Subscribe to get a free eCookbook with my top 10 recipes + new weekly recipes!

Middle Eastern Lamb Kofta

5 stars based on 22 votes

middle eastern lamb kofta

I was so taken by the all of the wonderful lamb kofta I tasted on my recent trip to Israel that I couldn’t wait to come home and recreate it — and, of course, share it with you. Kofta is a Middle Eastern dish made from ground lamb or beef mixed with aromatics like onions and spices. The mixture is shaped into balls, patties, or what have you, and then grilled and served with pita, salads, dips, and sauces. There are endless variations of kofta throughout the Middle East — in fact, I have a fantastic recipe for Persian beef kofta in my upcoming cookbook. In Jerusalem, I was lucky enough to learn how to make lamb kofta from a kebab maker in the Old City. His secret was to add minced vegetables, toasted nuts, herbs, and spices to the meat to give the kofta deep, complex flavor. Guys: this recipe will take your taste buds on an exotic Middle Eastern adventure. Forget boring grilled chicken and burgers — this is what you should be serving at your cookouts this summer.

To begin, place the nuts in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.

Pulse until finely chopped but not pasty.

Transfer the nuts to a small dry skillet over medium heat; cook, stirring frequently, until the nuts are lightly browned and fragrant, 5 to 6 minutes. Set aside to cool. (But don’t leave the nuts in the pan, as the residual heat may cause them to burn.)

Place the onion, garlic, bell pepper, jalapeño pepper, and cilantro in the bowl of the food processor (no need to clean it first).

Pulse until the vegetables are finely minced but not puréed.

Set a fine sieve over a bowl. Transfer the minced vegetables to the sieve and use a rubber spatula to press out as much liquid as possible.

In a large bowl, combine the minced veggies, nuts, lamb, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, salt, and white pepper.

Using your hands, mash the mixture together until evenly combined.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Form the mixture into patties about 2 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch thick (they will puff up on the grill to look like meatballs). Place on the baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat and oil the grates. Place the kofta on the grill and cook, covered, until browned, about 4 minutes per side or until cooked through.

Serve the kofta with tzatziki and hummus, and enjoy!

Middle Eastern Lamb Kofta

Servings: 6 (about 28 golf ball-sized meatballs)
Prep Time: 25 Minutes
Cook Time: 15 Minutes
Total Time: 40 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup each pine nuts, almonds, and walnuts (total 3/4 cup)
  • 1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1 small jalapeño pepper, seeds and ribs removed, roughly chopped (see note)
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, gently packed (okay to substitute parsley)
  • 2 pounds ground lamb
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Heaping 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Heaping 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • Heaping 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • Tzatziki and hummus, for serving

Instructions

  1. Place the nuts in a bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until finely chopped but not pasty. Transfer the nuts to a small dry skillet over medium heat; cook, stirring frequently, until the nuts are lightly browned and fragrant, 5 to 6 minutes. Pour the nuts into mixing bowl large enough to hold all of the ingredients, and set aside to cool. (Don't leave the nuts in the pan, as the residual heat may cause them to burn.)
  2. Place the onion, garlic, bell pepper, jalapeño pepper, and cilantro in the bowl of the food processor (no need to clean it first). Pulse until the vegetables are finely minced but not puréed. Set a fine sieve over a medium bowl. Transfer the minced vegetables to the sieve and use a rubber spatula to press out as much liquid as possible. Add the strained vegetable mixture to the bowl with the nuts.
  3. To the veggies and nuts, add the lamb, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, salt, and white pepper. Using your hands, mash the mixture together until evenly combined.
  4. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Form the mixture into patties about 2 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick (they will puff up on the grill to look like meatballs). Place on the baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap, then refrigerate until ready to cook.
  5. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat and oil the grates. Place the kofta on the grill and cook, covered, until browned, about 4 per side or until cooked through. Serve with tzatziki and hummus.
  6. Note: If you like your kofta spicy, reserve some of the seeds from the jalapeno pepper and add them with the vegetables. Also, be sure to wash your hands well after handling hot peppers, and do not touch your eyes while working with them.
  7. Make-Ahead: The patties can be made and refrigerated up to two days ahead of time, or frozen for up to three months. (Freeze the patties on a baking sheet or plate so their shape sets, then transfer them to a sealable plastic bag for easy storage.)

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Serving size: 4 meatballs
  • Calories: 438
  • Fat: 36 g
  • Saturated fat: 14 g
  • Carbohydrates: 4 g
  • Sugar: 1 g
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Protein: 23 g
  • Sodium: 382 mg
  • Cholesterol: 95 mg

Reviews & Comments

  • 5 stars

    PERFECTION!!! These were the BEST! Having lived in Turkey and visited Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, I can say that these were as good, if not better, than anything I ate there. I’m SO GLAD you went to Israel Jen, so we could all enjoy the fruits of your travels! Now I’m wondering if it would be too ambitious to make these for a buffet dinner for 18 people!!! ???

    - Alison on September 19, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This is an excellent recipe. I often fix it for a buffet with the suggested sides along with saffron rice and a salad.

