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What is Kofta?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Kofta is a Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian dish made by grinding meat, mixing it with spices, and forming it into balls or cylinders for cooking. Kofta is known by a variety of other names including kefta, kufta, and qofte, and there are hundreds of variations on this dish ranging from spicy lamb koftas grilled on the street in Turkey to vegetable koftas served with naan in India. Many Middle Eastern and Indian restaurants offer some version of kofta, and it is also possible to make kofta at home; since the dish is extremely flexible, cooks can adjust the ingredients and accompanying foods as desired.

The most basic kofta is made from meat which has been very finely ground so that it turns into a smooth paste. The meat is mixed with spices like coriander, garlic, onions, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, or nutmeg, and then it is grilled, baked, fried, or roasted, depending on the cook's taste. Many cooks skewer their koftas for easy cooking, although the skewers are typically removed to serve them, except in parts of the Middle East, where cigar-shaped kofta are served on skewers in the street as snacks.

Common choices of meat include beef, lamb, and chicken, and in India seafood kofta can sometimes be found. Given the high Muslim population in the part of the world where koftas are served, pork would be a highly unusual ingredient. In addition to meat, kofta can also include an ingredient like rice, bulgur wheat, or millet, to make it less dense. Eggs may be added as well, to pull the ingredients in the kofta together, and some cooks actually cook whole eggs with their kofta.

In countries with a large vegetarian population, like India, it is possible to find vegetable koftas made with an assortment of vegetables like cauliflower, corn, peas, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, green beans, squash, onions, beetroot, and ginger. Vegetable kofta are often served with a thick, flavorful gravy in India and Southeast Asia. In some cases, the koftas are floated in a spicy stew, which may be ladled over rice or served with breads such as naan.

Small, drier koftas make great appetizers, while a kofta stew can make an interesting main dish. Cooks should feel free to play with ingredients and gravies; a survey in Turkey alone revealed almost 100 variations on the basic kofta, suggesting that there are no hard and fast rules for this popular Middle Eastern food.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Charred — On Jun 27, 2011

@burcinc - I am from the Middle East and kofta was a regular treat around our house. I remember growing up and asking my mom when she would make kofta. Those oval meatballs in rich tomato sauce were always a favorite.

I had always thought that this food was part of the Arabic tradition alone; I didn’t realize that there were Spanish or Asian versions of the basic kofta recipe, or that some Americans were quite familiar with it.

In this regard, this article took me by surprise. But there are some delicacies that have universal appeal, like stuffed grape leaves for example, which come from the Greek tradition.

In the area where I live there is a Middle Eastern restaurant that serves a buffet of all you can eat Middle Eastern cuisine and we love to go there and eat. Every time I go there it reminds me of home.

By burcinc — On Jun 27, 2011

I love Indian spinach kofta. It's a vegetarian recipe, made with spinach and corn flour and is cooked in a yogurt sauce and eaten with Indian bread. It is very delicious.

I also really like lentil kofta in curry sauce. Anything with lentils is great for a vegetarian because it is packed with protein. You can cook and mash red or yellow lentils and make your favorite spicy sauce to go with it.

We have made these recipes with some of my friends who are not vegetarian and they say they could have it every day. It doesn't taste like something is amiss even though there is no meat in it. Many Indian and Pakistani restaurants also make these veggie koftas nowadays. So you don't necessarily have to make it at home.

By serenesurface — On Jun 27, 2011

Really nice article! I remember the first time I tried to make kofta. I was pretty young then and wanted to surprise my mom by cooking dinner so that she would find it ready when she arrived from work. I knew the basic ingredients that went into it and I made nice round ones and started to cook them in oil. But then the diced onions started to separate from the kofta and float around in the pan.

I had made a huge mistake! I chopped the onions instead of grinding them in the blender! It was a really good lesson though, I never repeated that mistake again!

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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