In the Middle East, kebabs called kofte feature ground meat (not chunks) mixed with lots of spices and fresh herbs that is formed around metal skewers and quickly grilled.
We like them dressed with a za’atar yogurt sauce; the kebabs’ spices and extreme savour are contrasted with welcome herbal freshness and tang from the za’atar while the creaminess from the also-tart yogurt cuts through the richness.
For the kofte, the biggest challenge was getting the patties’ sausage-like texture right. We found that adding a small amount of powdered gelatin to the ground lamb helped the meat firm up and hold fast to the skewer.
Ground pine nuts added to the meat prevented toughness and contributed their own pleasant texture and a boost in richness. A concentrated charcoal fire setup mimicked the intense heat of a kofte grill.
Serve with rice pilaf, or make sandwiches with warm pita bread, sliced red onion, tomatoes, and fresh mint; just make sure to drizzle with the spiced sauce. You will need eight 12 inch metal skewers for this recipe.
GRILLED LAMB KOFTE WITH ZA’ATAR YOGURT SAUCE
Start to finish: 1 hour, 45 minutes
1/2 cup pine nuts
4 garlic cloves, peeled
11/2 teaspoons smoked hot paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
1/2 cup grated onion, drained
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
1/3 cup minced fresh mint
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 (13 by 9 inch) disposable aluminum roasting pan (if using charcoal)
1 cup Za’atar Yogurt Sauce (recipe follows)
Process pine nuts, garlic, paprika, salt, cumin, pepper, coriander, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon in food processor until coarse paste forms, 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Add lamb, onion, parsley, mint, and gelatin and knead with your hands until thoroughly combined and mixture feels slightly sticky, about 2 minutes. Divide mixture into 8 equal portions. Shape each portion into 5 inch-long cylinder about 1 inch in diameter. Using eight 12 inch metal skewers, thread 1 cylinder onto each skewer, pressing gently to adhere. Transfer kebabs to lightly greased baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
‚Äî For a charcoal grill: Using skewer, poke 12 holes in bottom of disposable pan. Open bottom vent completely and place pan in centre of grill. Light large chimney starter two-thirds filled with charcoal -briquettes (4 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour into disposable pan. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
‚Äî For a gas grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave all burners on high.
Clean and oil cooking grate. Place kebabs on grill (directly over coals if using charcoal) at 45 degree angle to bars. Cook (covered if using gas) until browned and meat easily releases from grill, 4 to 7 minutes. Flip kebabs and continue to cook until meat is browned on second side and registers 160 F, about 6 minutes. Transfer kebabs to serving platter and serve, passing yogurt sauce separately.
Za’atar yogurt sauce
We prefer to use our homemade Za’atar, but you can substitute store-bought za’atar; different za’atar blends include varying salt amounts.
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 tablespoon za’atar (recipe follows)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice
Salt and pepper
Whisk yogurt, za’atar, garlic, and lemon zest and juice together in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate so flavours meld, about 30 minutes. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.)
Za’atar:Za’atar is an aromatic eastern Mediterranean spice blend that is used as both a seasoning and a condiment. The thyme gives it a round herbal flavour, the sumac lemony tartness, and the sesame seeds richness and subtle crunch.
1/2 cup dried thyme
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
1 1/2 tablespoons ground sumac
Working in batches, process thyme in spice grinder until finely ground, about 30 seconds; transfer to small bowl. Stir in sesame seeds and sumac. (Za’atar can be stored in airtight container for up to 3 months.)
Nutrition information per serving: 359 calories; 222 calories from fat; 25 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 77 mg cholesterol; 530 mg sodium; 9 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 28 g protein.