Monday, March 21, 2011

Egyptian Kufta

"The world's most ephemeral art form -even worse than magazine writing. What kind of life would let dinner pass in a tenth the time of its preparation? This kind. The kind we're built for." -Richard Powers, generosity

With the title, My Egyptian Grandmother's Kitchen -Traditional Dishes Sweet and Savory -how could I not be immediately and completely enchanted by this cookbook? It is the traditional home cooking an Egyptian woman learned by watching her grandmother cook, and she dedicates this book to her three daughters "so that it may be an aid in the preparation of all the foods I made that you loved so much." My son bought this for me for a gift last year, and it is absolutely fascinating. While at college, he got to know an Egyptian student he met in one of his classes there, and he told me he'd never met anyone so incredibly proud of their country as this young man was. On Saturday, the Egyptian people held their first free elections after ousting Mubarak last month. Like all politics, the choices they were given to vote on are far from ideal, but it was a free vote and is one more thing for Egyptians to be proud of. Yesterday, I was thinking about this historic vote in Egypt, which led me to looking through this cookbook (with me, it always comes back to food), which led me to making these Egyptian kuftas for my weekly meatball recipe.

I first made this Yogurt-Tahini Sauce to serve with the meatballs. Very tasty and super easy -the most difficult part was that I was opening a new can of tahini, which has to be stirred forever to re-emulsify the oil which separates out as the tahini sits on the shelf. I found my wand blender to work really good for this -in the past I simply arranged to have a long phone conversation while stirring it with a spoon.

Yogurt-Tahini Sauce
Adapted from Flatbreads and Flavors

1/3 - 1/2 c. plain yogurt
3 T. tahini
1/4 - 1/3 c. lemon juice
1/2 t. salt
1/8 t. cayenne
Makes 1 cup and stores in the fridge for one week.

Pita bread is now commonly found in most grocery stores these days, but I made homemade pita breads with half whole wheat and half white flour, using the recipe in Flatbreads and Flavors for this meal. I followed their directions for cooking pitas on a griddle on top of the stove, rather than baking them in the oven, as I usually do. They were good enough, but I think they would have been better if I'd rolled them out a little bit thinner.

Egyptian Kufta
Adapted from My Egyptian Grandmother's Kitchen by Magda Mehdawy

Blend in food processor:
1-2 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 onion, grated
1/2 c. cooked white rice
1/2 T. each minced parsley and mint, dried -or use double the amount of fresh herbs
1/4 - 1/2 t. each salt and black pepper
1/8 - 1/4 t. each ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and cumin, or 1/2 - 1 t. Buharat or 'mixed spice'
1/2 - 3/4 lb. ground beef ("Note: ground camel meat can be used instead of beef.")

Form 20-25 meatballs. Chill. Deep fry in oil, or brown them in 1-2 T. ghee. I then popped them into the oven alongside the egg dish, Shakshuka, I was also making for dinner. I don't know if an Egyptian home cook would serve these two dishes at the same meal, but I thought they were great together.

Shakshuka is eggs poached in a tomato sauce, either on the stove top or baked in the oven. It is one of those easy comfort dishes that seems to be claimed by multiply groups of various nationalities and ethnicity. I followed Magda's recipe and now understand its universal appeal. It is a quick, satisfying comfort food, the sort of thing to whip up for a quick meal, when the cupboards are almost bare, or when you don't want to make a big production out of cooking.

Brown in 1-2 T. ghee:
1/2 diced onion
2 minced garlic cloves
1-2 minced hot chili peppers
14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 T. minced dried parsley
salt and pepper
Bring to a simmer and cook a few minutes. Pour sauce into a baking dish, make a hollow, and add 3-4 eggs. Bake 15 minutes. Serve with pitas.

Since there were only three of us for dinner, I simply rounded out our meal by putting jars of pickled beets and dilly beans on the table, but if we'd been more, I would have included some couscous, an eggplant dish, and one or more of the simple Egyptian salads in this cookbook. I loved this egg dish -seasonally appropriate with our egg production in full swing and the equinox making it officially Spring. I like the subtle and unique spicing of the kuftas, and how all this came together to make a simple, yet exotic, home cooked meal made from what we had on hand.


  1. Mmmmm, I have never tried Egyptian food/cookery, I am not sure where I would buy the Ground Camel! :)

  2. I overheard a couple talking about 'Eggs in Pergatory' while I was waiting in line at Starbucks one day and I had to ask what the recipe was. It was basically tomato sauce in a fry pan with lots of spices ~ heated thoroughly and then you drop eggs in it to poach and eat with toast to sop up all the sauce. I had forgotten all about this until your post ~ doesn't that sound delicious?