Kafta Kebabs with Tahini Sauce

I’m not ashamed to say that I LOVE KEBAB.  I love all kebab, and every kebab.  I love wooden skewers even though I always burn them.  I love metal skewers even though they always burn me.  I love chicken kebabs, shrimp kebabs, and anything else that can be threaded, skewered, and roasted over high heat.  I also like drinking a Manhattan and referring to them as ‘brochettes’, feigning a languid sophistication that I am so obviously not in possession of.  Or the alternative, swilling beer, and asking who wants ‘meat sticks’.  Ah, the joy of skewers.

Lebanese Kafta (also spelled ‘kefta’, ‘kofta’, and ‘kafte’ among others) is a Middle Eastern version of kebab in which ground meat that is seasoned and flavoured with parsley, onion and cinnamon (a recurring theme in Lebanese cuisine) is threaded onto skewers and barbecued.  

You’ve heard this chant before but I’ll say it again – I was an apartment dweller for a very long time and had no access to a barbecue.  This didn’t mean that I never made kafta!  It can be roasted in the oven at very high heat (450F).  To do this, put a metal rack over a roasting pan or baking sheet with a lip to catch the grease.  Turn the kafta every few minutes until it is cooked through.

In terms of cooking time, kafta is made from lean meat and does not have a lot of fat which means two things:

1)  You’re going to get shrinkage.  That’s just the way of the world.

2)  Overcooking means some very dry kebabs.

I do like my meat rare, but in the case of ground meat from a grocery store (particularly when mixed with ground pork) I cook it well done.  If you think it’s well done but you’re not too sure, and you know that overcooking meat is a righteous sin, take a kebab and cut it in two – if there is pink in the middle you might want to throw it on for another few minutes.

Kafta Kebabs with Tahini Sauce

Serves 4 – 6

For the Kafta

  • .8 kg extra lean ground beef *
  • .4 kg lean ground pork**
  • 1 cup parsley
  • 1/2 large white onion (about 1 cup)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • salt and pepper to taste

* It should be a 2:1 ratio of beef to pork.  If you don’t work in kilograms, this would be about 1.75 pounds of beef and between .75 – 1 pound of pork.

** Kafta is also frequently made with lamb, so if you’re not into the porcine feel free to substitute ground lamb.

For the Tahini Sauce
  • 3 tbsp tahini *
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup water or more
  • salt to taste

*  Tahini is a sesame seed paste which can be found in most grocery stores or a Middle Eastern grocer.

To serve

  • pita bread
  • chopped parsley
  • chopped tomato
  • shredded lettuce
  • sliced onion

Let’s make some kafta!

If you are using wooden skewers, start by soaking them.  Now, I’m not going to lie to you.  Your skewers are going to burn.  That’s just the way that it is, and you shouldn’t expect to much from them.  They’re wood, after all, and as the fatty meat juice drips down the BBQ is going to flame and singe those skewers whether you want it to or not.  Just make peace with that before we move on.

Finely chop the onions (your regular 1/4 inch dice won’t do the trick here, try for an 1/8 inch dice).  In a medium or large size mixing bowl put in the meats, onions, cinnamon and cayenne.  Season liberally with salt and pepper.

Finely chop the parsley.  If you read the post on Tabouli you know what ‘finely chopped’ means.  Just keep on chopping until you think it’s fine, and then chop some more.

The parsley and egg go into the bowl with the meat.

Mix everything very well to combine just like if you were going to make meat balls.  Squish it all around so that the egg, parsley, onions and seasoning are evenly incorporated.

Shape the meat into long chubby sausage sized logs, and stick a skewer through each one.  There should be about 10 – 12 skewers when you’re done.

Barbecue the kafta over medium high heat until cooked through.  This should be about 5 minutes per side, but it will depend on your grill. 

Tahini is a sesame seed paste which is a common ingredient in hummus and baba ganouj.  Out of the container tahini will need a good stir because the oils tend to separate.  The texture will not be thick like peanut butter, but a bit runny like crepe batter.  It can be used as is, but tastes much better when it is made into a sauce with garlic and lemon.  Tahini sauce is also commonly used as a dip for raw veggies or as a salad dressing.

Spoon the tahini into a bowl and squeeze in the juice of one lemon.  Rasp or press in the garlic clove.  This is not the time for chunks of garlic, you want it to be evenly incorporated.

When you start to stir this it will thicken up as the tahini binds with the acid of the lemon.

Whisk in the quarter cup of water and continue whisking until there are no lumps or clumps.  If your tahini is thick then you may need more water.  If so, continue adding water until it has the consistency of a creamy or ranch style salad dressing.  Add salt to taste.

To serve the kafta, let people take their pita with 1 – 2 kafta and stuff it with the shredded lettuce, onion and tomato.  Drizzle on the tahini sauce and sprinkle with additional chopped parsley.

Oh I’m such a sucker for anything in a pita…..

Kafta is great served with a side of Tabouli or a green salad in a lemony vinaigrette.

  • http://www.eatingindallas.wordpress.com Margie

    That looks fun! I’m going to have to try that.

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    NOTE: My Dad is appalled that I put listed pork in the recipe and lamb as a variation. He will not comment on this blog, but he would like you to know that *HE* does not use pork, and that ‘most’ Lebanese households use lamb instead.

    So there you go Dad, that’s off your chest and on the record now.

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  • http://www.phoeniciangourmet.blogspot.com Arlette

    Hello Tina
    this is my first time here, and iam enjoying your blog and the food, learning about you and your family and food. The Lebanese fushion dinner posting is amazing , love the cute falafel skewers…
    back to this posting, in Lebanon we serve with the Kafta a special salad consist of red onion rings and parsley mixed with sumac of course salt and pepper, you just cannot have mashawi without this salad , try it and let me know

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Arlette – thanks for stopping by! That salad sounds like a delicious, flavorful and bright accompaniment to kafta. As soon as it is barbecue season again, we will definitely give it a shot!

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  • Tom

    OMG….I NEVER USE PORK! A mixture of beef and lamb is the norm for me, and the meat cannot be extra lean as there has to be fat to drip on the hot coals so that the flavor infuses the meat while it is cooking.

  • jamas

    This is too much tasty recipe if you want to find another easy recipe. Kafta Kabab / Kebab is very famous recipe, also popular in Lebanese, Arbil Iraq, Syria and Turkey. This tasty recipe is shared by Chef Shireen Anwer.