If you ask someone what the most popular food in the world is, one will get you ten they’ll say it’s “bread”. Not the correct answer, however. It’s sausage, in one of a myriad of its worldwide forms.
There’s rice cultures that pretty much don’t do wheat breads whatsoever, but almost every worldwide cuisine has a sausage of some kind. Here’s just a small sampling, but this compilation barely scratches the surface – there’s dozens of cultural indigenous sausages to be found around the circumference of the North Polar region alone!
It all makes sense - so you've got that pig you need to butcher. About 70-80 percent of the animal will be easily divided up into identifiable “chunks” – ham hocks, spare ribs, picnic, boston butt, etc., but what about the rest? The “miscellaneous” 20-30 percent of the animal? And what about the meat trimmings left over from liberating those large identifiable parts from the carcass? All that gets ground into a sausage.
Sausages represent one broad category, so I’m not only going to cover only a small subsection of this huge genre, I’m even going to delimit that. Specifically, meatballs – sausage lite which lack formal casings, are seldom marinated, smoked, dried, cured or aged. Almost always, your meatball will be prepared fresh just before dinner – an easy, tasty main dish that makes up in flavor for what it lacks in formality.
Since every culture pretty much has a meatball of some kind, let’s take a look specifically at kofta. Indigenous to the Middle East, kofta in some form have spread as far as India and Indonesia.
|Country||Anglicized Name||Indigenous Name||Description|
|Albania||qofte||Very popular – sold in ubiquitous small shops called Qofteri which usually also serve beer.|
|Arabic Countries||kufta, sometimes kafta||كفته||Often cigar shaped and/or formed on a stick.|
|Armenia||kyuft’a||քյուֆթա||Regarded as the national dish - often made with lamb.|
|Georgia||kuleti||კუტლეტი||Often served with a sour plum sauce.|
|Greece||kefté||κεφτές||Commonly fried, then served with tzatziki.|
|India||kofta||कोफ़्ता||Introduced to India from the Muslim conquests – Indian kofta is commonly simmered in gravy or curry. Hindu varieties are usually vegetarian; often non-melting paneer curd cheese is deployed.|
|Iran||kufteh||کوفته||Regional Iranian Tabriz kuftesi contain yellow split peas and boiled eggs and are usually larger than a grapefruit!|
|Lebanon, Syria||kefta||Usually prepared with ground beef, onion, parsley, allspice, salt and black pepper.|
|Morocco||kifta (regional)||Often prepared in a tajine.|
|Republic of Macedonia||kjofte||ќофте|
|Serbia||ćufta or ćufte||ћуфтa, ћуфтe|
|Türkiye||köfte||The king of kofta – sources famously cite 291 varieties! Certainly you could say that there are at least fifty.|
Once formed, your kofta can be grilled, roasted, baked, broiled, boiled, fried, steamed, or poached.
Lebanese style original kofta
Malai paneer kofta from India
Brits learned Scotch Eggs from the Moghuls
Albanian Qofte traditional dinner
Turkish akçaabat köftesi
Tabrizi (from Tabriz, Iran) kufteh can be huge!
Azerbaijani küftə evening meal
Moroccan Bedoin with a pot of kifte
Let’s try one. With dozens (if not hundreds!) of traditional variations on recipes for Turkish köfte to choose from, you can’t go wrong by deciding to go with a Turkish variation. This one has a bit of a Greek/Mediterranean influence, deploying a simple tzatziki-like yogurt sauce. Even so, it remains quite traditional - chances are you could find a dish very much like this sold by a street vendor in Istanbul or Ankara.
4 eggs, beaten
1.5 lbs ground lamb (or beef, or a combination of each)
½ medium onion, diced finely
3 celery stalks, diced finely
1.5 cups panko breading
1 Tb ground allspice
½ Tb cumin
¾ cup Greek yogurt
splash of fresh squeezed lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 cups cooked white Basmati rice
Vegetables on the side
Pick your favorite. I chose steamed halved Brussels sprouts with julienned carrots, then added a little salt, pepper, and sesame seeds.
Assemble the sauce ingredients, then refrigerate to let the flavors marinate. Put all meatball ingredients into a bowl and combine. Form into golfball sized köfte, then either pan-fry or bake in a 375 degree oven for about 15-18 minutes. Plate the rice, then dress with the yogurt sauce, assemble 2-4 köfte on top of the rice, and serve!
If not kofta exactly, meatballs have most certainly come to America, and not only at the neighborhood cucina Italiana or Saturday spaghetti night. A recent article tells the story of the Packhouse Restaurant, a meatball restaurant in Newport, KY which disallows tips - instead insisting on a fair living wage for all their employees ($15.00 an hour).
Good on them, and an interesting menu, too! They call their meatballs “packs”.