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David Lissner
for restaurants

Eat this! Kefta, spicy meaty morsels from the Middle East

Shokran's kefta tagine.

Shokran's kefta tagine.

What it is: Ubiquitous throughout the Middle East, kefta (and variant spellings including keftedes, kofta and kufta) is highly seasoned ground meat, typically shaped into meatballs, logs or small patties. It’s typically made from lamb, beef or a mixture, but almost any meat might be used in kefta.. Kefta are commonly grilled as kebabs or simmered in any of a variety of sauces. Spicing varies with the region. There are hundreds of variations.

Where it comes from: The name derives from the Persian word kuftan (“to beat” or “to grind”), which suggests an ancient Iranian origin, but versions of the dish can be found all throughout what used to be called the Orient — including all the Semitic countries as well as Morocco, Greece, the Balkans and South Asia.

Khalid Kamal

Khalid Kamal

What to do with it: The meatballs can be skewered and grilled or broiled, steamed, or braised. At Shokran in Irving Park, Chef Khalid Kamal cooks tiny beef kefta meatballs in a traditional Moroccan tagine with a fresh tomato sauce flavored with garlic, cumin and other seasonings.

“The spices we use — everything from paprika, salt, pepper and cumin to cinnamon, turmeric and fresh saffron — gives a distinct, yet tolerable spicy flavor to the food,” Kamal says.

Shokran’s kefta tagine
Moroccan meatballs in tomato sauce
Chef Khalid Kamal

Serve with rice or couscous.

1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds ground beef
3 ounces olive oil
3 cloves garlic, diced
4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, seeded and diced (1/4-inch)

Mix together 1 teaspoon of the salt, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon cumin and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Combine the spice mixture with the ground beef and shape into 1/2-inch-diameter meatballs.

Heat the olive oil in a nonstick pot over medium heat, and add the garlic, the remaining 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2-teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and the parsley. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes or until it has the consistency of a sauce.

Add the meatballs to the sauce, cover and cook for another 10 minutes. 4 to 6 servings.

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