Spiced Kefta

Persian food, like many of the foods from a region that’s often broadly referred to as the Middle East, takes cues from a variety of influences and cultures as people traverse borders and bring their delicious foods with them. Which is why the food in America is so diverse; people have gifted us with foods from their homelands, such as tacos, sushi, pizza, beer, and bagels. Similarly, France has been blessed to have beans for cassoulet, chocolat chaud (hot chocolate), and croissants.

As a cook, I like dipping into various cuisines and cultures and lately, I’ve been working on Tahdig, a Persian rice dish that’s cooked on the stovetop until the bottom gets crusty, which can take an hour or longer, and requires some patience. Once done, you take a leap of faith and turn it out onto a plate so the crispy part (the tahdig) forms a golden, crackly crown on top of a bed of fragrant, saffron-infused rice…if you do it right.

It’s taken me a few tries to get it there, albeit not reliably, and I hope to share it with you once I get through all the mounds of rice generated from my multiple experiments. I love rice but have learned there is a limit to how much I can eat in one day. But I’ll get there at some point.

One thing that’s been particularly rewarding about making it, and sharing my trials and results on Instagram, is that I’ve gotten to meet lovely Persian cooks from around the world who’ve offered advice and much-appreciated encouragement. One was Sabrina Ghayour, author of Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to get my hands on and I finally picked up a copy.

Wikipedia describes kefta (also called kofta, koofteh, kafta or kufta) as “a family of meatball or meatloaf dishes found in the Indian subcontinent, South Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Balkan, and Central Asian cuisines.” That’s quite broad, but shows the popularity of grilled ground meat (or fish) patties in many parts of the world.

As Reem Kassis points out in her book, The Arabesque Table, many cultures around the world also have a tradition of wrapping meat in bread, from shwarma to bao. Americans have our burgers and this mixture would make an intriguing patty served with pickles, thin slices of grilled eggplant, and a garlic spiked yogurt-tahini sauce served on a toasted sesame bun.

While planning to make these, I realized I’d written about kefta a few years ago. But since so many countries and cultures have their own version, like Sabrina’s, why not add another one to the blog? (In her book she also includes a Turkish Adana köfte with punchy pul biber (Aleppo pepper).

So I thought this time, I’d try making them with one of the popular plant-based meat substitutes, which aren’t available in France, to the best of my knowledge. (For the record, I used Beyond Meat as the packages are in 1-pound portions versus another popular brand, which comes in 12-ounce packages.)

There are soy meat alternatives in France, but they don’t look as if they replicate meat, judging by this video and photos on the packages. And they’re not supposed to label them in a way that confuses them with their meat-based counterparts. However, there are vegan burger joints here and there, and I suspect it’s just a matter of time before they cross the Atlantic and start showing up in les supermarchés.

I do eat meat but know many people don’t for a variety of reasons, and that’s okay with me. A major food website just announced they’re not going to add any more beef recipes due to environmental concerns*. And while for years the word végetarien was often dismissed, or produced chuckles, France has a robust amount of people who don’t eat meat or who are eating less of it.

According to a survey, almost half the people in France have reduced their consumption of meat, and on the homefront, Romain has reacted to some of the television exposés of the meat industry and is happiest when I cook fish and vegetables. And I want to keep Romain happy because I think he’s my last chance and I don’t want him to have any beefs with me.

For those who disparage meat substitutes, the idea isn’t all that new. I remember cooking from Chinese Meatless Cooking by Stella Lau Fessler, which was one of my culinary guidebooks, published back in 1983, which used wheat gluten and other substitutes for meat. Many cultures and cuisines historically have vegetarian dishes for reasons that range from righteous to religious. So I was happy to give a plant-based meat alternative a try.

Opening the package, as I slid the wet, mushy square out of the package and into the bowl, I thought it was a little weird looking. But then again, some people find meat weird. (And I’ve not given or been witness to childbirth, but from what I’ve seen on television, babies need a little tidying and sprucing up after entering the world, too.) One thing that I really appreciated was that I didn’t need to be as cautious about handling it, and didn’t feel the need to scrupulously clean my hands and utensils in my kitchen, as I am when I prepare meat. I didn’t have to worry about raw meat juices festering in my sink nor did I feel to need to scrub my hands after handling it to makes sure they were free of any nasties. And these days, I welcome any chance to take a breather from worrying about hygiene.

They were admittedly, delicious. I toggled the spices up a bit, swapped out cashews for the harder-to-find pine nuts, and found the meat alternative wetter than expected, so you might only need one egg. Romain was delighted** with them, which is always a good thing, and to be honest, so was I.

