Kofte (or kofta, or köfte, or koobideh) has long been popular across the Middle East, Asia Minor, South Asia, and Southern and Eastern Europe. In its guise as a spiced-lamb meatball-on-a-skewer, it is a staple of the Turkish grill, found (I am given to understand) on street carts all over Istanbul, and found (I know from experience) in every single Turkish restaurant in the United States.
Depending on where you are, Kofte can mean anything from a giant ball of minced meat (Iran) to something resembling meatloaf, to balls of mixed lentil and potato, with no meat at all, that you would probably recognise if you’ve ever dined in an Indian restaurant.
What we’re talking about here today, however, is Turkish shish kofte (kofte on a skewer).* And what I hope that you will find is that it’s the perfect off-the-beaten-track grilling item for a party of mixed culinary company — it’s easy, savory, herby, comforting, exotic enough for a wandering palette, and familiar enough that it can be served (as “grilled meatball”) to even your least foodie friends and grandparents.
In Turkish restaurants, you’ll see it served with rice and salad. But I would suggest accompanying it with flat-bread (I use roti, but pita or lavash might be truer to the style), and eggplant that has been grilled until it is partly blackened on the outside, and molten on the inside. Some form of hot sauce would not be amiss. And tzatziki, chunks of feta, lemon wedges, and chopped fresh herbs are all great accompaniments, too.
* Just as a point of clarification: in the places from which such things derive, Shish (şiş, in Turkish) refers to the skewer. Kebab (or Kabob) refers to bits of meat, sometimes affixed to a skewer and sometimes not, that are grilled or roasted.
2 lbs Ground Lamb
1 tbsp Chopped Fresh Mint
1 tbsp Chopped Fresh Oregano
1 tsp Chopped Fresh Thyme
1 1/2 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Cumin Seeds
1 tsp Ground Sumac (or Lemon Zest, if you can’t find any)
4 cloves Minced Fresh Garlic
In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients thoroughly, making sure that the herbs and spices are evenly distributed in the meat, but that meat is not overly mixed (and therefore overly compacted).
Around skewers, form your spiced meat into an elongated tubular shape, “notching” the meat — leaving one section a little bit thinner than the rest — every couple of inches. I prefer metal skewers for this, because they don’t burn on the grill. And I prefer to use two skewers at a time, rather than one, because it keeps the meat from sliding around too much during cooking.
Place the skewers of meat on a (preferably charcoal) grill over medium-high heat, and cook for about eight minutes, rotating the skewers every minute or two to make sure that all sides get browned and a little bit charred.
You’ll be surprised by how much meat this makes. Apportioned right, it will feed five to six guests.