Recipe – Köfte with Pine Nuts and Mint Yoghurt

The fragrant, hidden markets and passageways of Istanbul became my inspiration for this dish. I absolutely shamelessly gorged myself on lamb and pide, Turkish pita bread, during an unforgettable trip to Europe’s southern tip with my sister a few years ago.  The endless variety of the cuisine that is baked, grilled, roasted, and fried along myriad, winding alleys articulates the ancient and diverse traditions of this city that at its height has been the most envied, the most populous, and the most wealthy city in Europe. The seemingly fragmented, but studiously constructed cityscape that arches across two continents is a reflection of a rich culture that brings intricate artistry and heritage to the dishes that beckon to the aroused appetites of the many visitors who wander its streets. Although my sister was enthralled by the astonishing selection of vegetable dishes on offer, I fell victim to the meats; freshly grilled lamb köfte in particular left me reeling. I am proud of this recipe, but no amount of bragging on my part will hide the fact that these are no more than a poor imitation of the true delights that can be found in that fairytale city.

Combining many intoxicating spices from the Far East with the tangy, Mediterranean sumac, these kebab-style meats are rich and intense in flavour. Incorporating a yoghurt baste helps to retain moisture that prevents the meat from becoming too dry and flavourless, and served with perfumed, saffron rice this dish is an exotic vacation from traditional, more timid, Western barbecue fare.

Kofta with Pine Nuts and Mint Yoghurt

Köfte

800 g ground lamb (or 400 g ground lamb and 400 g ground beef or veal)
150 g grated onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
35 g coarsely chopped pine nuts
3 tsp sumac
3 tsp ground cumin
3 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tsp ground coriander
3 tsp paprika
2 tsp kosher salt
3 tsp freshly ground pepper

Combine the onion, minced garlic, coriander, and mint in a small bowl and set aside. Do likewise for the salt, pepper, spices, and pine nuts. Place the well-ground meat into a large bowl and gradually mix in the vegetable and fresh herb mix. When you have incorporated all of the ingredients, start sprinkling in the spice mix, saving one third of it for use later on. Unlike preparing hamburgers, where we want to manipulate the meat as little as possible to keep it loose and tender, you want to knead the meat quite well to give the spices a chance to really penetrate into the meat. Lamb is fairly fatty, and the mechanical action of mixing by hand softens the lipids, allowing the flavourful compounds in the spices to get drawn deep into the mixture.

Soak your kebab skewers in water for at least 10 minutes. When everything is well combined, roll the meat into 40 cm cylinders about 5 cm thick and leave them covered on the countertop for 15 to 20 minutes. Now push the skewer through them, tightening the meat around it by hand. Transfer them to a baking sheet lined with wax paper and let the meat firm up around the sticks. Time to prepare the yoghurt marinade.

Kofta with Pine Nuts and Yoghurt Sauce

Mint Yoghurt Sauce

1 cup turkish yoghurt
1 tsp agave syrup
2 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp spice mix
2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped

Combine everything in a bowl and let sit in the fridge for at least 20 minutes. Use half of the mixture to coat your kebabs on either side before grilling on the BBQ at 450 to 500 F, turning every 2 minutes so as not to burn. Grill for approximately 8 to 10 minutes total and serve with rice and the remaining yoghurt sauce.

Do these taste authentic, or will nothing approach the real thing?

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