Thursday, September 18, 2008

Indoor grilling

I don't use the broiler setting on my oven for many things; it's usually reserved for the very specific task of browning cheese on a pizza. If I'm cooking meat, I generally like to sear it in a cast-iron pan, or, even better, grill it outdoors. That way, I have continuous access to whatever I'm making and can more easily judge when it's done. But I always prepare this simple recipe of kofta kebabs--one of my favorite weeknight meals--using the broiler. I don't know why, but it comes out best that way. The meat browns but doesn't char. and it cooks up plump and juicy.

Kofta (or kofte) kebabs are just one example of the myriad (and usually delicious) Middle Eastern meats-on-a-stick. Though Turkish restaurants serve them most often, you can find them on Greek, Lebanese and Palestinian menus, too. What sets this dish apart from your run-of-the-mill cubed-meat kebab is that this one is made with ground meat, and because you can easily incorporate many seasonings into the meat itself--instead of just sprinkling them on top--you end up with something that's incredibly flavorful.

To prepare the kebabs, all you have to do is dump some ground meat into a bowl--you definitely want to use ground lamb if you have access to it, but if you don't a lean ground beef, like ground sirloin, will work just fine--and mix in chopped onions, minced garlic, and a good amount of strong, fresh seasonings. You can put in whatever you like; I tend towards using Middle Eastern spices like cumin, coriander, and cinnamon, but spice blends like curry powder or even five spice would also be delicious--it just depends on what you're in the mood for. The key to this recipe is to season aggressively--you really want the meat to be fragrant with spices. This is not a subtle dish.

After you mix in your spices--along with a lot of salt--shape the meat into vaguely ovoid logs. Don't make them too thick, as they'll take forever to cook though; this is one of the rare examples of a meat dish that I cook to medium or even well-done (forgive my pun). You want the meat to have a firm texture through and through, and that only comes about when there's no more pink inside. At this point you can slide skewers into the kebabs, if you wish; that's a step that's aesthetically pleasing, perhaps, but serves no real purpose when the meat is being cooked in the broiler or on the grill. (The reason kebabs are skewered is because they were traditionally roasted over indirect heat, and the metal running through the center of the meat heated up and cooked the kebabs through.) Then, place the kebabs on a hot grill or on a preheated broiler pan and cook them, turning once, for about 6-8 minutes a side, depending on their size. The kebabs will be hot, spicy and juicy, so take that into consideration when choosing a side dish; some sort of rice pilaf is traditional, but I went for a cooling salad of chickpeas, tomatoes, onions and parsley dressed with olive oil and lemon juice; another nice option would be a cucumber salad with yogurt and fresh mint.

Kofta Kebabs

Serves 4

1. In a large bowl, combine 2 lbs. of ground lamb or ground sirloin, half of a large white or yellow onion, very finely chopped, 4 garlic cloves, minced, salt and freshly ground black pepper, and about 3-4 tbsp. of spices of your choice, such as ground cumin, ground coriander, ground cinnamon, red pepper flakes, and dried oregano. Mix to combine, but do not overmix; shape into 8 ovoid logs.
2. Place kebabs on a preheated broiler pan and cook under the broiler for 12-16 minutes, turning once, or until kebabs are just cooked through. Alternatively, grill kebabs on a charcoal or gas grill.


Gideon said...

I don't get the pun.

Lauren said...

It's "rare" as in "infrequent" that I cook meat past "rare," which also means "pink, moist and delicious." C'mon Gideon shape up!

Gideon said...

I don't really qualify something as a pun if it just includes a related word. It has to be a double entendre.
"this is one of the pink, moist and delicious examples of a meat dish that I cook to medium or even well-done" wouldn't make any sense, would it?

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