Every family kitchen has at least one staple dish – you know the one that will be cooked every week, irrespective of whatever else is going on. In my mum’s kitchen it was, well, basically this or that variation on what was essentially a lamb curry : syun. We always had syun with rice, and anything else was sort of, extra. Well in my kitchen, (and this is thanks entirely to the seven year old who has taken over my life and owns me heart and soul), its meatballs. Koftas in Urdu, Kuffte moenjje in Kashmiri. These are delicately flavoured lamb meatballs, cooked in a tangy tomato sauce. (There is of course a meatballs-with-spinach variant that goes down a treat as well – but that’s another post.)
Like I said, I make these pretty much every week. And I promise this is an easy recipe – kitchen to table in about an hour.
Also, I must say, that I use a couple of spices in this recipe that are not traditionally used in Kashmiri cooking. Coriander seeds, for example. I feel that these and black peppercorns add a lovely depth to the flavours here, though. But please do feel free to leave these out if you prefer a more traditional flavour.
Let’s get to it then –
For the Koftas –
1 kilo of good quality lamb mince – find a butcher who sells organic. So worth it.
3-4 fat cloves of garlic.
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger
Handful of fresh coriander leaves
1 small shallot – Finely chopped
2-3 pods of black cardamoms
1-2 teaspoons of cumin
1-2 teaspoons of coriander seeds
2-3 whole pepper corns
1-2 teaspoons of turmeric powder
1-2 teaspoons of fennel powder
1/2 teaspoon of Kashmiri red chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
Pinch or two of cinnamon powder
For the Tomato Sauce:
1 kilo of fresh tomatoes – roughy chopped, if you’re crazy like me and like to de-seed your tomatoes, well don’t let me stop you (You can substitute fresh tomatoes with good quality organic Passata, with fabulous results – also cuts down on cooking down when you’re up against it).
1-2 inch piece of Cinnamon/ cassia
2-3 fat cloves of garlic – crushed
3-4 shallots – sliced
Oil – I’m an olive oil kind of girl – but you know that
For the Koftas:
So first of all what you need to do is find yourself a big old pan and dry roast the following : cumin, coriander seeds, seeds from the black cardamom pods, black peppercorns – till everything is lovely and fragrant, about 3-4 mins. Now transfer all these lovely roasted spices in to a pestle and mortar and grind everything up into a smooth powder. To this add your garlic, ginger, chopped shallot, and grind everything up into a smooth paste. Next put your ground spices, and salt in, and mix everything together. Thats your spice paste ready.
What you need to do now is put your lamb mince in a big enough bowl, add your home-made-extra-delicious-spice-paste and some of that chopped coriander. Now comes the fun part: you basically need to make sure that all the spices are evenly distributed throughout the mince, and you could use a big spoon, some people use forks etc but seriously the best way to do this is to get stuck in there with your hands. Go on. You know you want to.
So once everything is all mixed up, (and take your time. In many ways this is the most critical step. We don’t want lumpy masala in your koftas now, do we?) wash your hands and pour 2-3 fingers worth of water in your pan and put it on a medium flame. What you are going to do next is use your hands to shape your mince into oblong “balls”, and drop them in to the water. Once all the koftas are in, and the pan comes to a boil, cover, simmer and let it be. For now.
For the Tomato sauce:
While the koftas are doing their thing, take another pan, and add a good glug of oil to it. Then add your sliced shallots and fry till they are soft and translucent – about 4-5 minutes. To this add your crushed garlic, and fry for a minute or two till fragrant. in goes the cinnamon/ cassia stick. (You could add a bit of turmeric at this point, but I don’t because I like my tomato sauce to be really really red! Also you could put some chilli powder in, if you fancy a hotter sauce.) Next add your tomatoes and fry some more. Sprinkle of salt, cover, turn the heat to med-low and let the tomatoes sweat. You basically want to fry them down to the point where all the water’s gone and you can see oil in the pan.
So when you get there and your tomatoes are nicely fried all you need to do is pour them all over the nicely simmering koftas. Give everything a good old stir, bring the pan back to boil, cover and simmer for another 10 mins or so.
And there you are. Perfect Koftas. Lovely Sauce.
Please tell me you remembered to put the rice on? Yes? Good.