If there’s a red meat equivalent to the ubiquitous chicken shwarma at a Mediterranean restaurant, it has to be the caseless sausage known as Beef Kofta Kebabs. I’ve tried many variations and herbs and spices before landing on one that tastes great and isn’t too complicated to make.
I’ve had Kofta many times before at different restaurants, but none quite as delicious at the ones from Pi-Hi Cafe, a small Mediterranean/Panini/Pizza joint on the Northwest Side of Chicago. They cook them over a wood fired grill and serve along with both garlic tahini and hot sauce. For me, this became the new standard
I’m not a big fan of gamey sausage, so I don’t use any lamb. Just ground beef. Preferably 85% lean so they don’t dry out. The key here though is the mint leaves. Get plenty so that you’ll have at least a quarter cup of leaves packed into a measuring cup. You just can’t use dried parsley or dried mint and get the right flavor profile.
It’s also really important to toast your spices before using them. I start with whole coriander and whole cumin seeds and toast them in a cast iron pan. Over medium heat, it’ll take 5-10 minutes of occasional stirring before they get going. But watch them closely because small seeds go from not toasted to lightly toasted to blackened and burnt pretty fast. The combination of a color change and whiffs of slightly burnt seed is a good sign. Transfer to a separate bowl and let them cool before grinding. For best results, use a spice grounder or a mortar and pestle.
I’ve also found yellow onion works better than white onion. There’s a little more sugar in the yellow onion, and less harshness, that mellows out nicely with the spices once cooked.
Once you get the spices and the beef mixed together, and if you have the time, let the mixture hang out in the refrigerator for at least 30-60 minutes for the flavors to mingle.
To make the perfect kebab, a golf ball sized piece of meat works best. Pinch off this amount and roll it around between the palms of your hand to form a nice circular shape. Then use your hands to roll it out like a cigar until it’s about 4″ long and the diameter of a quarter. You should get about 20 from 1 1/2 pounds of beef. I’ll line this onto a half sheet pan and put them back in the fridge to set.
Don’t forget sauces to go with them! Ordinary tahini sauce is a little plain for me, so I make a big, bold herbed tahini sauce with garlic. A gentle yogurt sauce is always appropriate as well.
- 6 Garlic Cloves
- 1 Yellow Onion roughly chopped
- 3/4 Cup Parsley Leaves
- 1/4 Cup Mint Leaves
- 1 Tablespoon Cumin prefer seeds that are toasted and ground
- 1 Tablespoon Coriander prefer seeds that are toasted and ground
- 1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon
- 1 Teaspoon Sumac optional
- 1 Teaspoon Salt
- 1 Teaspoon Ground Pepper
- 1 Teaspoon Sambal Oelek or any ground chili paste
- 1.5 Pounds Ground Beef 80/85% lean is best
In a food processor, pulse the garlic until finely chopped
Add the parsley and mint, pulse until chopped and mixed with the garlic
Add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, sumac, salt, pepper and sambal oelek
Add the yellow onion pulses and briefly pulse to chop. Be careful no to liquify the onion.
Transfer to a large mixing bowl and mix in the ground beef
Optional: Cover and place in the refirgerator for at least 30 minutes for spices to blend in
Line a half sheet pan with foil for making the kebabs
Take a small amount of the beef mixture and press it into the shape of a golf ball
Gently roll out the golf ball into a sausage about the diameter of a quarter and place it on the sheet pan
Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes for the sausages to set
Ideally cook them over charcoal or a wood grill for at least 10 minutes, until the sausages are fully cooked