Kefta is meatloaf, really. Ground meats, mixed with seasonings by hand, pressed into a dish, smothered in sauce. There are differences, of course. Instead of beef, pork and veal, we use lamb and beef. Instead of bread crumbs, we use minced parsley. The lamb is spiced with cinnamon and allspice. On top, we skip the ketchup and pour a creamy tahini and lemon sauce, and sprinkle with pine nuts. Or, if you are in the mood for tomatoes, we pour a little tomato sauce and arrange sliced fresh tomatoes.
I remember the first time my mother explained kefta to an American family: your loaves of bread are high, and so that is how you make meatloaf. Our loaves of bread are flat, and so that is how we make meatloaf.
Kefta is often served with rice, with some of the sauce spooned over. A salad, or other vegetables are served on the side. But just like American meatloaf, it is also often eaten in a sandwich, folded into Arabic bread with some more salad.
Kefta is delicious comfort food, kid-friendly, and so easy to make. This was the first Arabic dish that I learned to make when I was a new cook, and one of the first Arabic dishes that I served my children.
2 lbs pastured ground lamb and/or ground beef (I prefer a mix)
1 large bunch parsley, finely minced
1 large onion, finely minced
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp allspice
3/4 cup unsalted tahini
1 tsp salt
2 lemons, juiced
1 cup water
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 cup tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses, optional
Fresh tomatoes, sliced
1/4 cup pine nuts, optional
Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a large bowl, combine meat, parsley, onion and spices. Mix by hand until thoroughly combined.
Pat into a medium casserole dish (8x12) and flatten with a spatula until smooth. Using the bottom of a spatula, score the meat in a grid pattern so that meat can easily be cut into portions later. If you wish, you can also decorate by adding additional scores in a criss-cross pattern.
If you are using the tomato topping, mix up the sauce and pour it over the meat, then arrange tomato slices on top. Sprinkle with a little extra salt and pepper, and pine nuts, if you like. Bake at 400 F for 45 minutes - 1 hour, until done.
If you are using the tahini sauce topping, bake your kefta without the sauce for thirty minutes. Pull your kefta from the oven and drain the fat from the dish (reserve this fat and use it for something else -like cooking your rice). To prepare the tahini sauce: whisk tahini, salt, lemon juice and water until smooth. Pour over kefta and sprinkle with pine nuts. Bake an additional 20 minutes or so, until sauce is thick and bubbly. Broil for 2-3 minutes until pine nuts are golden brown.
Let sit for a few minutes before serving. The sauce will thicken upon cooling.
This is an Arabic blessing, spoken by any host after a meal, a reply given after a guest has thanked you for her food. It's literal translation is "double health," and this blessing expresses the wish that the food you have eaten will increase your health.
Linked up at Whole Foods Wednesday.