Give Me Five: Koftas with herbed lemon yoghurt
FRIENDSHP WEEK: Koftas are a sociable food, perfect for casual gatherings with friends
Lamb is so delicious
Lamb is the reason I will never be vegetarian. With most people, the lure of a rasher sandwich makes them forget their commendable plant-based diet and return to their carnivorous ways.
Pork or beef does not have the same appeal for me as lamb. It is just delicious. The smell of it cooking is so distinctive, be it on a smoky barbecue during the summer months or slow-cooking in a cast-iron pot in winter.
Greek recipes have everything you need to enjoy lamb. Garlic-spiked tzatziki, couscous studded with dried fruits and nuts, creamy hummus and slow-cooked aubergine: all of these side dishes are delicious in their own right, but come into their own paired with lamb.
This recipe is very versatile. Just use whatever herbs and spices you have in the cupboard. Think warming cinnamon, cumin and coriander, or some smoky, sweet paprika. For herbs in the koftas you can use dried or fresh mint, dill or oregano.
The meat base can take plenty of seasoning, so don’t hold back. Fresh mint or dill are lovely in place of the coriander for the yoghurt, too.
We made more than 100 of these koftas of a few years ago when a huge group of us rented a few cottages on Valentia island. We were there for the annual triathlon, so at the end of the day everyone was cold, hungry and exhausted. Wetsuits hung lifeless, dripping with seawater and caked with sand on the washing lines and picnic benches outside. Bikes were lined up in the hall, with streaks of black grease testament to the busy day.
And there were shoes abandoned absolutely everywhere. I love situations such as this, when there is a big group in need of some tasty food. To me good food is love. It is comforting and nourishing. I knew that, for some of my friends, the thought of those lamb koftas with all the trimmings was keeping them going.
I might as well have been yelling “Think of the warm flatbreads” to them as they set off on the run. The beauty of this type of food is that there really is something for everyone. Even the vegan among the group was well catered for. Start with a base of koftas and work around it.
Any Greek side dishes or Middle Eastern vegetable dishes will suit this. Fill the table with parsley-rich tabbouleh, flatbreads, baba ganoush, tzatziki, hummus, preserved lemons, a green salad and pomegranate-strewn pearl couscous.
This type of home cooking is proper street food, but with the right company can be elevated to a feast.
LAMB KOFTAS WITH LEMON YOGHURT: SERVES 4
The five ingredients
- 450g minced lamb
- 1 small onion, very finely diced
- 1 lemon
- Small bunch coriander (15g)
- 200g natural or Greek yoghurt
From the pantry
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- Spices such as ras el hanout, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, or dried herbs such as oregano, mint or dill.
Place the lamb, finely chopped onion and the zest of half a lemon into a large mixing bowl. Give yourself plenty of space, as you will be mixing everything in this bowl.
Finely chop the coriander and add two-thirds of this to the meat mix, reserving the remaining third for the yoghurt. Now add your spices or some more dried herbs. A tablespoon of dried mint, dill or oregano would taste great added here.
Choose your spices to correspond with the herbs you are using. I added a teaspoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon of ground cumin and plenty of black pepper and sea salt. This mix can take a generous amount of seasoning.
Mix everything together until well-combined, then divide into eight oval shapes. Thread these on to the skewers and then place on a plate and cover. Leave to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile preheat the grill. Mix the reserved coriander with the yoghurt, a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Set aside.
Brush the koftas with a little oil, and grill under a high heat, turning when needed, until cooked through (eight to 10 minutes). Don’t overcook or the lamb will become dry.
Serve immediately with the herbed yoghurt and some salad, couscous or warm flatbreads.
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