Hearty Greek Lamb Kofta in a vibrant Tomato Sauce

My Greek food affair continues with this delicious recipe. I cooked this dish at my Greek Food Pop-Up  in Mumbai, last Sunday. It was a smashing hit. The guests did not miss the spiciness that they are used to with Indian food.  I was stoked to hear that they experienced a “happy-food coma” while gorging on the food. It’s a healthy, hearty and simple  recipe. I am sure you would love making it and eating it with your family.

A bit of trivia first. In Greek, this dish is called Soutzoukakai. The basic method is to make oblong-shaped meat balls using beef mince or lamb mince. These are seasoned with classic Greek spices – cumin, cinnamon and garlic. They are shallow fried and then soaked in a thick tomato sauce.

Recipe for Greek Lamb Koftas in a luscious and vibrant Tomato Sauce

Serves: 4
Prep Time: 30 mins
Cooking time: 45 mins
Marination Time: 1 hour
Expertise Level: Easy
Ingredients Availability: Easily Available except for Canned Tomatoes
Food Mood: 

  • Taste Palate: Subtle and Non-Spicy
  • Ambiance:  Lunching around with family on the dining table with loads of laughter and conversations . This is that sort of food that gets everyone together away from their devices.

Ingredients

For the Lamb Koftas

  1. 500gms, minced lamb or goat meat
  2. 3 Garlic Pods, minced
  3. 1 tsp. Cumin orJeera Powder, freshly ground if possible
  4. 1/2 tsp. Cinnamon Powder ( try using original cinnamon – curled, rather than the cassia bark or junglee daalchini which we usually buy from retail stores)
  5. 1 tbsp. Olive Oil
  6. 1 tbsp. Parsley, finely chopped
  7. 1 medium Onion, very finally chopped
  8. 5 slices of stale bread with edges removed and soaked in 1 cup wine and then squeezed dry (for non-alcoholic option, just make bread crumbs in a food processor)
  9. 1 tsp. Salt
  10. 1 Egg
  11. 1 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground
  12. 1/2 cup, Maida or Plain Flour for coating
  13. 1 cup, Olive oil for shallow frying

For Tomato Sauce

  1. 400 gms. Canned Tomatoes ( I used the Cirio Pelati Peeled Italian tomatoes which is available at Nature’s Basket for INR 250. If you don’t want to spend so much, use around 1 KG of ripe tomatoes, blanch them in boiling water for 5 mins and then peel the skin off)
  2. 6-7, Basil Leaves, finely chopped
  3. 2 large Onions, one finely sliced and one grated
  4. 8 pods of garlic, minced
  5. 1 tsp. Sugar
  6. 1 Bay Leaf
  7. 1 tsp, Cumin
  8. 2 tbsp, Tomato paste ( I bought this from Italy, but if you don’t have tomato paste, use regular Tomato Puree – Dabur Hommade or Kissan)
  9. 1 tbsp, Fresh Parsely hand-plucked for garnishing (Do not use a knife for herb garnishes as it hurts the leaves and they turn black)
  10. 1 cup Dry Red Wine (I used Sula Cabernet Sauvignon. This is optional if you don’t want to use alcohol)
  11. 2 tsp. Salt
  12. 2 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground

To make the Lamb Koftas

  1. Wash the meat thoroughly to remove all the blood and the water is clear. For minced meat,I normally use a steel strainer to wash
  2. Now drain all the water and pat the meat dry with a kitchen paper towel
  3. In glass or steel bowl, put all the ingredients for the kofta along with the meat, except the maida (and the oil used for frying). Mix the contents in the bowl thoroughly with your hands
  4. Refrigerate for one hour, for marination. (TIP: You can make the tomato sauce in the meantime)
  5. Remove the meat from the fridge, and set up some space to make your koftas. You will need 3 things. – Put the maida or flour on a flat plate ready to roll the koftas in. Keep one flat utensil to keep your rolled raw koftas and another one with a couple of tissue papers ready, to keep the fried koftas.
  6. Put your frying pan on the stove and let it heat with frying oil for 15 mins
  7. Oil your palms a bit and scoop one tablespoon of the the marinated meat. Make oblong shaped koftas with your hands. Its the traditional way to keep them oblong. Coat it with the flour lightly and keep it on the empty plate ready for frying. You should be able to make around 15-20 koftas with 500g meat.
  8. Put a kadhai or a shallow frying pan with oil on the stove and heat it adequately (15 mins). Ensure to keep enough oil to submerge half the kofta during the frying process. For a healthier option, you can simply bake the koftas until golden brown
  9. Add 4-5 meat balls at a time  to the shallow frying pan. Let them fry fist for 4 minutes without turning. Then turn each kofta with a slotted spoon. Let them fry for another 4 minutes. Finally turn them around gently to give them an even golden colour and keep aside on the plate with tissue papers. Just be smart about adjusting the temperature regularly, so that you you don’t burn your koftas. Test one of the koftas from the first batch to adjust cooking time before you go on to fry the next round of koftas.

To make the Tomato Sauce

  1. The first step is to make the tomato Juice (or Passata, as called in Greek)-
    1.  Put the canned tomatoes or roughly chopped regular ripe tomatoes, 4 tsp of minced garlic, 1 tsp ground black pepper and basil leaves in a blender and liquidize the ingredients.
    2. In a large pan, add 1 tbsp olive oil and saute the finely sliced onions till they turn transparent pink (dont colour them brown). Add this to the blender and liquidize. Add 1 tsp salt to taste.
    3. This is called a Passata and is used as the base for the tomato sauce. Ideally, you need to cook this for 5-10 mins by letting it boil gently for 10-15 mins. But you can skip this step if you dont have the time. You should get around 1 litre of the passata which you can reserve in the fridge and add it like tomato puree in your dishes.
  2. In a large pan, add 1 tbsp oil oil and fry the grated onions and garlic till they are cooked. It shouldn’t turn brown else it will spoil the vibrant colour of the sauce.
  3. Add 4 cups of the above tomato juice (reserve the rest in the fridge), cumin, bay leaf, sugar, tomato puree, and wine. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 mins, stirring frequently. Add one teaspoon of salt.
  4. Once, the tomato sauce starts to thicken (it shouldn’t be watery), add the cooked lamb koftas gently, and let the sauce cook for another 15 minutes so that meat soaks up all the juicy goodness of tomato sauce. Turn the koftas gently so that they dont break.
  5. Your Greek Lamb koftas in tomato sauce is ready. Garnish with parsley or coriander leaves and serve hot with pilaf (pulao) or mashed potatoes

Recipe for Greek Lamb Koftas in a tomato sauce with a simple pulao

Food Marriage Tips

  1. Lamb and Cinnamon go well together. I have used cinnamon is almost all Lamb Recipes. Its one of the must haves for me in lamb spice rubs as well for roasting
  2. In Greek Cooking, use olive oil wherever possible. You don’t need to use Extra Virgin Olive oil for this recipe. Use a light olive oil for cooking and pomace olive oil for frying
  3. I have a new found love for Canned Tomatoes. They make such amazing sauces. The Tomato Juice or the Passata can we used in variety of dishes including the Indian ones. Use it in curries instead of ready-made tomato puree. You can use this as your base for Pizza sauces or pasta sauces. The method will be the same as above. Just season with different herbs and spices for your experiments. You can increase the doze of the Basil leaves in this recipe if you want to make a pasta sauce.

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