    - Julia on September 15, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Wow, Jenn. These were amazing! We loved the texture with the chopped nuts, and the flavors were just delicious. My husband did them on the grill and I served it with your now famous feta dip, flatbread and a simple salad of tomatoes, cucumber, kalamata olives, fresh dill, olive oil and red wine vinegar. His comment was…restaurant quality and you can make this once a week! Fortunately, there are a lot of them, so we have another meal in the freezer. You are simply the best!

    - Linda Grimes on August 29, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Absolutely delicious :0)
    Thanks Jenn!

    - Marina on August 15, 2017 Reply
  • 4 stars

    I made these last night and cooked them on the BBQ. I have tried about ten recipes from this site and each is a winner. So much so that I don’t want to repeat but continue trying more. Anyway the family like them and I thought there seemed to be too many favours competing. We have plenty of lamb mince so I might try it without the spices as there seemed to be too little or too subtle for my taste. Cookbook- I’m in.

    - Ken in the UK on August 10, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made these this week and they were amazing. I have been looking for a kofta recipe and this is it! The nuts were a really unexpected ingredient but they really add to the authentic flavor.

    - Zhanna on August 3, 2017 Reply
  • Made these yesterday with the tzatziki recipe and a sun dried tomato and basil humus. Made as directed except I made small logs with the meat and skewered them instead of making meatballs. Served with small pita which we cut in haf to make little pocket sandwiches, was excellent!!

    - Dave on August 2, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Fantastic!

    - Judy on July 29, 2017 Reply
  • My husband won’t eat onions but by cooking them until translucent he can’t find them. Will this impact the recipe? Should I saute’ all the vegetables?

    - Kathie on July 26, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Kathie, Would he be opposed to grated onions?

      - Jenn on July 26, 2017 Reply
  • Oops! Also, if freezing, freeze before cooking or after?
    Thanks.

    - Vivian Dafoulas on July 21, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Vivian, you can do either, actually. If you freeze them before cooking, first put them on a baking sheet or plate so their shape sets, then after about 30 minutes, transfer them to a sealable plastic bag for easy storage.

      - Jenn on July 23, 2017 Reply
  • Can this be made with meatball mix, beef/veal/pork? Can’t get ground lamb.
    Thank you for this awesome blog!

    - Vivian Dafoulas on July 21, 2017 Reply
    • Yes, I think that’d work well ?.

      - Jenn on July 21, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Made these tonight using the oven broiler. I had to omit all the nuts and also sauteed the vegetables before adding them to the ground lamb and they were still very flavorful. Wish I had cilantro (coriander) but I had to go without this too.

    One thing to be careful with is the high fat content – nearly started a fire in the oven! (At least I know my smoke detectors are working properly….)

    The meatballs tasted great though, despite being overly charred and over-done. Next time I will keep a closer eye on them when in the oven!

    - Ponyo on July 20, 2017 Reply
  • I made the kofta and we loved it! The only change that I made is that I broiled them since I couldn’t bear to stand outside in 97 degree heat to grill them. The bonus is that I have a large bag of them in the freezer for future meals. We served it with your suggestions: pita, hummus, tzatziki, my version of your cucumber/tomato salad. Great summer meal. I love your recipes because they are so reliable.

    - Carole on July 20, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Can’t wait to try this recipe. However, the boyfriend can’t eat cilantro (tastes like soap enzyme). Can I trade it out for parsley? Or another herb? Thank you!

    - Kaylan on July 20, 2017 Reply
    • Definitely, Kaylan – parsley or mint will both work well. Hope you guys enjoy!

      - Jenn on July 20, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    AMAZING! Did not change a thing! Thank you Jenn!

    - Jody on July 19, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Delicious and worth the effort! Next time I will likely add a bit more heat with the the ribs and seeds of the jalapeño, but so flavorful. I made fresh pita bread and reheated on the grill, served with homemade hummus and tzatziki and crudités. Wonderful summer dinner!

    - Peggy on July 18, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    My mouth was so happy…..once again a delicious recipe. Putting it to the test here at work today. Thank you for going to Israel!

    - kay campbell on July 18, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made these last night for dinner. So delicious!! My son is allergic to nuts so I just omitted the nuts and they were really tasty. Super easy to make as well. Served with hummus and tzaztiki, couscous and your zucchini & cherry tomato salad.
    So glad you are sharing recipe ideas from Israel. Thank you !

    - Megan D on July 18, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    What a hit! The kofta were delicious and the recommended sides of hummus and tzatziki received rave reviews, as well. Thanks for making me look like a star.

    - Danni on July 17, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Hi,

    What a great, authentic recipe. I’m a vegetarian, but I knew my husband would love this. It came together so nicely and the textures and spices even I could appreciate.

    Thanks again for another terrific recipe!

    - Lauri Selib on July 17, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This looks and sounds delicious! I would like to make this for our BBQ at the park, however, the grill at the park doesn’t have a cover. How much longer do these need to be cooked for in that case?

