Recipe: Lamb kefte (meatballs) and dipping sauce

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Not much to say here: this was a request from my dad, who’s a big fan of Turkish food (as am I). He’s heading off to Japan for a conference pretty soon, so I wanted to make them before he left. Fortunately, Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen has a fantastic recipe, which I followed pretty closely. My changes were reducing the amount of pine nuts to 1/4 cup, substituting mint for cilantro (we have mint and parsley growing in the backyard, whereas cilantro at my house tends to be purchased in bunches at the grocery store, partially used for one meal, and left to rot in the fridge until somebody throws it out), and adding a teensy bit of cumin along with the rest of the spices.

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Everything but the lamb.
Everything but the lamb.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get mine to stay on the skewers. I don’t know if this is because I was using metal ones, or if ground meat on skewers without any kind of binding agent is doomed to failure. I’ll put cooking suggestions for next time in brackets after Deb’s original instructions, which I tried to follow this time.

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This is what they ended up looking like after half of them fell apart and we took them off the skewers.
This is what they ended up looking like after half of them fell apart and we took them off the skewers.

No matter what shape they end up in, these are a delicious meat course for a  summer dinner. Deb pairs these with zucchini kebabs, which sounds great; lacking zucchini, we ate them with corn on the cob and a tomato-cucumber salad. I think they would also be great with pita and grilled vegetables.

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Kefte with Yogurt Sauce

Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen.

Yield: about 36 small meatballs or 30 larger ones.

For the meatballs:
2 slices sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
1 small onion (or 1/2 medium-large onion, about 1 cup finely chopped)
1/4 c loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
1/4 c loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1 lb ground lamb (could also use dark turkey meat or beef)
1 tsp salt (optional)
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted and finely chopped

For the sauce:
1 c plain yogurt (I used half Greek and half regular, both nonfat)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
1 tsp minced garlic
1 pinch salt

Sauce directions: Stir all ingredients together and chill.

Kefte directions: Cover bread with water in a bowl and soak 10 minutes. Squeeze handfuls of bread to remove as much excess water as possible, then transfer to a bowl.

If you have an herb grinder/mill, use that on the parsley and mint. Otherwise, add them with the onion to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add to bread along with lamb, spices, and pine nuts. Mix with your hands until well blended and form into 36 small balls.

Grilling: For a gas grill, preheat the burners on high for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to medium for cooking. For a charcoal grill, see Deb’s directions.

Thread 6 meatballs 1/4 inch apart on to each of 6 skewers (pre-soaked in water for 30 minutes if wooden). Grill on an oiled grill pan or rack, turning once, until golden and just cooked through, about 4-6 minutes.

[Mine fell off the skewers when I tried to move them, so here’s what I suggest. Make larger, somewhat flat meatballs and place them evenly on a grill pan. Cook over medium or medium-low heat for about 4 minutes, then flip over like mini-hamburgers. Cook the other side another 3 minutes, or until cooked through and browned on both sides.]

Broiling: If you don’t have a grill, these can be broiled on a large, shallow baking pan 5 inches from heat, turning over once, until just cooked through, 4-6 minutes. [Note: grilling is highly recommended because lamb is extremely fatty.]

Serve warm with dipping sauce. Pita, grilled vegetables, and other Mediterranean/Turkish dishes optional but recommended.

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