Lamb Kefta

Adapted from Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond by Sabrina Ghayour
Kefta is prepared differently around the world; it's sometimes grilled, and sometimes simmered in spiced tomato sauce, for example. I cooked mine on a grill but a griddle pan on the stovetop, or in a skillet with some oil, works well.
I upped the spaces a bit from the original recipes. If you'd like, the spices and seasonings can be adjusted as you wish. Common ingredients include, but aren't limited to, allspice, Aleppo pepper, coriander, dried mint, cloves, garlic, dill, and oregano, as well as the cashews I swapped out for the pine nuts Sabrina suggested. (Walnuts are another possibility.) Whew! Those are a heckuva lot of options. And those are just some of them.
I also swapped out chopped dried cranberries for the currants. (Which Sabrina does in another version here.) If you can get them, barberries, which are used frequently in Persian cuisine, add a wonderful bright "pop" of flavor. (Their flavor is similar to goji berries, which are available at well-stocked supermarkets and natural food stores.) Dried sour cherries are sometimes used in Persian rice dishes, so you could use them in place of the dried cranberries. Or stick with dried currants.
Lastly, while I made these with a plant-based meat substitute, you can make them with ground lamb, beef, pork, or ground dark meat chicken or turkey.
Course Main Course
Servings 15 meat patties
  • 1 pound (450g) plant-based meat substitute, or ground meat or poultry (see headnote)
  • 1 medium onion or 4 scallions (using the white and the tender green parts), finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice or cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, (if using Morton's kosher salt, reduce it to 1 teaspoon)
  • freshly ground black pepper, or Aleppo pepper
  • 1/2 cup (60g) chopped toasted cashews, or 1/4 cup (50g) toasted pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup (35g) chopped dried cranberries, or dried currants
  • 1/2 cup (30g) chopped fresh parsley, cilantro, and fresh mint (you can use just one or a mix)
  • 1 -2 large eggs
  • In a medium bowl, mix together the meat substitute (or meat or poultry) with the spices and salt. Season liberally with black or Aleppo pepper. Add the cashews or pine nuts, cranberries, fresh herbs, and 1 egg, and mix well with your clean hands until everything is very well incorporated.
  • If the mixture seems dry, and it feels like it won't hold together into patties, beat another egg in a small bowl with a fork and add just enough of that so it'll hold together.
    (If in the end the mixture seems too soft, you can cover and chill it for a few hours, which will make it easier to form into patties.)
  • Shape the kefta into patties about 3-inches (7-8cm) round, and set them in a single layer or a dinner plate that's lined with parchment paper.
  • Cook the kefta patties on a medium-high grill, brushing oil on the grill grate before putting the patties on to cook, turning them once, until they're cooked through. They'll take just a few minutes. If you don't have a grill, they can be cooked in a skillet on the stovetop in vegetable oil or simmered in spiced tomato sauce.

Notes

Storage: The patties can be made up to two days in advance and refrigerated. Once cooked, they can be frozen for up to several months. 
Serving: Serve with a salad, such as a green salad, summer tomato salad, or tabbouleh. They can also be served with rice or couscous, grilled vegetables, or wrapped in flatbread with yogurt tahini sauce spiked with minced garlic.

*After the prominent recipe website announced they’re going to stop posting any more recipes for beef due to environmental concerns, some pointed out the hypocrisy. After all, things like almond milk, Greek yogurt, coconut oil, and quinoa aren’t quite planet-friendly either. It’s hard to tell people what to do, which they aren’t doing; they do have plenty of beef recipes on their website for those who want them. But I do think that if we rethink some of our habits and cut back a little, if we can, it can make a big difference. I don’t see any downside to being conscious of what we’re eating.

**Due to travel restrictions, we’re temporarily a few thousand miles/kilometers apart at the moment, but he replied to my photo, “ça donne vraiment envie,” which loosely translates to, “I want those.” (For sticklers, Google Translate translates that to “That sounds awesome.”)

 

Spiced Kefta

72 comments

  • Sandra Dombro
    April 29, 2021 4:19pm

    Hello,

    This looks luscious. Is there any possibility that you could share information about the meat substitute that you used? I find it somewhat difficult to fine “bulk” veggie meat sub in France, and when I do find it, I hesitate to buy it thinking of the flavor (or lack thereof) of tvp protein from the 70s-80s. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Reply

    • April 29, 2021 4:25pm
      David Lebovitz

      I mentioned it in the 8th paragraph, it was Beyond Meat, but also mentioned another brand which supposedly is similar. Right now they aren’t available in France and don’t know what to recommend, but natural food stores and some supermarkets have meat substitutes in the freezer or refrigerator case, and probably one of those would work. If you do try one, let us know which and how it turns out! Reply

  • April 29, 2021 4:20pm

    I’m with Romain. During the pandemic have cut way back on cooking/eating meat. Lots of Ottolenghi and Deb Madison cooking. If everyone moved towards a more plant based diet, and ate meat only a couple of days/nights a week we’d all be healthier, and send a lot less CO2 up into the CO2 saturated atmosphere. And we don’t have to be fanatic about it. I love a good fat laden local meat hamburger or steak now and then, pork, lamb – . Reply

  • Maria Kamba
    April 29, 2021 4:33pm

    The Persian rice is also called royal rice is a masterpiece in the Eastern cuisine.
    I’ll wait with extreme interest for the outcome of your trials! Reply

