Kofta Kebabs: Forget the Burger

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Kofta kebabs on the grill
Kofta kebabs on the grill (Photos by Keri White)

One day last week I was noodling around the fridge in search of inspiration, and I pulled out a pound of ground beef.

Burgers were the obvious move, but I knew my crew would push back — at this point in the summer they are sick of the typical hot dogs and hamburgers barbecue and, self aside, my family is always limiting its carb intake so the bun was going to be a hard sell.

Many of the other typical ground beef dinners that occurred to me lean more toward hearty winter fare — meatballs, chili, meatloaf, Bolognese sauce — and then I had a brainwave: kofta kebabs. They have plenty of flavor, are cooked on the grill so no steaming up the kitchen and there’s no starchy bun needed.

The tomato salad is as simple as it gets; with tomatoes at their peak, this is the best way to enjoy them. Because we were aiming for a low-carb lean meal, we stuck with the kebabs and the salad, but rice, pasta, potatoes, quinoa or bread would round out this repast. For dessert, sorbet, seasonal fruit with a splash of liqueur (peaches and Frangelico) or cookies would punctuate this summer supper well.

A few tips I picked up as I created this recipe:

If using wooden skewers, soaking them for an hour or two before loading them up prevents burning. (I did not have time for this step so my skewers were scorched, but the dish still turned out fine.)

Use a mixer to blend the meat; this emulsifies the fat and spreads the ingredients evenly, which makes for a better texture and flavor. Also, distributing the fat enhances even cooking.

Before placing the kebabs on the grill, heat it thoroughly and be sure the grates are hot. This ensures a good “sear” and prevents sticking.

Seasonings can be swapped out according to preference; I used red onions, jalapeños, garlic, parsley and mint, but any type of onion, shallot, herb and spice can be used.

When you form the koftas, be sure they are of equal thickness so that they cook thoroughly and evenly.

To “flip” the koftas, simply roll them ¼ over and repeat this for each side; there is no need to use a spatula to scrape underneath them.

Ground beef, lamb, veal, chicken or turkey may be used. If using poultry, be sure the kebabs are completely cooked through to the center; other meats can have a slightly rare center without risking foodborne illness.

Kofta kebabs on a plate
Kofta kebabs

Kofta Kebabs

Makes 4 kebabs

These are a fantastic, lower carb option to a burger on a bun. The small amount of bread crumbs helps bind the kebabs together; you can omit it but may sacrifice texture.

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • ⅓ cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped jalapeño or other hot pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ⅓ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • 1 egg
  • ⅓ cup seasoned bread crumbs

If you’re using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 1-2 hours before preparing the kebabs.

Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, and blend them with an electric mixer.

Using your hands, scoop ¼ of the meat mixture and form a sausage shape around a skewer — it will be about 6 inches long. Pack it firmly so it doesn’t fall off. Place the kebab on a cooking tray or oblong plate. Repeat this process with the remaining meat.

Refrigerate the skewers for about 30 minutes; this helps them hold their shape.

Heat a grill and, before placing the kebabs on the grates, spray them with oil to prevent sticking.

Place the kebabs on the grill, and cook for a total of 8-10 minutes, rolling each one ¼ turn every 2 minutes or so until cooked through. Remove the kebabs from the heat, allow them to rest under foil for about 5 minutes and serve.

Tomato Salad

Serves 2-4

This uber-simple salad showcases tomatoes at their peak. If you can get your hands on heirlooms, spring for the extra cost. The flavor and texture are superior and, in a salad like this, you want the best ingredients to shine. And whatever you do, please don’t refrigerate these beauties. If they are moving past ripeness, just eat them.

Making this salad about 30 minutes before serving optimizes the flavor.

  • 2 large or 4 small ripe heirloom tomatoes
  • Generous pinch of kosher salt and a generous grinding of fresh cracked pepper
  • 2 tablespoons best-quality extra-virgin olive oil

Cut the tomatoes into large bite-sized chunks. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper.

Drizzle with olive oil and toss.

Allow the salad to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes and serve.

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