The Secret To Delightfully Tender Lamb Kofta

This technique is so simple, I almost feel silly writing about it. I only wish I had thought of it myself, but I have to admit to having read it in Niru Gupta’s slender but flavor-packed cookbook, Everyday Indian. And after having read it whilst perusing the book again a few weeks ago, I had to try her parent’s cook’s method for making meltingly tender lamb kofta, or meatballs.

You poach them in a thin curry sauce.

Yeah, you’d think that a culinary school grad like myself would have had sense enough to come up with that on her own, but no, I didn’t. It is, after all how the French cook their little quenelles, which really, are nothing more than very delicate egg-shaped meatballs so light and tender. Instead of frying them or baking them and then adding them to a sauce, they poach them very gently in a stock at a bare simmer.

Now, once I read that one sentence in her book, my mind clicked into high gear and thoughts went racing along at top speed on the subject of how to make koftas that were like quenelles without taking away their intrinsic Indian nature.

I came up with the idea of making the kofta as I usually do with the addition of one well beaten egg and a sprinkle of ground dalia (roasted split chana) as binders to keep the kofta from even thinking of just breaking apart in the sauce. And then, poaching them in a fairly thin curry sauce that is based on pureed browned onions, garlic and ginger, spices and meat stock–in this case, lacking lamb or veal stock, I used chicken. Then, after the kofta are cooked, I removed them and turned the heat up on the curry sauce and reduced it until it could coat the back of a spoon thinly–not a thick, slow-moving sauce, but more of a light, extremely flavorful sauce that was neither too thin nor too thick.

The sauce is then salted to taste, enriched with a couple of spoonsful of yogurt, the kofta are added back to the sauce and reheated and voila–dinner is served.

As always there are a pointers that will help you along as you make these kofta.

First, be as gentle as possible when mixing the kofta ingredients together. Use your hands, and be nice to the meat mixture. Don’t mush, squish or squash the meat too much–in fact–handle it as little as you possibly can to get the job done!

Secondly, when you form the kofta, don’t pack the meat together, or use the usual technique of squeezing the mixture out of your hand into perfectly round balls. Instead, gently pinch off a piece of meat that is roughly the size of a walnut or a bit larger, and roll it lightly between your palms–very lightly–to form your sphere. Work as quickly as possible and don’t handle the kofta or the meat mixture over much.

And finally–don’t get smart and think you will just leave the kofta in the sauce while you reduce it. There is no sense in poaching a bunch of meatballs into a tender, almost fluffy, light texture and then toughening them by boiling them. Take the extra step and remove them from the sauce with a skimmer–not tongs, because you’ll likely break them–and then, reduce the sauce as much as you want.

If you follow these suggestions, I promise you will make the most tender and flavorful kofta you have ever eaten. When Morganna took her first bite of them (I hadn’t told my line cook daughter how I had made them), her eyes closed and she smiled beatifically. “Oh, my God, Mom, these are great–what did you do to them, poach them?”

My answer: “Just like quenelle.”

Her answer: She nodded, grinned and tucked in, eating more than I had seen her eat in a long while.

Tender Lamb Kofta in a Light Curry Sauce
Ingredients for the Kofta:

4 green cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 inch piece cinnamon stick
10 peppercorns
1 clove
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 pound ground lamb
1 1 /2 teaspoons finely ground fresh ginger
2 teaspoons finely ground fresh garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mild chili flakes or to taste (I use Aleppo Pepper; you can use a hotter chili if you like.)

1 egg, well beaten
1 tablespoon ground dalia


Grind the whole spices together and set aside. Put the lamb in a bowl, and make a well in the center. Add the spices, ground ginger and garlic, salt, and chili flakes to the well, and mix these seasonings together with your fingers without combining them in the meat yet.

Add the egg to the well and sprinkle the dalia powder over everything.

Gently mix the meat together with your hands, touching the mixture only as much as is absolutely necessary to get it to combine.

When all is well mixed, pinch off roughly walnut sized bits of the mixture and quickly and gently roll into spheres between your two palms. Set aside and cover with a damp kitchen towel.

Ingredients for the Curry Sauce:

10 green cardamom pods
1 small bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1″ piece cinnamon stick
5 cloves
2 tablespoons ghee or canola oil
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoon finely ground fresh ginger
2 tablespoons finely ground fresh garlic
8-12 fresh curry leaves
5 whole dried red chilies
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
1 quart chicken stock
water as needed
1/4-1/2 cup whole milk Greek style yogurt
salt to taste


Grind the whole spices and set them aside.

Heat the ghee or oil over medium heat in a heavy bottomed deep, wide skillet or pot and add the thinly sliced onions. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the onions and cook, stirring, until the onions are a dark golden color.

Add the ginger and garlic, and cook, stirring constantly until the onions are a golden brown. Add the ground spices and cook, stirring constantly until the onions are a deep reddish brown–which should only take a couple of minutes. Quickly remove the pan from the heat, scrape its contents into a food processor or spice grinder and puree into a smooth paste.

Put the pan back on medium heat, add a little more ghee or oil if needed (usually there is enough left in the pan from cooking the onions) and add the curry leaves and chilies. Cook, stirring, until very fragrant and a few blackened/browned spots appear on the leaves and pods. Add the pureed onion mixture, the turmeric and paprika and stir to combine. Deglaze the pan with the chicken stock, stirring to remove any browned bits. Bring to a simmer, adding as much water as is needed to cover the kofta when they are added to the pan.

Add the kofta one by one by lowering them to the top of the curry sauce and slipping them in. Don’t just drop them from a height–you’ll splash yourself and will either flatten the kofta or break them up.

Simmer for about fifteen minutes, or until the kofta are done all the way through–they should be barely pinkish on the inside. Stir them carefully now and again, if needed.

Remove the kofta with a skimmer and set them aside on a plate. Turn up the heat under the sauce and bring to a boil. Cook down until the sauce will thinly coat the back of a teaspoon.

Stir in the yogurt, turn the heat down to medium again, add the kofta back to the sauce and simmer just for a minute or two to reheat the meat.

Serve with a basmati rice pillau or plain steamed basmati rice and a vegetable based curry or two. Or three–you can never have enough vegetables…..

Speaking of which–you can parboil well-scrubbed fingerling potatoes or new potatoes until they are about halfway done and add them to the simmering curry sauce five minutes before you add the kofta. Let them cook five minutes, then add the kofta and cook as directed. You can leave them in when you reduce your sauce or remove them, but whichever you do–the potatoes will taste delicious with the kofta!


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  1. Those sound delightful – I will definitely be trying them. Especially as we are deep in the heart of lamb country!

    Comment by Meg — April 19, 2011 #

  2. I’m so so glad you’re back! I missed the last post, but know that we’re rooting for you over here. (And sending good thoughts!)

    These look absolutely delicious! I’ll have to hit up our CSA farm for some ground local lamb. Yum.

    Comment by Christine — April 19, 2011 #

  3. Yay! Welcome back!

    Amazing post to start back with! Thank you! :o)

    Comment by John Jezl — April 19, 2011 #

  4. Hooray Barbara !!

    So delighted you are back. Love your blog.

    Thank you, Aileen in Nova Scotia

    Comment by Aileen — April 19, 2011 #

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