  • Alison
    April 29, 2021 4:35pm

    Looks very tempting! I’ve been curious about the meat substitutes like Beyond, but the sodium content is so high. My husband is on a strict low-sodium diet, so Beyond is beyond us for now. Hope you and Romain are reunited soon! Reply

  • Mom24
    April 29, 2021 4:36pm

    These look amazing and I am eager to try them, but also, your grill pan!! Please tell me more. What is it and, I suspect more importantly, how is it so well seasoned? I consistently dread and avoid using my Lodge cast iron grill pans (both the double burner and the single) and I suspect now my issue is that they aren’t well seasoned. They’re a nightmare to clean. I’ve told my children that upon my death my most valued possession they should race to claim is my cast iron skillets though. Please help! Reply

    • April 29, 2021 4:45pm
      David Lebovitz

      I have a French enameled cast iron grill pan which I also hated cleaning…until someone who works for the company told me it could be run through the dishwasher. I know you can’t run the Lodge cast iron through so you may need to gift that grill pan to the kids now, and upgrade to a French one. Mine is made by Le Creuset, and they’re not inexpensive (I think I bought it on a flash shopping site in France, where it was about half price) but other companies make them. Reply

  • Gayle
    April 29, 2021 4:40pm

    I’ve tried, and made, several different versions of kofta in the last few years since discovering how much I love the flavors of Persian cooking.

    This sounds like another version to try.

    I love them all btw. Persian cooking has a wonderful way with spices. Reply

  • Donna
    April 29, 2021 4:45pm

    Last week I made a kofta meatloaf with Impossible “meat” purchased at Costco. It was a big hit. Your spice combination is a bit different than the one I used and I love the idea of adding chopped nuts, so I will definitely be trying this out! We don’t eat red meat very often – less than 2x a month. But these new plant based meats may change things up! Reply

  • Deborah Shubert
    April 29, 2021 4:48pm

    I have tried many of the plant-based beef substitutes and I have found the Impossible beef products to be the best. I have been making Kafta since the 1970s when I was given a family recipe from a friend. I will try your recipe and report back! Reply

  • Jody S.
    April 29, 2021 4:57pm

    I’m totally with you on the meat thing David! I can’t wait to try making these. I’m really cutting way back on meat being part of every meal for my family and frankly it’s fun to experiment with cuisine from around the world. Save the planet and feel healthier. Reply

  • Kristine Barge
    April 29, 2021 4:59pm

    I would not eat the meat alternatives because of their ingredients . I have examined the nutritional labels and find there are many, many ingredients which I cannot pronounce. This amounts to highly processed food – I avoid processed food. If you want to avoid meat that is a noble choice but I think it is odd to avoid a food while trying to make things that mimic that food. For anyone following a lower carb diet, these substitutes are not suitable and for anyone with irritable bowel syndrome they are truly not suitable. Reply

    • April 30, 2021 4:36pm
      David Lebovitz

      The one I used (Beyond Meat) lists “water, Pea Protein, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Rice Protein, Natural Flavors, Cocoa Butter, Mung Bean Protein, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Apple Extract, Pomegranate Extract, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Vinegar, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Sunflower lecithin, Beet Juice Extract” as ingredients. You’re right the methylcellulose and lechithin could be an issue for people with digestion issues and although it is a somewhat lengthy list of ingredients, and it’s definitely a “processed” product, to me, there’s nothing overly objectionable on that ingredient list. Still, it’s fine if people want to avoid them. Many of us are fortunate to be able to make choices : ) Reply

  • April 29, 2021 5:04pm

    I am so happy to read about how you made this recipe with a meat substitute. It is an area of cooking that I want to try but hesitate. Another wonderful Persian Cookbook for your collection is Arabesque by Claudia Roden. Have a good weekend and be nice to Romain, we sure wouldn’t want him to have a “beef” with you. Reply

  • Clara Currier
    April 29, 2021 5:13pm

    LOL, Great beef pun, David Reply

  • April 29, 2021 5:21pm

    The opposite here…I am eat more and cooking meat than I ever did before or in the US. Liking very much ‘race Aubrac’ but I really want to figure out how to visit a bucher instead of shopping a Carrefour :((
    My Persian brother-in-law made tadig all the time as if he was boiling water. So yum. His daughter wrote a cookbook, The Persian Table and seemed to think it was easy peasy. I never tried it but I love all the richly savory flavors. Persian cuisine is the best! Reply

  • Sheila Bauer
    April 29, 2021 5:21pm

    Your comment about newborn babies needing some tidying and sprucing up made me laugh! As a nurse in a large women’s hospital and having birthed three of my own, I can tell you that childbirth is indeed a messy affair. As for eating meat, we stopped a long time ago. For us it was for humane reasons, but lately we’re exploring vegan cuisine for environmental reasons. There has been an explosion of fantastic vegan and veggie centric cookbooks in the past few years that are just so creative. Your Drinking French book and your live IG videos have also provided us with lots of fun cocktail hours during this past year. Thank you!! Reply

