingredients including the nuts. Set aside.
4. Place the minced beef in a large bowl. Add onions, parsley, fried purple shallots and all the dried ingredients to the beef and mix gently to incorporate the ingredients. The mixture should feel moist but not overly sticky. If it feels at all dry, incorporate enough of the reserved onion juice to moisten it further. Do not over mix.
5. Gather about 2 Tablespoons of mince and with the palm of both hands, gently shape it into a torpedo shape ball. If it gets too sticky to handle, moisten your hands with the onion juice. There should be 16 torpedo shaped balls.
6. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours and up to 6 hours. If you chill them any longer, the grated onions will start to work its way too much into the meat and the combination of spices and parsley will start to lose its flavours. If you fry them a day or two after shaping, your meatballs will taste sour (the work of the grated onions).
7. Heat a grill pan or a non stick frying pan on medium high heat. Add the oil to heat through.
8. Do not overcrowd the pan. Depending on the size of you pan, you might have to fry the meatballs in two lots.
9. Add the meatballs to brown on all sides. Lower the heat slightly and continue to cook for another 5 to 10 minutes until meat is cooked through. Pierce the meatballs with a toothpick. If juices run clear, it is done.
10. Transfer to serving plate and garnish with the remaining parsley. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil if you wish.

Tips

Other serving suggestions:
(1) After plating the meatballs, drizzle over some Sweet Balsamic Vinegar Dressing. I use this dressing quite a lot for my salads. I posted the recipe for this salad dressing under, Fresh Figs With Peppered Ricotta. There is a picture of the wonderfully yummy salad under that post. Do take a look when you get the chance. The tart, slightly thick and sweet balsamic vinegar dressing complements the savoury well spiced meatballs beautifully. It is unconventional, but for me, this is by far the best way to serve it.
(2) Sometimes I dilute tahini with an equal amount of water until it becomes a loose sauce, then work in some chilli powder, black pepper or zaatar. I pour this into the serving vessel before arranging the beef kafta on them. Take a look at the photograph above.
(3) Besides serving this as part of a larger meze, I use the beef kafta in sandwiches. I drizzle my bread (flat bread or ciabatta) with extra virgin olive oil. If I can be bothered, I make garlic mayonnaise and spread that on the bread. If not, I spread Labneh – Lebanese Drained Yogurt, which is really nice and creamy, much like Philadelphia Cream Cheese with a slight sour tang. I would have grated in some garlic into the Labneh. You could use garlic powder instead. Over the Labneh spread, I place a few Kabis – Lebanese Pickled Turnips and Beets and then line up the meatballs. Squish the sandwich shut, smashing the meatballs as you do so and then open your mouth wide and eat. Oh yes, add Tabasco sauce if you are into that. I like it.

WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT?

Moroccan inspired Roasted Green Bell Peppers and Tomatoes With Olives. The peppers and onions in this dish have to be cooked either under the broiler or over an open fire. You want the vegetables to get nicely roasted and charred on the outside so that a nice smoky flavour develops. Without that smokiness, the dish will come out pretty flat tasting.Read more in my upcoming post for this recipe.


To recap, this post is part of my series on Meze, A Selection of Wonderful Little Bites. With the festive season almost upon us, I thought it would be useful to post some recipes for pre-dinner bites for your upcoming parties. Here’s a picture of my meze party.

Links to recipes below.


First row:
Zaalouk – Moroccan Roasted Eggplants and Tomatoes;
Kabis – Lebanese Pickled Turnips and Beets;
Moroccan inspired Radish, Bell Peppers and Mint Salad;
Flash Fried Sweet Mini Bell Peppers.
Second row:
Greek inspired Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta;
Hummus with Spiced Angus Beef Slices;
Beef Kafta – Lebanese inspired Meatballs.
Third row:
Labneh – Lebanese Drained Yogurt Drizzled With Extra Virgin Olive Oil And Clover Honey;
Moroccan inspired Roasted Green Bell Peppers and Tomatoes With Olives;
Fresh Figs With Peppered Ricotta

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