Monday, June 11, 2012

Turkey Kofta with Marinated Mushrooms

As elegant as that photo may look, this tends to be my ‘go-to’ weeknight quickie meal. My youngest daughter, aka, the blonde banshee, loves this dish. It is guaranteed to bring calm to the dinner table – a very good thing. Another thing I like is that I spice it up with cumin, coriander, fennel, and even cayenne and despite all the exotic heat going on, the kids tuck into it as if it were a mcnugget. Happy days indeed.
In any event, I call this a kofta although that term gets bandied about quite a bit. Sometimes it refers to a sort of Asiatic meat ball, other times it is a skewer with lamb mince molded around it. I build mine in the latter sense. The original recipe is typically made with lamb, but it is both expensive and rich for a weeknight, so I opted for ground turkey instead: a delicious alternative. This is one of those recipes with a sort of ‘secret’ ingredient. Maybe it’s secret because it brings me a bit of shame; I crumble soda cracker into the mince. I thought of this because I know that Italian meatballs invariably contain some kind of breadcrumb filler. This holds the ball together and also hangs on to some of the fat and moisture, promising a shirt-staining juicy bite. Given that the original recipe involved lamb and had Middle-Eastern flair to it, I thought about what kind of fillers might be region-specific to the same effect. I thought of the Jewish unleavened bread mozza– the stuff that goes in mozza ball soup. I didn’t have mozza, but I had soda crackers – a close enough facsimile. The rest is history. The dish is simply not the same without the soda crackers. (I’ve even used bashed-up Triscuit to fine effect)
I accompanied the kofta with marinated mushrooms which were sweet, sour and hot, maybe too hot for the little ones. So the kids had couscous, which is always a hit, but a bitch to sweep up after dinner.
Turkey Kofta
400 g of ground turkey
A small handful of pistachio nuts (that have been dry roasted)
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp whole fennel seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp of cayenne (optional)
3 or 4 unsalted soda crackers
1 egg
Some olive oil
Salt and pepper

Put all the spices and the soda crackers in a pestle and mortar and bash them up into a crumbly powder. Then put in the pistachio nuts and give them only a light bashing so that there is still some texture to them. Season this spice mix generously with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Whisk the egg and get it into a large mixing bowl. Then follow that with your spice/cracker mix and then get the ground turkey in there too. Drizzle a trickle of olive oil into the bowl and a little on your hands, then start smooshing it all together so that everything is well combined. (I use gloves for this – but you don’t have to). Put the turkey mix in the fridge to firm up a bit – it’s easier to handle that way. About ten minutes will suffice. Then, take it out of the fridge get some large skewers and start shaping the turkey mix into sort of ‘log’ shapes around the skewers. The picture will show an approximation of what you are looking for. It’s a bit finicky to do this part, but just take your time and you’ll get it. Never pick the skewer up by the handle as the weight of the meat will probably cause it to fall off – you must cradle the kofta. Once you’ve got it on the skewers (you’ll get about three good-sized skewers), back into the fridge to firm up again (take this time to clean up and prep your side dishes). After about five or ten minutes, you can get them on to a well oiled grill at medium to medium-low heat. Take your time and just let them cook slowly as they are a little delicate in the beginning. Once one side has cooked through a bit, it will become more firm, so you can start turning them with more confidence. To turn, just gently roll them over at a one-quarter turn. You’ll do this four times and, because of this technique, they actually acquire squared sides – an aesthetically interesting thing to eat. They will probably require about three minutes per side, give or take – about 12 to 15 minutes in total. Feel free to tear a little meat off the end to make sure they’re cooked.
I served this with marinated mushrooms. Take a zip lock bag and pour in about 2 tbsp of good strong olive oil, 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar, a solid pinch of dried oregano, a tbsp of jarred Italian chilies, salt and pepper and then tumble some button mushrooms into the bag. Massage the mushrooms and the marinade together until well distributed and refrigerate for about 20 minutes. Then get those ‘shrooms onto their own skewers and grill on high heat for about ten minutes, turning once or twice.
Make sure you provide garlicky, mint-spiked Greek yogurt for dipping.
Please try this dish. It is deceptively easy to prepare and decidedly yum. Do not omit the soda crackers.

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