    • April 30, 2021 4:38pm
      David Lebovitz

      We often see images of cuddly babies being hugged in cushy blankets but I’m reading a book right now that talks about the, um, mess that’s made when a baby is born. Kudos to you for helping others give birth…and doing it three times yourself! I’m always amazed that women can give birth considering what happens leading up to it, then the day of. Happy you like Drinking French and the accompanying videos, too! Reply

  • April 29, 2021 5:24pm

    Actually the title is The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia
    I was way off :)) Reply

  • Barry Albrecht
    April 29, 2021 5:25pm

    I just happen to have a pound of Impossible ground “meat” in the freezer.
    Will definitely give this a try this weekend. Reply

  • Susan Cavenagh
    April 29, 2021 5:35pm

    We live on an island in Canada, when we can get there!

    Many years ago one of our neighbors was a charming Turkish woman who made the best kofta! I ate them hot off the grill for years but could never duplicate her recipe. I finally figured out that grated onion juice was one of the secrets and the other was mixing in a tiny amount of baking soda and water – mixed together- about 1/4 teaspoon in about 2 tablespoons of water. Or a glug of soda water.

    This blog has inspired me to make kofta soon! Thank you! Reply

    • April 30, 2021 4:39pm
      David Lebovitz

      Some people also almost-puree the onions in a food processor for sausages like this, rather than chop them, which works well and adds a nice flavor. One could do that here but I know not everyone has a food processor, but it’s certainly a possibility. Didn’t know about the baking soda! Reply

  • usi
    April 29, 2021 5:48pm

    I’d like to second Anna Dibble’s comment. Over the past few years, we have reduced our meat intake significantly, eating vegetarian meals every second day or more often. This has definitely benefited our general health and sense of well-being. Admittedly, the change was easy as we are long-time fans of Ottolenghi and also Madhur Jaffrey, whose book World Vegetarian is a mine of vegetarian recipes from across the globe. Like Anna, I believe we will achieve more by moderating our eating habits than by adhering to a purely vegetarian diet. Reply

  • Mark Du Pont
    April 29, 2021 6:05pm

    I agree with Anna‘s comments, but I think in addition to over consumption it’s the way we raise animals for meat. If everyone would practice regenerative agriculture the wrongs we’ve inflicted on our earth would begin to heal. Thanks David – these look very tasty! Reply

  • Kim Heber-Percy
    April 29, 2021 6:15pm

    Loved this blog – thanks David. My partner doesn’t eat meat, so I don’t cook it for myself at home, and actually don’t miss it. I live in France too, and so am going to try this recipe with cooked lentils – I haven’t seen Beyond Meat here in Burgundy. Reply

  • Anne
    April 29, 2021 6:30pm

    These look delicious and are encouraging me to give Beyond Meat (which I keep eyeing in the case at Whole Foods) a try. Do you think they could be made and then frozen before cooking? I live alone so that’s a lot to get through when we still can’t have friends over for dinner! Reply

    • April 30, 2021 4:28pm
      David Lebovitz

      You could freeze them uncooked as well. Reply

  • Ramya
    April 29, 2021 6:31pm

    I can’t wait to try this recipe! I love Sabrina and her recipes and Persian food in general. This looks like a lovely vegetarian adaptation! And it’s so great that France has some along in terms of understanding and accepting vegetarianism, in contrast to how it was when I lived in Paris for 6 years. Reply

  • Julia
    April 29, 2021 6:39pm

    Always good to read the ingredients of these alternatives. Last time I looked Beyond Meat contained propyl glycol which is a petroleum distillate. Not for me, I will stick to lamb but eat less of it. Reply

  • DeniF-L
    April 29, 2021 6:52pm

    Watch Seapiracy on Netflix and then you might want to rethink the whole fish thing. Moving more and more to a plant based diet with meat being the splurge, not the norm. Love the recipe. Thanks so much for exploring the meatless options for those of us who want to go that direction but often get overwhelmed with doing it smartly and with proper health considerations. Reply

  • Gloria
    April 29, 2021 6:54pm

    I cannot wait for your tagdig results, as I have fallen into a fascination w the foods of the Levant. I hope you will continue to explore such! I love your work. You have such a gracious manner. Reply

  • Sally
    April 29, 2021 7:18pm

    What about a mixture of grilled eggplant and fresh tofu for the meat substitute? Je n’ai pas confiance aux ailments emballés puah. Your presentation alone makes this a must try! Reply

    • Kim Heber-Percy
      April 30, 2021 9:19am

      oh – great idea for eggplant and tofu – I’ll try that too – thanks. Reply

  • Nidhi shah
    April 29, 2021 8:04pm

    hi nice to see a recipe on the indian kofta .just to add in for the vegetarians, the meat portion can be substituted with grated bottle gourd which is mixed with chickpea flour and spices and coriander and deep fried and then served with tomato and yoghurt gravy. Reply

