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Mediterranean Keto Meatballs: Kofta

Mediterranean Keto Meatballs: Kofta

There’s a very popular dish among Georgians called Gupta: our version of meatballs. The main distinction Gupta has from its Italian or Swedish brothers is the addition of rice to the meat. You usually boil Gupta, not fry it. Georgians often serve it with tomato sauce though, so I guess some things are quite universal (among them, apparently, the belief that meatballs cannot do without tomato sauce).

Now, when I first tried to Google Gupta, it seemed to be a quintessentially Georgian thing (the name, not the meatballs). The only other Gupta on the internet was an Indian given name. That’s it. No association with food.

So imagine my surprise when I first came across a cooking blog mentioning Kofta. I know, my bad. The truth is Kofta (or Kafta, or Kefta) is likely to be the most popular meatball in the world, with many variations across Indian, Middle Eastern, Balkan, Central Asian, and South Caucasian cuisines. It seems that there are as many variations of the dish as there are countries in the region. So there’s nothing surprising about Georgia being on the list.

Yet, it was surprising. I had never come across the name before. Russian cutlets, Italian meatballs, classic American burger patties, Swedish meatballs – I knew so many variations of fried ground meat. Yet, the most popular seemed to be the ‘quietest’ across culinary blogs.

(Well honestly, I cannot even be sure that Gupta originated from Kofta. But considering the history of Persian invasions in the country – and Kofta being a Persian word – this seems like a likely theory. Were I a historian, I might have done research on it. Alas I’m not 😀 )

The biggest distinction between Kofta and Gupta seems to be the boiling part. Kofta is traditionally fried. Other than that… well… a universal Kofta recipe just doesn’t exist. It doesn’t. As usual, when it comes to traditional food that is often cooked at home, there are as many variations as there are people. And we’re talking about food that is traditional to more than one country, to more than one region

Which means that, basically, as long as you add some signature spices to the meatballs, you’ve got Kofta on your hands. Didn’t expect it? Surprise!

Yes, the addition of rice is traditional to some variations (which makes the two similar). And so is the addition of bulgur. But there are also variations that don’t add any kind of grain. Or eggs. There are recipes that call for fresh herbs and recipes that only add spices.

Moreover: it’s not even made with a specific type of meat. Sure, lamb seems to be the most traditional. But there are plenty of recipes that use pork. And beef. Or a mix of two (and sometimes even all three).

Basically, Kofta is a free-for-all playground. Which means it’s perfect for the Keto diet.

Now, to me, Kofta is a completely new dish that has nothing to do with my childhood memories. I still have no idea how to Keto-fy Gupta because I cannot imagine it without rice (I might try sometime in the future, never say never). But Kofta is definitely not a bad substitute.

Especially when served with some tahini sauce.

Kofta

Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Course: Main Course
Servings: 12 koftas

Equipment

  • A large mixing bowl
  • A plastic wrap
  • A large pan/skillet
  • A stove

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs ground beef or lamb or pork (I use a 1:1 ratio mix of beef and lamb)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom (+/-, to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin (+/-, to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (+/-, to taste)
  • Smoked paprika (optional, to taste)
  • Salt and black pepper (to taste)
  • Olive oil

Instructions

  • Add the meat, egg, and seasonings to a large mixing bowl.
  • Mix everything together with your hands, until well combined (you should get a paste-like substance).
  • Divide the mixture into half. Divide each half into 6 balls (you can obviously divide the mixture into more or less and make larger or smaller koftas).
  • Note: you can shape the koftas into cylinders and make kebabs instead of meatballs. Skewer them and you've got a great party food on your hands.
  • Cover the koftas with a plastic wrap and transfer to the fridge for 10-15 minutes to firm up a bit.
  • Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large pan/skillet over medium heat. When the oil is heat, add the koftas and fry from all side until brown and no longer pink inside (around 10 minutes).

Notes

Since a definitive recipe for Kofta doesn’t exist, you can freely experiment with herbs and spices. While I do not add fresh herbs to my koftas, I’ve seen recipes that call for either parsley or cilantro (or both!), as well as those that do not add eggs or garlic.
The only addition I found in every recipe back in the day seemed to be cumin and cardamom 😉
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