Lamb kofte are tender Middle Eastern meatballs flavored with warm spices and fresh herbs ~ we serve them on a bed of couscous and a side of tabbouleh for a casual Mediterranean meal.
Lamb kofte is a true culinary gem that you don’t want to miss. Following the same general procedure you’d use for Western meatballs you can make these juicy lamb skewers. Ground lamb is gently spiced with cinnamon, coriander, and cumin and mixed with finely minced parsley and fresh mint giving them a refreshingly different flavor profile.
did you know?
The term “kofte” generally refers to seasoned and shaped ground meat, which can be made from various types of meat, including lamb, beef, chicken, or even vegetables in vegetarian versions. The word “kofte” is derived from the Persian word meaning “to pound” or “to grind” and kofta variations are popular throughout the Middle East, Mediterranean, Southeast Europe, and India. The earliest recipes, made with ground lamb, come from ancient Arabic cookbooks.
what you’ll need to make lamb kofte
- ground lamb
- ground lamb has a slightly higher fat content compared to ground beef, which contributes to its rich flavor. It’s made from a mix of cuts, including shoulder, leg, trimmings, neck, and possibly others. If you don’t see it in your supermarket meat section, ask the butcher to grind it for you. If you prefer you can use ground beef or even chicken.
- traditionally the onion would be grated and then drained of excess water. If you decide to chop yours, mince it very finely so your lamb kofte holds together.
- these help bind the kofte and absorb any excess moisture. For gluten free use almond meal, chickpea flour or gf breadcrumbs. You can also leave them out.
- another binder. Can also be left out.
- salt and pepper
- seasoning ground meat before cooking is important!
- cumin, cinnamon & coriander
- this trio of warm spices is key to the experience, don’t be afraid of this unusual flavor profile, it’s wonderful.
- Aleppo pepper
- a mildly spicy and fruity chili pepper with a smoky undertone, commonly used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. I happened to have it in the pantry, no worries if you don’t. Leave it out or substitute cayenne, paprika, or ground chile powder.
- fresh parsley & mint
- as with the onion, make sure you mince it finely. The fresh herbal flavors brighten the kofte.
- baking soda & lemon juice
- baking soda helps tenderize the meat, making it softer and more succulent. Lemon juice enhances that process.
- 12″ metal skewers
a note about mixing lamb kofte
Ground meat, including beef, pork, lamb, and poultry, can become denser and tougher if overworked. This is because the proteins in the meat form tighter bonds as you manipulate it. Ground meat should be handled gently and mixed only enough to combine the ingredients without overworking.
My preferred method for mixing ground meats is in my stand mixer! It does a gentle but thorough job with a lot less effort on my part.
Want to taste your kofte mixture before baking?
After mixing, take a small amount of the meat and fry it in a skillet. Taste it to see if you’d like to add more spice, salt, or herbs.
how to form lamb kofte on skewers
You have choices! Kofte can be formed into individual meatballs, or formed as one long ‘log’ on the skewers. I like to give them some definition so I split the difference and thread several oval kofte on each skewer.
- Use a scoop to portion out even amounts of the ground kofte mixture. Use your palms to bring the meat together in a ball.
- Push the ball into an oval shape.
- Slide the meat onto a skewer.
- The filled skewers can be grilled or roasted right away, or covered and chilled until ready to cook.
Your kofte skewers can be made up to a day ahead of time, which makes this meal super convenient.
Grill or oven bake your kofte
More choices ~ kofte can be grilled on an outdoor grill or on a stove top grill pan, it takes just a few minutes per side to get them done through. But my preference is to pop them on a foil lined baking sheet and bake/broil them until browned and sizzling. I bake at 425F and switch to broil for the last minute or so until fully cooked and slightly charred on the outside. This makes it a year round meal and perfect for company.
make kofte ahead
The most time consuming part of making kofte is combining the meat mixture. You can do this up to a day ahead, which is super convenient. Just store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to form your kofte and bake. You can even make up your skewers and stash those in the fridge for up to a day ahead. Your mint yogurt sauce and tahini sauces can both be made up to a couple of days ahead.
Kofte can be frozen either before or after cooking, depending on your preference and how you plan to use them.
- Freezing Before Cooking:
- Shape the kofte mixture into patties or meatballs and then freeze them on a baking sheet until they are solid.
- When you’re ready to cook, you can thaw the frozen kofte in the refrigerator overnight.
- Once frozen, transfer the kofte to an airtight container or freezer bag. This prevents the kofte from sticking together and allows you to take out only the desired quantity when needed.
- Freezing After Cooking:
- Allow the cooked kofte to cool completely before placing them in an airtight container or freezer bag. You can separate the kofte with parchment paper to prevent sticking.