  • NickS
    April 29, 2021 8:49pm

    Thanks for sharing the recipe! Definitely going to try this soon as we have a 1lb package of meat substitute lurking in the freezer. Like many, we’re also omnivores that are trying to reduce the frequency and quantity of meat that we consume. The latter is a big one that isn’t talked about as much; you don’t need to have an entire huge chicken breast or a giant steak per person to scratch that itch. A small quantity can go a long way when sliced or diced and added to a dish and supplemented with hearty veggies (I often use 1/4 – 1/2 of the meat that a curry recipe will call for, and substitute in potato, bell pepper, green beans, etc. to keep it filling and not just sauce). Reply

  • Kathleen Fenn
    April 29, 2021 8:51pm

    Thank you. So delighted to see this vegetarian recipe. Will definitely try it tomorrow. I am in Sweden and there is a fantastic mince meat substitute on the market here. I haven’t eaten meat for 25 years and when I serve this to meat eating guests they always say it tastes no different from meat. There are two really good brands but I don’t know if it is allowable to name them here. Reply

    • April 29, 2021 10:08pm
      David Lebovitz

      Sure, you’re welcome to mention brands here. It’s interesting for people to know what’s out there and they do pertain to the subject. Reply

  • Allison
    April 29, 2021 8:54pm

    Thanks for including a vegetarian substitute recipe for kofta! Persian food is awesome and kudos to you for trying tahdig. Who would have imagined cooking rice would be so challenging?
    I haven’t eaten meat for 30 yrs now and try not to make the meat-eaters in my life feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless, my hope is that the planet will move toward farming less meat and that the meat that is harvested will be humanely and sustainably sourced. Reply

    • April 29, 2021 10:08pm
      David Lebovitz

      Tahdig is one of those things that’s more about technique than a recipe, as the heat of the stove, material of the pot, and time, can really vary so there are a lot of factors to consider. It’s something I think once you’ve made it a few times you get a feel for it…so I’m working on that! : ) Reply

  • Celesta
    April 29, 2021 9:17pm

    Hi, For a meat substitute for the Koftas, you can use seitan or mushrooms, or combine the two, just give them a whirl in the food processor. Also, Yamuna Devi (in The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking) uses a variety of veg -zucchini, chickpeas, spinach + cheese. The sky’s the limit! Reply

  • Ellen N.
    April 29, 2021 9:57pm

    Hi David,

    Thank you very much for your this post. I appreciate your thoughts on meat alternatives.

    The foods that commenters listed in response to Epicurious’ policy change regarding recipes including beef (almonds, quinoa, coconut oil, etc.). have a much smaller carbon footprint than beef. However, there is a discussion to be had.

    Whenever a food is designated as a “superfood” by people in wealthy nations, consumption increases exponentially. This tends to produce negative repercussions for the environment and for the people who produce the food. The Netflix documentary series, Rotten, provides several examples of this phenomenon.

    As always, a million thanks for your fantastic recipes and thoughtful commentary.

    Yours,

    Ellen Reply

    • April 29, 2021 10:06pm
      David Lebovitz

      A greater subject than all of this is how fortunate most of us are to have to luxury of making a selection of things to eat, which is not the case for many people. My general rule of eating is to eat what’s fresh if you can, and avoid overly processed foods. (Some have pointed out there meat-alternatives have a lot of questionable ingredients in them, although supermarket beef and meat does too.) I’ve been curious about these plant-based meat substitutes and it was interesting to try one. Reply

  • Vicki
    April 29, 2021 11:46pm

    The spices in this recipe sound like they would taste fantastic! I’m going to look into the book on Persian recipes as they greatly appeal – thank you for sharing this I too have been cutting down on beef and meat in general as here in the States they are raised inhumanely and processed irresponsibly. It would be beneficial to all were we to return to smaller, organic farms and methods. Here’s hoping that happens in the nearer future. Thanks David! Reply

  • Rachel
    April 29, 2021 11:47pm

    Thanks for featuring a veggie meat alternative – as a vegetarian of 35ish years I really appreciate it!

    I can’t wait to make these. I remember enjoying kofta as a kid when my family would get it at one of the numerous Yemeni restaurants in my neighborhood in Brooklyn in the 70s. Though I don’t remember any fruit in them. Reply

  • Nancy
    April 30, 2021 6:42am

    David,

    Thank you for your continuing blog and books. I enjoy them both very much.

    Unfortunately big business (corporate) farms/ranches have had a negative effect on the food we eat; quantity over quality. I grew up in a farming family. We raised corn for silage and grew alfalfa for hay to feed the cattle in the winter. They were put out on pasture and had winter wheat in ?winter. This was the norm for family farms during that period in Kansas.

    If you can support your local producers and those raising their products responsibly we will all be better off in the long run.

