Why put a meatball on a skewer?, you may be thinking. Well, haven’t you ever heard that childhood song about the meatball, the one on top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese? To quote that sorrowful tome “I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed. It rolled off the table and onto the floor and then my poor meatball rolled out of the door. It rolled through the garden, and under a bush, and then my poor meatball was nothing but mush.” Mush! Right there is a reason to secure one’s meatballs on a skewer, if you ever needed one.
If that story doesn’t move you to skewers, then I don’t know what will. Perhaps the idea of lining them up, 4-5 at a time, creating a kabob of sorts, that can be carried nicely to a grill or grill pan and charred to a smoky deliciousness, will do it for you. Either way, you must try these because they are really just that good. Not good in a familiar, your-mom’s-meatballs-kind-of-way, but in an unexpected, eating-at-your-new-friend’s house-and-liking-it version. I know that cinnamon, allspice and nuts sound like the makings of a good old American apple pie, but when you take these ingredients and add them to meats you are suddenly lost somewhere in view of the Mediterranean Sea. Morrocco. Algeria. Greece. Turkey.
So to skewer or not to skewer? Who cares! Just make these meatballs, which I have tweaked to be gluten and grain free, (no white bread soaked or breadcrumbs here) and you will not look back. And even if you can’t grill them, they are just as delicious pan fried, or even better, (less mess, less time,) baked in the oven, sans skewers, if you will. In fact, I solved the slippery puzzle of moving skewered raw meatballs from the sheet pan to the grill, by just tossing the whole pan of them into the oven for about 7 minutes, until they firmed up around the skewer, then finished cooking them all the way through on the grill. (You can use an indoor grill pan, or cook them fully in the oven and finish by broiling to brown the tops a bit.) And don’t forget to make a mini patty of the final mix and fry it up on the stove top (see how cute!) to taste and have an opportunity to balance out the flavors, salt, consistency, etc. Some of you may be adventurous raw-meat-and-egg-tasting purists, but since these will be eaten cooked, they should be tasted and tweaked from a cooked sample.
Kefta are traditionally made with ground lamb, but you can use a combination of beef and lamb, or turkey and lamb, if you want to tame the lambiness. When I made them this past weekend, I had two pounds of veal-pork-beef mixture, from the Amish market in nearby Flemington, NJ, where I feel like a kid in a candy store—not because of the homemade donuts the women and girls in the little lace caps turn out by the hundreds, but because every cut of meat there, from rotisserie chicken and turkey, to handmade pork breakfast sausages, is locally and humanely raised, and hormone and anti-biotic-free. Our local chain supermarkets have come a long way in terms of organic and drug-free meats, but mostly we are still confined to a small corner of the store with a few chickens, some ground meat and three trays of outrageously-priced and tiny steaks. So, I love the variety and abundance of the Amish market. I used this gorgeous trifecta of meats for my Kefta.
Then, knowing I was going to omit the usual soaked white bread or bread crumbs to go gluten-free, I added finely chopped mushrooms and egg, along with herbs from my weedy but abundant garden, (“thank you for your bounty” I say whenever I snip at them, in case they have feelings, which I suspect they do,) for moisture and binding. Enjoy soon!
Kefta Meatball Kabobs
Makes 20-24, 2 inch diameter meatballs.
8-10 white button mushrooms, finely chopped (food processor or by hand)
1 small onion, finely chopped (food processor or by hand)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 pound ground meat (lamb, lamb and turkey, lamb and beef, veal, pork, etc. if using only turkey add 1-2 T. olive oil to mix)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or more if you like more heat)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted lightly and finely chopped
You’ll need: 10-12 metal or wooden skewers (or not if you don’t skewer these. Do not NOT make these because you have no skewers! Just don’t let them roll off the table and onto the floor…). If you use wooden skewers, soak them in water for 20 minutes before using them. This will keep them from buring on the grill.
For Yogurt Sauce
1 cup plain yogurt (for creamier version of this use whole milk yogurt, or thicker greek yogurt)
2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, finely minced (I can’t do raw garlic, so I leave this out or substitute just a little garlic powder here if I want a garlic flavor)
salt and pepper to taste
1. Yogurt Sauce: You can make this hours in advance. One problem I encountered with this sauce is combining honey into cold yogurt…it doesn’t work so well….so you can bring the yogurt to room temp first (make your meatballs in the meanwhile), then warm the honey a bit in the microwave (12 seconds or so) and it will mix in more easily. Combining all the ingredients in a small bowl and holding in the fridge, covered or in airtight container.
2. Meatballs: prepare all ingredients as specified (chop, process, etc.), then combine them with the meat in a large bowl, mixing with your hands thoroughly. (take off all rings!)
3. Get your grill or grill pan ready and up to heat. You don’t want to put these on a cold grill…they will stick. Using a paper towel and some oil with a higher smoke point (canoloa, safflower, grapeseed) wipe down the grill or grill pan to lightly grease them (while the pan is cold, please!). Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
4. Form the meat mixture into 2-inch diameter meatballs and line them up on a lightly greased sheet pan or SilPat lined sheet pan, in rows of 4 each. Thread a skewer gently and evenly through each row of 4. (as pictured above).
5. Place the entire sheet of meatballs, skewers and all, in the oven and bake for 5-7 minutes or until they have firmed up enough to move them from the pan to the grill without them slipping off the skewers. If you aren’t grilling them, then let them finish baking in the oven, an additional 12-15 minutes until browned, turning them once to brown evenly (optional). If you want more char on them, you can finish by switching your oven to broil, on high, for 3 minutes or so, staying close by and watching so they don’t burn. Remember, as things get browner, they cook faster….so don’t turn your back on them!
6. If grilling, then remove the meatballs from the oven after 5-7 minutes and transfer the skewers to the grill or grill pan to achieve a grill marked and charred kebob.
7. Serve with yogurt sauce. I’ll leave the side up to you, but my Tangy Garden Slaw would do nicely for those eating grain and gluten-free, or any fresh salad, with a crumbling of feta on top. For those who aren’t, think about a fluffy buttered rice, or rice pilaf or my Polenta Fries.
Let me know your thoughts…and how they came out by leaving your comments below!