On the lamb
FoodThink meatballs, but bigger

On the lamb

Ground lamb will give you all the flavor that you’re hoping for but is more budget-friendly.

Lamb kofte (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Lamb kofte (Photo by Jessica Grann)

If you asked me for a list of the five foods that I wouldn’t want to live without, lamb would be No. 1. I never tire of lamb in any form.

I love kofte (think meatballs, but bigger) and kofte kebabs as much as I like more expensive cuts like a rack of lamb. I’ve never had lamb kofte turn out dry. Ground lamb will give you all the flavor that you’re hoping for but is more budget-friendly when cooking for your family.

You can get creative with how you cook these. You can grill, broil or pan-fry kofte: The most important thing is having the right mix of spices. I admittedly don’t have grilling skills myself so if my husband is home, he will grill these for me, but if it’s a late night I cook them indoors. I think that grilling kofte does give it a small advantage taste-wise, but I’ve never had a complaint about the flavor when broiling or pan-frying it. Lamb has a high fat content, which is precisely why it turns out so juicy.

If ground lamb is hard for you to find, you can replace it with ground beef; just be sure that you buy beef with the highest fat content. The flavor will be different with ground beef, but it will still be tasty.

Lamb kofte

2 pounds of ground lamb
2 large eggs
4-5 cloves of fresh minced garlic
2 teaspoons of Aleppo pepper or smoked paprika
2 teaspoons of ground coriander
2 teaspoons of cumin
1 ½ teaspoons of kosher salt

I find ground meat easier to work with when it has been allowed to sit for a bit on the counter. You don’t want it to reach room temperature, but take it out of the fridge 30-45 minutes before preparation.

Place the lamb in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Add the eggs and spices and mix it by hand, being careful not to overmix. I prepare a large sheet pan lined with parchment paper before I form the kofte.

Lamb kofte (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Putting ground meat onto skewers does require a little bit of skill, but the more that you do it, the easier it becomes. I use a large handful per skewer, and this makes 6-8 skewers depending on how thin or thick you make them. Take a handful of lamb in one hand and push the skewer sideways into the lamb in your hand in the middle of the skewer. Then use both hands to form it around the skewer, moving evenly both up and down the skewer so that it’s as even looking as possible.

If you don’t have skewers or this seems a little daunting, you can simply make patties. This recipe will make about 18 patties. You can form them into a rounded, lentil-shaped hamburger or into a wider torpedo shape that is a little more tapered at each end and wider in the middle. If you find that the lamb is sticky when being formed, just rinse your hands quickly under water and continue. That little bit of added water can make a very big difference and also will give you a smoother-looking exterior.

Whichever way you choose, place each piece onto the sheet pan and cover the tray with plastic wrap. Refrigerate it for 45 minutes to an hour. This is a really important step. The mixture will become firmer, and that will keep it from sticking or falling apart, especially if you’re grilling them. Sometimes I give them a final finish when the meat is cold again. I just smooth out any rough or uneven spots with my hands before cooking them.

I am a bit obsessive about food temperature, so I recommend a digital thermometer when cooking any meat, chicken or fish. Most of us do not live in a place where meat is freshly butchered or fish is freshly caught, so it’s even more important that it’s cooked appropriately for your own safety.

Ground meat of any kind needs to be cooked longer than, say, a roast, so while I like roasted lamb medium-rare, I prefer ground lamb that is medium-well. Cook this to your preference, but ground lamb should always reach an internal minimum temperature of 160 degrees. I prefer to take it up to 175-180 degrees before removing it from the heat. It’s difficult to give you precise cooking times because there are so many variables like the heat source, the thickness of the kofte, etc. I go by internal temperature and by sight.

If you’re grilling these, you will want your coals to be low and even. Lamb has a high fat content and that can cause your grill to flare when the fat drips out and hits the coals. Flaring will cause a charred exterior but a raw interior, so turn them often and don’t take your eyes off the grill.

You can also broil these in the oven on the high broiler setting- I usually turn them once after 8-10 minutes of cooking and check the internal temperature after another 5 minutes. If you think that your broiler is cooking them too quickly, move your oven rack down one slot so that the tray is further from your burner.

If you wish to pan-fry patties, I suggest medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pan like cast iron. Add a tablespoon or two of an oil with a high smoke point, such as avocado oil. This oil is only needed to sear the first batch. Lamb releases a lot of fat as it’s cooked, so that will end up being your natural cooking oil.

I sauté them for 4-5 minutes before turning them over and I check the temperature after another 3-4 minutes. Lamb is forgiving so the kofte will still taste delicious even if it’s overcooked a bit. Use a slotted spoon to remove the kofte from the pan and set it to drain on a plate covered in paper towels.

This is one of my most loved recipes. My guests go crazy about it. Most recently someone said that they wish that they served lamb kofte at weddings instead of dry chicken — everyone would be much more satisfied. The spice mix is perfect; It’s not too spicy or overpowering.

You can serve this on a plate with rice and vegetables or pop them into a pita. I suggest tahini or a pareve tzatziki sauce made with nondairy yogurt if you’re serving them in a pita. Add a Greek or Israeli salad and you have a perfect meal.

Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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