    Please don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Hard to recover what is lost. Reply

  • marta
    April 30, 2021 8:36am

    If you do not want to eat meat, great! But substitute it with procesed food…I do not understand anything! I love vegetables, no fake meat.
    For me is like Americans are always complicating everything food related.. Reply

    • April 30, 2021 2:11pm
      David Lebovitz

      I think a lot of people are trying to eat better and make better choices. But things have become complicated, in America as well as in most other developed countries around the world. (I personally feel so fortunate to have the luxury of being able to make choices!) These days, just buying a tomato can be complicated if you’re not buying it at a greenmarket or farmer’s market from a producer due to issues around how workers and pickers are treated, the environmental impact of shipping, who can afford what and why, etc.

      Many of us want to eat good food, but also want or need it to be reasonably priced. But how do we pay the people that produce food a workable wage? And while many people want to eat beef, if you want to buy sustainable meat or meat from a trusted source without all the stuff they put in the animals, the price of it is out of reach for quite a few people – and there are people that don’t want to pay for it. I think Americans are thinking about these things more and more and I see it in France as well, as people become more concerned about where their food comes from, and not only if it’s good for you health-wise, but good for our planet and our communities. I don’t know if I’d put “fake meat” on regular rotation in my cooking but I find it interesting and it was interesting to try it for myself and see – and taste – what it was like. Reply

  • Nima
    April 30, 2021 12:11pm

    Being a vegetarian boy am I thrilled with this recipe Reply

  • Mark
    April 30, 2021 1:55pm

    Completely agree! Thanks for your comment. Reply

  • Mom24
    April 30, 2021 4:38pm

    Thank you so much for responding to my comment. My kids are indeed the ages where I can gift them things and purchase what I’d like to have. I will look for a Le Creuset pan. Reply

  • April 30, 2021 5:48pm

    Yummy! David’s post popped up just as I was deciding what to make for dinner. I decided to use lamb for the first try of the recipe, will try Beyond Beef next time. Went with pine nuts, dried sour cherries, cilantro, and mint. Grilled on the Weber as it was a beautiful evening in Santa Barbara – wish I could post a picture! The keftas will definitely be part of our summer grilling. Thanks! Reply

  • Joycelyn
    April 30, 2021 8:43pm

    No offence to anyone who actually buys beyond meat but..
    We had a consumer alert segment on our evening news less than a month ago where they’d conducted a study via lots of testing on how many chemical additives were added to plant based meat substitutes with Beyond Meat scoring the highest with 22 chemical additives. One of those additives in beyond meat being the same chemical that’s used in anti-freeze.
    Honestly, I would never feed my family what amounts to a factory produced meat substitute loaded with chemicals that come with a warning label stating do not consume.
    There’s plenty of ideas and recipes via the internet or cook books out there for making a tasty meatless burger or other meatless dinners with very economical pulses/beans/legumes etc. rather than pay a ridiculous price for a chemically laden meat substitute.
    Where I am, 2 beyond meat patties cost anywhere between 6-8 dollars depending on if they might be on sale. That outrageous rip off price alone would have me wondering why anyone would even think to buy them. Reply

    • April 30, 2021 9:09pm
      David Lebovitz

      There are a lot of arguments on either side, ground beef vs. plant-based meat alternatives. I’ve read the list of ingredients in Beyond Meat and read what additives, and what else is in, supermarket ground beef. It’s a never-ending discussion so best if people come to their own conclusions and decisions. I occassionally eat things that have additives and are processed, and often buy meat from the butcher and I’m not sure where it’s from or how it’s been treated. But it’s nice that many of us have the luxury of choice in deciding what we want to eat.

      (Just to note that my 1-pound/450g pack of plant-based “meat” was $10 and I got 15 patties out of it, about 7 servings, so it ended up being not that expensive per serving. But I know some people have tight budgets and beef at the supermarket is half that, but is similar to the price of ground beef from sustainable butchers.) Reply

  • Rebecca
    May 1, 2021 1:01am

    As a Cajun who has said this phrase in English many times, it translates literally to “That gives me a craving.” Though, being Cajuns, we don’t say the *entire* thing in English. We say, “That gives me an envie.”

    Although, that is actually the way we use the word least often. We use it most commonly as, “I have an envie for…something.” And the 2nd most common way is when something almost completely misses the mark, but “It’s just good enough to satisfy the envie.”

    However, I do agree in this instance. Those photos give me an envie, as well. Reply

  • Rebecca
    May 1, 2021 1:11am

    That looks so fabulous. I love Middle Eastern food. I think I’ve had this with lamb, and I could just stuff myself with it. Reply

  • marilyninMontreal
    May 1, 2021 1:56pm

    As a dietitian-nutritionist, the topic of replacing meat with plants has been important to me throughout my practice in the field of nutrition and mental health that began long before this practice became fashionable especially in our profession’s ongoing objective to overcome food insecurity. I appreciate people’s effort to add new foods to their menu without judgement. A suggestion to combine high protein grains and pseudo-grains (amaranth, buckwheat, bulgur, quinoa) with binding vegetables (sweet potato, carrot) and David’s kefta spices, can minimize the concern of those chemical additives. Keep in mind that even the air we breath is a chemical. Reply

