There are literally hundreds of varieties of meatballs (kofte), not simply in Lebanon, but across the whole of the Middle East, as well as parts of Asia. Simple, hearty and incredibly adaptable on the flavour front, it’s not hard to see why meatballs are so universally loved.
This version of a traditional Lebanese recipe provides a hint of sweetness in the form of the cinnamon and allspice, a bit of crunch from the pine nuts and a soothing tomato-based vegetable sauce – to me, this comfort food at its very best.
Seasoning is the key here to ensure you have a well-flavoured dish. To check, after seasoning the mince mixture, fry a little bit in a pan and taste to ensure the level of salt, pepper and spice are right.
- 2–3 tbsp plain flour
- 500g minced beef or lamb
- 1 small onion, finely grated
- 40g dried breadcrumbs
- 20g pine nuts, roughly chopped
- 1 egg
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground allspice
- 2-3 tbsp olive oils
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- ½ aubergine, roughly chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 green pepper, roughly chopped
- 1 red pepper, roughly chopped
- 200g chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- 750ml hot beef or lamb stock, plus a little extra
First make the sauce. Heat the oil in a large pan and sauté the onion for around 10 minutes until starting to soften and caramelise. Add the aubergine and continue to cook until golden.
Stir in the garlic and cook for about a minute, just until you can smell its aroma. Stir in the chopped peppers, tomatoes, tomato purée and season everything well then pour in the stock. Cover and bring to the boil, then set aside to simmer over a very low heat while you make the meatballs.
Spoon the flour on to a large plate, season with salt and pepper and mix well. This is so that once you’ve shaped the balls, you can drop them straight into the seasoned flour.
Put the minced meat in a large bowl and add the onion, breadcrumbs, pine nuts, egg, spices and plenty of seasoning. Mix with your hands until all the ingredients are combined.
Pull pieces of the mince mixture, around the size of an apricot, and roll into balls. Put into the seasoned flour and roll them around then set aside on a separate plate.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add four or five meatballs at a time and gently fry until golden all over. Set aside on a plate while you cook the remaining balls.
Give the sauce, which has been gently simmering away, a good stir. You may need to add a little more stock or water at this stage if it’s looking thick. Drop the meatballs on top, tucking them just under the liquid and simmer for 25–30 minutes or until the meatballs are tender, adding more stock if necessary.
Serve with vermicelli rice for best results.