    - Beatrice on July 17, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Beatrice, I definitely think it will work but it’s really hard to say what the cook time will be as every grill is so different. Cook them until they are nicely browned on all sides, then just cut into one to make sure it’s done.

      - Jenn on July 17, 2017 Reply
  • Could I bake these in the oven instead of grill? My husband would love this!

    - KC on July 17, 2017 Reply
    • Sure KC, I’d broil them – cook time will be about the same.

      - Jenn on July 17, 2017 Reply
      • Thank you for your quick reply. I’m excited to try. There’s not one recipe of yours that we don’t love!

        - KC on July 17, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I love pinning your recipes butI don’t like the large double photos with the large script. It makes the boards look loud and “sloppy”. Is it possible to just pin a photo? Thanks!

    - Julia on July 17, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Julia, If you use the pin button on your browser’s toolbar (rather than the pin button on the site), you should have a selection of many small images to pin rather than the long graphic image. Hope that helps!

      - Jenn on July 17, 2017 Reply
  • Hi Jenn making these right now and was wondering if I could freeze them? Thanks!

    - Abbie S on July 16, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Abbie, Yes, they’d freeze well. Enjoy!

      - Jenn on July 16, 2017 Reply
      • 5 stars

        I don’t have to worry about freezing ’cause there ain’t gonna be any left!!!!! These bite sized balls of flavor are INSANELY delicious. You are truly one amazing chef and because of you..so am I!

        - Abbie S on July 16, 2017 Reply
        • ?

          - Jenn on July 16, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Made this tonight with the Hummus and other dish my auto correct won’t allow me to spell. It was fabulous.

    - Leeann Thompson on July 15, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Jenn, what is that salad in the picture?

    - David Reisinger on July 15, 2017 Reply
    • Hi David, That’s not an actual recipe from the blog — it’s just a combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion mixed with olive oil, lemon, cilantro, salt, pepper, and za’atar.

      - Jenn on July 17, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Jenn, As soon as this recipe arrived in my inbox yesterday, I knew I had to make it for dinner. Well, let me just say it did not disappoint! Even my 8 yr old liked it. So much flavor – loved the spices in this!

    - Lynn on July 14, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Hi There…this looks amazing. I am interested in your response to another question about the salad. I never heard of za’atar until you listed it in the ingredients. It sounds so good…do you have a brand you recommend? I looked on Amazon but quickly got overwhelmed! Folks are very particular about how “their” za’atar should taste! Thank you!

    - Mary on July 14, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Mary, This is a good one. It’s wonderful on everything — I even sprinkle it on buttered popcorn!

      - Jenn on July 14, 2017 Reply
  • Hi Jenn, I was going to ask the same thing – I’d like the recipe for that salad. Guess you might have to do one for that! 🙂

    - Lisa McCall on July 13, 2017 Reply
  • Can I replace the lamb with either ground chicken or turkey, but use same seasoning?

    - sue messick on July 13, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Sue, Ground beef would be the best substitute but turkey might work (and no need to adjust seasoning). If you try it, please lmk how it turns out.

      - Jenn on July 14, 2017 Reply
  • We have a nut allergy in our family. Is there a best substitute? Thanks!

    - Amy on July 13, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Amy, You can just leave the nuts out. Hope you enjoy!

      - Jenn on July 13, 2017 Reply
      • Can you substitute the nuts with breadcrumbs?

        - Donna on July 14, 2017 Reply
        • Hi Donna, If you don’t want to use the nuts, I would just leave them out. Enjoy!

          - Jenn on July 14, 2017 Reply
  • I do not eat lamb, could I substitute turkey, buffalo, elk, or wild boar?

    - Anne Lott on July 13, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Anne, I’d probably avoid turkey or anything too lean. Ground beef works well.

      - Jenn on July 14, 2017 Reply
  • Could you provide a link to the recipe for the salad shown in the photograph?

    Many thanks!

    - Tony on July 13, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Tony, That’s not a recipe I have on the site — it’s just a mix of cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onion with olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper, cilantro, and za’atar. Easy!

      - Jenn on July 13, 2017 Reply
      • How much z’aater?

        - Leeann on July 16, 2017 Reply
        • Hi Leeann, I use about a half teaspoon but you can sprinkle it on to taste.

          - Jenn on July 17, 2017 Reply
  • This recipe looks wonderful, but could I substitute lamb with something else?

    - Melissa Watt on July 13, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Melissa, Ground beef would work well. Enjoy!

      - Jenn on July 13, 2017 Reply
  • Love the look of this recipe but aren’t big on lamb and can’t BBQ cause we live in an apartment. Given this, if we use beef instead should we adjust any of the spices? Also can these be cooked in the oven or fried on top of the stove instead? Thanks in advance. We live so many of your recipes!

    - Laura on July 13, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Laura, Go ahead and use 80-85% lean ground beef (no changes needed) and either broil or pan-fry on the stovetop.

      - Jenn on July 13, 2017 Reply

Add a Review or Question

Hungry for More?

Subscribe to my free weekly newsletter — where I share new recipes and seasonal menus for every occasion.

Your email address will never be used for any other purpose.
Curious? See a sample newsletter.