    • May 1, 2021 6:38pm
      David Lebovitz

      Most nutritionists usually advise having a variety of foods in your diet, as you mention, which is what I try to do. Occasionally I’ll have a package of M&M’s or a chocolate éclair, but for the most part I try to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, as well as some meat, tofu, poultry, and fish. Most of those foods have their pluses and minuses but as a reader pointed out a few years ago when a heated discussion was going on about some other food, whether you should eat it or not, she said something along the lines of, that the stress of worrying about it is probably just as bad, if not worse, than the effects of eating it. I don’t beat myself up for having potato chips, frozen pizza, or store-bought cookies sometimes, which aren’t the best things you can add to your diet, but they don’t make up a majority of my diet and I don’t fret about eat them on occasion. Reply

  • Dru
    May 1, 2021 4:25pm

    Thanks for trying out a meat alternative for this recipe and also engaging in this discussion. To me, some of the Beyond Meat products come off as too “chemically”. But I made this today with Beyond Beef (which in Switzerland is called Beyond Mince) and it was easy and worked out beautifully… will freeze the other half of the patties I made. Thank you also for all the recipes over the years! As I am from the US and living near France you’ve been a great guide for me :) Reply

  • Maria
    May 1, 2021 11:02pm

    Greek cuisine is actually one of the most vegetarian, vegan friendly cuisines you can find(poverty you see…). Instead of using a meat substitute that is processed, high in sodium and probably very energy intensive to produce, why not make some of the vegetable patties using grated zucchini, or tomatoes, or potatoes? Use your spices accordingly. Or just make it with meat, just eat it occasionally.
    David, I always enjoy your posts and this one opens a discussion on a very timely topic. Reply

    • May 1, 2021 11:13pm
      David Lebovitz

      I love Greek food! I do know that some people make kefta with lentils or other grains which are vegetarian, or can be. As a lover of grains, I would give one of those a go but I had heard a lot about these plant-based meat substitutes and thought I’d give them a try to be open-minded and to learn a little about them, as people sometimes ask me for advice or my opinion. So it was interesting to try it. Reply

  • TheLadyJAK
    May 2, 2021 1:35am

    I think I missed where the onions were to be added, I just did it with the spices. My stove had too many other projects going on so I threw these in the air fryer, and they came out perfect. Thanks for my lunches for the week! Reply

  • Jimbo
    May 2, 2021 9:54am

    david i have to say that i love your blog and that mid east food has been a passion to me for a long time but what i want to say next i hope will help you, but that i just found out that chicken mcnuggets are not made from baby chickens as many may think, thanks again david, and take care i wish that you would do more utube videos about some of your visits to certain places in Paris and other places in france, thanks from the OC in california, where the beaches are nice. Reply

  • Be in Portland
    May 3, 2021 6:21am

    I don’t see this mentioned in any of the comments, so perhaps the formula for Beyond Beef has changed, but the first and only time I tried it, the smell of the “meat” in its raw state was absolutely nauseating—like canned dog food gone bad. J.Kenji Lopez-Alt tackled this issue at some point, so it’s not just me. Cooked, the Beyond Beef completely lost that all-pervading odor, and was just fine, but I have opted since then for Impossible faux meat products.

    Switching gears, Ms. Shafia’s recipe for Persian Shepherd’s Pie (with tahdig) is a big hit with both kids and grown-ups. I’ve made it so often that it usually releases perfectly. But not always! I just reconstruct it when disaster befalls, maybe decorate it with a lot of parsley for the major fault lines.

    During this awful pandemic, your posts and newsletters have brought calm and fun into my life. Thank you so much for that. Reply

    • May 3, 2021 1:12pm
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks for pointing that out. I remember Kenji’s article in the NYT about plant-based meat substitutes, and he really pinpointed what they are good for, and what they’re not. Interestingly I came to the same conclusion (without all the testing); they work well for spiced, seasoned food that features umami and other seasonings/flavors, with sausages being a good use for them. (Bravo to Kenji for really doing the actual work and presenting it so well.)

      I finally nailed tahdig and will post that recipe shortly. But Samin Nosrat says that even Persian grandmothers have issues with tahdig and when they do, they just piece it back together and pretend they meant to make it that way ;)

      Glad you’ve been enjoying the posts and newsletters during this challenging year – ! Reply

  • Christine Czarnecki
    May 3, 2021 7:32pm

    Although I am not Iranian (try WASP), I have been cooking Persian food for decades. I am lucky enough to know three close Iranian friends, who have shared food at their tables and taught me much about their cuisine.

    First off, Persian cooking is not Arab cooking. I love them both, but just as German food is not French food, just being close by geographically is not the same as being similar ethnically or culinarily.

    Second, the dish you are cooking to get that delicious tahdig is called chelow. The tadhig is the crust on the bottom of the chelow. One of my friends taught me to make it with paper thin slices of potato, while others used pieces of lahvash (or here in California, flour tortillas), both put in with melted ghee or oil and a little water before you start layering back in the partially boiled rice.

