How to make delicious pork and beef kofta meatballs on the grill.
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Read on for useful tips and step-by-step pictures (2 mins)
What is Kofta?
Kofta is ground meat mixed with spices, onions and varying other ingredients, shaped either as meatballs or elongated, skewered paddies and cooked (mostly grilled).
They are immensely popular in the Balkans, Turkey and the Middle Eastern countries, all over the Indian subcontinent and in all Central Asian countries.
Kofta are also known as Turkish kofte, köfte, kefta, kafta, kufta and as the abundance of alternative names implies there are hundreds of regional recipes and variations. The type of ground or minced meats vary, so do the spices but the love for kofta is inevitably very, very strong, no matter where you happen to eat them.
In this post we are making a classic beef kofte recipe with added pork, popular in the Balkans and in Turkish cuisine. They are shaped as slightly flattened meatballs and grilled, pan-fried or baked. I strongly favor the grilled version. In Bulgaria where I grew up it is called köfte and is one of the country’s most popular street foods, beer garden menu offerings and an overall national favorite. My recipe (even though typically I do not measure) comes from my grandmother who also taught me how to get the texture to be very light by employing yogurt or beer.
Balkan Kofte Recipe – Ingredients
A few notes on the ingredients along with tips on making flavorful and juicy köfte.
Ground meat. You can use equal parts ground beef and ground pork or ground pork only. If using only beef, it should not be lean. When it comes to kofte, as with so many other dishes, fat is flavor and you do not want to miss out on it. The pork only version is by far more flavorful – I say this in result of decades of making and enjoying kofta.
Onion. You can use either green onions or very finely diced bulb onions (yellow, red, white etc).
Eggs. You need them in the mixture to help the ingredients bind together better.
Bread. Stale bread is typically soaked in water (or beer, for more flavor). You can substitute the slices of bread with bread crumbs.
Beer or yogurt. This is the secret ingredient, truly. If using beer, choose a Czech style pilsner or a similar lager with plenty of biscuity, bready notes and herbal Noble hops. The beer serves to both re-hydrate the bread and to ‘brine’ the mixture, from the inside so to speak, to give you very, very juicy kofte with a wonderfully light texture. Alternatively, yogurt with about a teaspoon of baking soda mixed in can be used (see notes in Recipe Card below). Yogurt works really well when the koftw are baked as it helps them rise.
Spices and fresh herbs. You must use cumin and be generous with it. It is THE spice that gives kofta in the Balkans and Turkey their distinct, savory flavor. Additionally, summer savory is added, but it is hard to source in the US. Instead use orgeno (fresh or dried). Garlic powder (or minced garlic) and parsley (fresh or dried) complete the flavor profile. Optional – add paprika.
Oil. If using beef, add a tablespoon to the mixture to help compensate for the dryness. You also need a bit of oil to dip your fingers in when you shape the kofta.
Salt and black pepper. Add to taste, sometimes ground meat is already salted so it helps if you taste it first to decide how much salt to use.
How to Make this Kofta Recipe
Prepare the kofte mixture.
Start by soaking the bread (including the crusts) in the beer (if using yogurt, soak the bread in 1/2 cup water). When the liquid is fully absorbed, crumble it on top of the ground meat (in a large bowl).
Chop the onion very small, mince the garlic, chop fresh parsley.
Add the rest of the ingredients and using your hands mix until you have a homogeneous mixture. Add about 1/4 to 1/3 extra cup of beer or water, mix to work it through (the meat will absorb it like it would absorb brine liquid).
Cover and refrigerate. This is a very important step. Try not to skip it. For juicy and flavorful kofta you want to allow the ingredients to blend well and for the liquids to be very well absorbed by the ground meat.
Shape. Bring the kofta mixture to room temperature first and dipping your hands in a bit of cooking oil shape the kofta (I suggest you use your palm as a measure – a generous handful is a good amount, assuming average sized hands:). Just be sure to shape uniform sized kofta balls and be sure that they are nicely greased on the outside before you grill them.
Grill. Preheat your grill to medium-high. Grease the grates and place the kofta over direct heat. Use a wide spatula to scoop and flip over.
Brush with oil and serve. After you take them off the grill, you might want to brush the cooked kofta with a bit of cooking oil, especially if using beef in the mixture to prevent the surface from drying out excessively.
How to Serve Pork and Beef Kofta
The versatility of sides and ways to enjoy kafta is greater than their variations so I am simply offering to your attention the simple offerings that are traditionally served with them in Bulgaria.
