Kufta is an Armenian specialty dish that you really must learn to make at the elbow of someone who knows how, but if you do know how and are just not sure about ingredient quantities, here’s my most recent method:
Make the filling balls a few days ahead and freeze.
- 1 lb. ground lamb
- 4-6 yellow onions (enough to fill my largest skillet), chopped into approximately 1/2″ size pieces in Cuisinart. Be very careful not to over process the onions. They need to be chopped, not macerated.
- 3 cubes butter, 4 if the lamb is very lean.
- 1/2 tsp salt.
- Dried Basil–to taste, but at least 2 tablespoons
Melt the butter in a very large skillet and brown the lamb gently over medium heat in the butter, chopping it into every smaller pieces. The best tool for this is a Chinese Wok Chuan/spatula/turner. When the lamb is uniformly brown, stir in the onion. The skillet should be completely full. Begin cooking and stirring the meat and onions, reducing the heat as needed to prevent scorching of the onions. Cook until the onions are greatly reduced in volume, transparent and no longer sending off much steam. As you stir this filling, use the Wok Chuan to cut pieces of onion that are too large if you find any. You cannot walk away from Kufta filling. It takes well over an hour of constant stirring for the filling to reach the right consistency because you cannot allow it to brown. Once you are satisfied that the onions are cooked down as far as they will go before disintegrating, add the basil and salt to taste. Stir this thoroughly off the heat and place in a dish with a tight fitting lid and allow to cool a bit before covering and placing in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, form the inner filling balls and place them on a wax-paper covered cookie sheet(s). Cover gently with waxed paper and then with foil, sealing well. Freeze these pre-made filling balls thoroughly. Overnight is best. They can hold in the freezer for a few days, but no more than a week or they will start to dry out and get freezer burn.
Keyma, or outer covering:
- 3 lbs. leanest available ground beef, passed through the grinder a second time. The butcher will complain about doing this but it makes ALL the difference. He will tell you that the meat is already finely ground. Just smile and ask him to please pass it through the grinder once again because you are making something special that requires the meat to be almost paste-like in its consistency. If he tells you that you will lose some of your 3 pounds of beef to the grinder as it passes through, let him sell you a quarter pound extra.
- 3/4 cup fine bulgur
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/3-1/2 cup water for mixing into the meat and more for dipping your hands while forming the meatballs
Mix all of this together very well, kneading in water as needed to achieve the proper texture of Keyma. This cannot be described, it can only be shown. You must knead the Keyma thoroughly and notice the way the texture changes as the bulgur absorbs water and the meat responds to the kneading. If you’ve made kufta before, you can see and feel when the texture is right. If you have not made kufta before, all I can say is that I hope you have a sweet Armenian grandma nearby to show you how to make it like I did. Once the Keyma has achieved the proper texture, remove the frozen filling balls from the freezer and begin forming the Keyma in a consistent layer around the outer surface of the frozen filling balls. Usually the ideal is to use a volume of Keyma approximately equal to the volume of the filling ball. I form a flat patty in my hand, place the frozen filling on top and gently form the Keyma around the frozen filling. A more traditional method is to form the Keyma into a ball and hollow out the center with the thumb of your opposite hand. I have never been able to get this technique to work. After you form the Keyma around the filling, use water to seal any edges together and smooth the surface of the Kufta. Then place on another waxed paper-covered cookie sheet. Work quickly as the frozen balls will begin to soften. If they are frozen on more than one cookie sheet, only remove one sheet from the freezer at a time. Having the filling balls made ahead and frozen makes the job of forming the Kufta much easier than the old method where the filling was only refrigerated and not frozen and you formed each filling ball as needed for each portion of Keyma. That tip came from Ernie Darpinian via the Fresno Armenian Church Ladies. The tip of using beef for the Keyma came from Laura Basmajian.