    The kofteh recipe you have posted looks just delicious, and I will most certainly try it, but a note about one of the ingredients. Dried cranberries or currants are actually a substitute for the Persian ingredient, barberries (zereshk), which have a lemony-acidic, slightly sweet taste. They are really worth seeking out.

    The definitive cookbook author for Persian cooking in the United States is Najmieh Batmanglij. She is the Julia Child, the Marcella Hazan, of Persian cuisine. She is the oracle.

    She has been writing cookbooks on Persian cooking for decades, including my go-to, _New Food of Life_. She has also written a great one called _From Persia to Napa_, where she incorporates wine into new versions traditional Persian dishes. After all, she says, wine was an important part of the historic and ancient Persian cuisine before the advent of Islam, so she is going back to her deep culinary heritage.

    I am confident that there are enough Iranian emigres in Paris that you will find a local source of authentic ingredients for Persian food, but when you are back in the Bay Area, come down to visit Rose International Market in Mountain View. Bring an appetite, too, as they also sell beautiful cooked and grilled Persian foods to go as well. Reply

    • May 3, 2021 8:41pm
      David Lebovitz

      I didn’t say that Persian cooking was Arabic. (Not sure it’s relevant, but I’m Arabic on my mother’s side.) I quoted Reem Kassis, who wrote a book about what she calls Arabesque cooking (and an excellent book at that…) who talks about many cultures eating meat in bread (or carbs): Mexico, China, etc. You can read an interview here where she mentions there is overlap with Iran and Turkey with Arabesque food, which is natural since they’re neighbors. She also talks about how food from those regions changes and shifts. It’s a good read.

      I did mention barberries in the headnote of the recipe and encouraged people to try them. There are several Persian restaurants and épiceries in Paris on the rue des Enterpreneurs (I sometimes eat at Mazeh) but since people from various places in the world read the blog, and cook from it, I like to offer alternatives, as well as a mention of what might be traditionally used. Reply

  • Laura Corjan
    May 4, 2021 4:54pm

    Made this today with turkey breast mince – what a fantastic recipe! The flavours are wonderful and the smell in the kitchen quite intoxicating. Thank you, David for sharing this – also made the yoghurt & tahini sauce you suggested, sooo yum! Reply

  • Shira in L.A.
    May 5, 2021 4:37am

    Made this for dinner tonight using the other “popular brand” and found it quite simple to eyeball 1/4 less of each ingredient to work with the 12 oz package. The recipe made 7 patties, and we ate them with an herbed yogurt sauce. All 3 of us loved it! 13-year-old said he liked the bits of sweetness from the cranberries amidst the herbs and spices. We also eat all kinds of meat but are simply trying to eat less of it. Great recipe, thank you! Reply

  • Liraz
    May 6, 2021 12:35pm

    Hi David,
    i gave this a try today, I used beyond meat and it is divine! Really. We loved it very much. We will make it again for sure. Thank you! Reply

  • Ben
    May 10, 2021 3:27am

    I’ve enjoyed Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers, so I may try this. It looks very tasty.

    Like Sheila, I was amused by your comment on newborns. I teach college English and used to teach the poem “The Victory” by Anne Stevenson, which seems relevant here:

    “I thought you were my victory / though you cut me like a knife /
    / when I brought you out of my body/ into your life // Tiny antagonist, gory, / blue as a bruise. The stains / of your cloud of glory / bled from my veins. //How can you dare, blind thing, / blank insect eyes? / You barb the air. You sting / with bladed cries. // Snail. Scary knot of desires. / Hungry snarl. Small son. / Why do I have to love you? / How have you won?”

    Many students thought the speaker was disturbed to describe a newborn this way. To counter this, I would project a photograph of a screaming newborn covered in goop and then describe the way children hijack your life for 18+ years.

    Many things are messier than we acknowledge. Anyone who thinks “fake meat” is weird has probably never made homemade sausage or cut up a whole chicken. I have a particularly hard time with the latter. Reply

    • May 10, 2021 1:01pm
      David Lebovitz

      As a cook (and baker), I’m interested in new flavors and ingredients. Things like plant-based ‘milk’ ice creams and gluten-free foods have been mocked, but I like coconut milk, cornmeal, buckwheat, and polenta, etc. so don’t have a problem trying other things out, even molecular gastronomy, which one could also say is heavily-processed food. Part of what I do is to create and try things so was interested in “fake meat.” I’m often asked to weigh in on my opinion of these things since I get asked a lot about things like butter and flour substitutes so was happy to give it a try here. (On a side note, a few detractors noted Beyond Meat was twice the price of ground beef, which I guess is true if you buy supermarket meat. But I went to a butcher shop that only sells sustainable meat from small producers and the ground beef was priced between $10.99 and $14.99 per pound, depending on if it was grass-fed or pasture-fed.) And yes, having a baby sounds like a real ordeal. Kudos to all the women who have one through childbirth! Reply

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