- To reheat, you can thaw the kofte in the refrigerator and then gently heat them in the oven, on the stovetop, or in the microwave until heated through.
authentic kofte recipe?
When it comes to kofte, there is no one ‘authentic’ recipe ~ just like Italian meatballs or American meatloaf, there are lots of variations, all worthy and good. This lamb kofte recipe is a version of a classic Middle Eastern kofte.
- Turkish Köfte: Also known as kibbeh or kubba in other regions, are popular in Turkish cuisine. They consist of a bulgur wheat shell filled with spiced minced meat (often lamb or beef) and pine nuts. They are shaped into various forms, such as football shapes or patties, and can be fried or baked.
- Middle Eastern Kofta: Kofta is a general term for meatballs or patties found throughout the Middle East. They can be made from various meats, including lamb, beef, chicken, or a combination. The meat is usually mixed with spices, herbs, and sometimes onions or garlic. They can be grilled, fried, or baked.
- Greek Keftedes: These are Greek meatballs often made with ground beef or lamb mixed with breadcrumbs, herbs, and spices. They can be served as appetizers, in sandwiches, or as part of main dishes.
- Indian Kofte Curry: Kofte meatballs cooked in a rich and aromatic curry sauce.
- Bulgarian Kufte: Kufte are Bulgarian meatballs often made with a mixture of ground meat, rice, and spices. They can be served cold or hot, and they sometimes have fillings like cheese or eggs.
- Armenian Kufteh: This dish consists of large meatballs made from minced meat, rice, and spices, often stuffed with a mixture of spiced meat and onion.
- Vegetarian Koftes: A meat-free version of the traditional koftes made using a combination of vegetables, legumes, grains, or plant-based proteins.
2 easy ways to serve lamb kofte
Kofte, like any homemade meatball or meatloaf, takes a little bit of effort to make, so I make sure the rest of the dinner is easy peasy. Here are my two go-to kofte meals:
- Kofte skewers over instant couscous. We literally keep a library of boxed couscous in our pantry (I like Near East brand.) It comes in so many ‘flavors‘ and takes minutes to steam up. Just boil water! I used Toasted Pine Nut Couscous for today’s meal. Salad or tabbouleh rounds out the meal. Some sort of sauce is a must, I go with my minted yogurt sauce and tahini.
- In pita bread. Get some good fresh puffy pita bread and layer up sandwiches with a base of hummus, tabbouleh, and finally kofte, topped with the minted yogurt sauce or tahini sauce. Of course if you have the time, make your own pita bread, it’s so worth it!
Sue’s Styling Tip
I think it’s fun to present kofte on the skewers, either on a platter or on individual plates. Place them on a bed of couscous or rice. Depending on appetites you can offer one or two skewers per serving. Diners can use their forks to push the kofte off onto their plates. It makes the meal a little bit more interesting! 12″ skewers are a manageable “plate” size.
Salads that go well with lamb kofte
How to you pronounce kofte?
Is kofte healthy?
- I think kofte is a very healthy way to eat meat. It helps with portion control: a lamb kofte skewer can be equal to 1/4 lb of meat. Served with whole grain and veggie rich tabbouleh it’s a super healthy meal choice.
How do I know when my lamb kofte is done?
- Use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature reaches 160°F (70°C) for ground lamb. The kofte should be firm, browned on the outside, and no longer pink inside. It doesn’t take long!
What sauces go with kofte?
- Minted yogurt sauce or tzatziki are classic accompaniments. They balance out the rich lamb. I also love a simple tahini sauce (which accentuates the richness of the dish!)
- 12" metal skewers
- rimmed baking sheets
- cookie scoop medium size: 1.5 inches diameter
- 2 lb ground lamb. You can also use ground beef, or a combination.
- 1/2 medium onion, grated or very finely minced (drain or squeeze out excess moisture)
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (substitute almond meal or gluten free breadcrumbs)
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
- 4 Tbsp very finely minced fresh parsley
- 2 Tbsp very finely minced fresh mint
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- Put the meat in a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, I like to break it up into pieces as I add it. Add the drained onion, beaten egg, breadcrumbs, spices, and herbs. Stir together the lemon juice and baking soda and add it as well. Mix until everything is well incorporated. Cover well and chill the meat mixture for at least an hour, or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 450F. Line rimmed baking sheets with foil.
- Use a medium cookie scoop to portion out the ground kofte mixture, about 2 tablespoons per kofte. Use your palms to bring the meat together in a ball. Form the ball into an oval shape and slide the meat onto skewers. I usually add 4 kofte per skewer and you should have 8 skewers in all.
- Arrange the skewers on foil lined baking sheets and brush the meat with olive oil.
- Bake the kofte for about 10 minutes, then place under the broiler for a minute or so to slightly char. The kofte should register 160F in the center. Note: your time may differ from mine, so cook the meatballs until done through and 160F.