Kafta are Lebanese meatballs, they are easily mainstream enough to appeal to just about any palate but they have enough pizzazz to seem a bit exotic too. The recipe is easy but it does require pine nuts, which might be just outside the standard kitchen staples of the average American kitchen. We serve almost all Arabic inspired meat with labneh, a thick Greek style yoghurt that adds a creamy tang; both a welcome note against the tomato and perhaps an unexpected but somewhat familiar accent to anyone new to Arabic food.
Kafta are traditionally cooked two ways, the most popular being over a hot grill, wrapped in flat bread and accompanied by a fresh salad and yogurt. Grilling differs from the baked instructions here only in omitting the tomato sauce and instead placing the meatballs on skewers to facilitate grilling. The onion and parsley ratios would be the same. Baked kafta can be made days ahead, cooked through, refrigerated, and reheated. Since they only improve in flavor when allowed to marinate in that tasty meat sauce, if you can keep your family from eating them straight out of the fridge, they are an ideal dish for entertaining.
3 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 bunch parsley (approximately 1 cup), leaves only
1 large onion, cut into chunks
2 lbs 85% (or greater) ground beef
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons salt
black pepper to taste
12 oz crushed tomato
In a small skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add pine nuts. Stir nuts continually until golden brown. Pine nuts burn easily, do not take your eye off of them.
Place the onion and parsley in a food processor and pulse until both are finely minced. Remove to a large bowl with the ground beef, add cinnamon, allspice, salt and black pepper. Mix well by hand, evenly blending all the ingredients together.
Form the meatballs by placing 1/4 cup of the meat mixture in one hand and press a divot down the middle. Place approximately 1/2 teaspoon (10-12) of the browned pine nuts in the divot and close the meat around them forming a long football-like shape. Continue to form all the meatballs in the same manner, placing them in a large casserole dish in a single layer as you work. Pour the crushed tomato over the meatballs and bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 1 hour until the meatballs are cooked through.