- A very popular side are fries, especially fries covered with feta cheese like these (especially in beer gardens)
- Cold potato salad – no mayo, simply olive oil and vinegar, thinly sliced onions, dill or chives, salt and pepper.
- Luitenitsa – a roasted red peppers and tomatoes spread with onions, garlic and spices. If there is a Trader Joe’s around you, they import a close version of it from Bulgaria and it tastes quite similar to the real deal even though it is definitely not as flavorful as the original(s).
- Bread – think fresh baked, artisan white bread or pita bread. Often times kofta are simply sandwiched in bread with luitenitsa spread over it (popular street food style presentation).
- Green salad – simply green leaf lettuce, onions and sliced cucumbers. Radishes are often added.
- Shopska salad – traditional Bulgarian salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, parsley and lots of feta.
- White beans – either simply flavored with red pepper flakes and parsley/chives or presented as a salad.
- Sauces – yogurt sauce, tzatziki, hummus, tahini sauce with lemon juice, homemade tomato sauce.
Easy Kofte Variations
- Lamb kofta. In some regions in both Bulgaria and Turkey lamb kofta are very popular. Try this recipe – Lamb Meatballs with Feta which pairs so well with the couscous I like to serve it with. Folding feta and mint into ground lamb kofta gives them even more flavor.
- Chicken kofta. Ground chicken with plenty of oil added to the mixture, otherwise the ingredients remain the same.
- Pan-fried. Use vegetable oil, preheated to 350 F, about 1. 5 inches deep in the frying pan. Fry each side until nicely browned and the internal temperature is at least 160 F.
- Baked. Definitely consider preparing the ground meat mixture with yogurt and baking soda. The rise is exceptional. Bake at 350 F onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet until the internal temperature reaches 160 F and the kofta are nicely browned.
Other Recipes You Might Like
- 1 lb ground beef*
- 1 lb ground pork
- 2 slices of dry bread**
- 1 1/4 cup beer such as Czech pilsner, divided*** (or 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup yogurt)
- 1 tsp baking soda (to mix in yogurt if using, otherwise ignore)
- 2 eggs
- 5-6 green onions, chopped fine
- 1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley (or half the amount dried)
- 3 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- kosher salt, to taste
- 1 clove garlic, minced (or 1 tsp garlic powder)
- 1/2 tbsp dried oregano or summer savory (or full tablespoon fresh, chopped)
- cooking oil, as needed to grease hands and brush over kofte meatballs
- In a shallow bowl place the dry bread slices and add half the beer, let soak until liquid is fully absorbed. Alternatively, use 1/2 cup water (see notes below).
- In a mixing bowl combine the ground meat, crumbled soaked bread, eggs, onions, parsley, cumin, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Also add the remaining beer (or 1/2 cup yogurt with baking soda). Use your hands to mix and create a homogeneous mixture. Cover with plastic and let refrigerate for a couple of hours.
- Bring to room temperature and start shaping the kofta balls. Dip your hands in a bit of cooking oil first to prevent stickiness. Create uniform balls, about as large as to comfortably fit in the palm of an average sized hand. Arrange the meatballs onto a greased pan and slightly press each one to flatten them a bit.
- Preheat your grill to medium-high and be sure to grease the grates. Place the kofta over direct heat. At first they will stick and after about 2 mins their lower surface will release. Use grill spatula to turn them over. Cook for about 4-5 minutes per side. Internal temperature must be at least 160 F before you take them off the grill.
- Brush with a bit of cooking oil once the kofta are off the grill - this will keep the surface from drying out as you serve them.
*Select 80/20 beef or if you want really flavorful kofte, skip the beef and double the ground pork.
**You can use 1 cup of bread crumbs instead, soak in beer or water instead of the bread.
***Soak the bread in half the amount of beer and add the rest of it directly to the kofte mixture. Alternatively, you can substitute with 1/2 cup of cultured yogurt with 1 tsp of baking soda mixed into it (this will make the texture wonderfully light, not at all dense). Soak the bread in 1/2 cup water if using yogurt and add the yogurt directly to the kofta mixture.
It is helpful to allow the kofta mixture to stay refrigerated for a few hours. The flavors come together much better and all liquid ingredients become well absorbed by the meat. When the kofta are grilled later they end up juicier in result.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 313Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 108mgSodium: 183mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 24g