Kufteh is the term Iranians use to describe meatballs. However, unlike meatballs from most other cultures, Persian meatballs are not primarily about the meat! As a matter of fact, most Persian meatballs incorporate many other elements. A variety of grains including rice, as well as a wide range of beans and lentils, fresh herbs, nuts and dried fruits, and even whole hard-boiled eggs, find their way into this traditional dish.
As with most of Persian cuisine, each region has a different twist on Kufteh. A well-recognized and cherished meatball is from the city of Tabriz, and features dried fruits, herbs, nuts and the signature hard-boiled eggs buried inside. Cutting into this meatball to unveil the prized egg in the center is truly a treat!
There is really no middle ground when it comes to the size of Persian meatballs, which cover the opposite ends of the spectrum. They are either ginormous Kufteh the size of an orange, or they are tiny petite and extremely time-consuming Ghel Gheli or Kal-leh Gonijishki that are the size of a large hazelnut. Either way, you won’t regret trying them!
When it comes to ingredients, Kufteh are quite versatile. Though of course they normally have meat in them, they can also be adapted to become a delightfully flavorful vegetarian meal. So the next time you feel like having baseball-sized meatballs, consider adding some of the following ingredients to personalize them according to your own tastes and preferences. The only thing to keep in mind is that you will likely need to adjust the eggs and flour in the recipe to make sure that there are enough binders to keep the meatballs intact.
Nuts and seeds
- walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
Herbs and Spices
- parsley, cilantro, tarragon, basil, mint, dill, savory, green onions, leeks, chives
- cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, rose petals, ginger, chili powder, sumac
- Brown rice, red rice, bulgur, oats, quinoa, millet, amaranth
- Apricots, apples, raisins, barberries, plums, dates, cranberries
- 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
- 1 cup fava beans, fresh or frozen
- 6 cups water
- 1 tablespoon salt, divided
- 1 pound ground beef, or lamb, chicken, turkey
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
- 1 teaspoon turmeric, ground
- 1 teaspoon cumin, seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
- 1 medium onion, grated
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 stems green onions, finely chopped
- 1 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup tarragon, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons rice flour
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper, flakes
- 1 teaspoon turmeric, ground
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin, ground
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 medium tomatoes
- 4 cups water, or chicken broth
- 1 fresh lime, juiced
- Bring 6 cups of water and 2 teaspoons of salt to a boil. Add the rice and cook for about 5 minutes before adding the fava beans. Continue to boil for an additional 5 minutes until the beans and rice have slightly softened.
- Strain the rice and beans, and rinse with cool water.
- In a large mixing bowl combine the cooked rice and beans with the remainder of the ingredients.
- Mix well with your hands until you have a reasonably smooth texture with some elements of beans and rice still visible.
- Divide the meatballs into 6 equal pieces and form each piece into a smooth round meatball. These are large meatballs!
- Set aside.
- Select a pot large enough for the 6 large meatballs to get cooked in a single layer.
- In this pan, saute the onions with olive oil for 10 minutes on medium high heat.
- Add the spices, stir and continue to saute for about 2 minutes.
- Add the remaining ingredients, stir and bring back to a boil.
- Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Stove top cooking (option 1)
- Gently place the meatballs in the pot one at a time, taking extra care to not disturb the meatballs too much.
- Using a spoon, splash some of the sauce over the meatballs.
- Bring the mixture back to a gentle simmer and continue to cook on medium heat, uncovered for 30 minutes.
- Reduce the flame to low, cover and cook for another 40-45 minutes. Be sure to splash more of the sauce over the meatballs a couple of times during this cooking process.
- During this time the broth will reduce and become more flavorful. Adjust the seasoning as needed.
- Turn the heat off and allow the meatballs to sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Oven baking (option 2)
- Preheat the oven to 425 °F.
- Select an oven-safe pyrex dish that can fit the large meatballs and lightly brush with olive oil.
- Gently place the meatballs in the pan and lightly brush each meatball with more olive oil.
- Place the tray in the oven and bake uncovered for 15 minutes to help the meatballs lightly brown and keep their shape.
- Slowly pour the broth over the meatballs and bake uncovered for 30 minutes.
- Splash some of the broth over the meatballs before tightly sealing the pan with a piece of foil. Bake for an additional 30 minutes.
- Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning before serving.
- Serve the meatballs with Persian flat breads, and a side of yogurt and Torshi (Persian pickled vegetables).