Chicken and Quinoa Kefta

Recipe and photo by Tami Ganeles Weiser Yield:  8 servings
Prep Time:  15 minutes Cook Time:  30 minutes

Chicken and Quinoa Kefta

Kefta, kefte, or kofta, a torpedo shaped meatball, is common throughout the Middle East. Fried or skewered and grilled, heavily spiced or mild, kefta are traditionally made with lamb and extra lamb fat for moisture. This version is seared and braised in the oven to create a glaze. The technique is based on Paula Wolfert’s Lamb Kofta Kebabs in her Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking book. I prefer to use za’atar spice blend, which is an unusual choice for a kefta, but you can choosing another spice mix to vary the flavor to your taste, such as baharat or ras al hanout.

Ingredients

2 pounds ground chicken, dark meat preferred

1½ cups cooked red quinoa (preferably cooked in chicken stock), plus 1½ cups for serving

3 large egg yolks, plus 1 large egg

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons

½ cup coarsely grated spanish or red onion (approximately 1 medium onion), rinsed in cold water 3 times, well drained and squeezed dry

½ cup minced Italian flat parsley, squeezed dry, plus 1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley for garnish

8 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane or finely minced

Zest of ½ lemon

2 tablespoons za’atar spice mix

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup finely chopped walnuts or pine nuts, preferably toasted

1 cup chicken stock, low sodium

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (we use Alwadi brand)

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Optional garnish:

Pomegranate seeds from 1 pomegranate

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl add the chicken, 1½ cups cooked quinoa, the egg yolks and whole egg, 1 tablespoon oil, the onions, ½ cup parsley, the garlic, lemon zest, za’atar, salt, pepper, and ½ cup walnuts. With cold wet hands, mix the ingredients together until well combined, kneading until smooth. Rinse hands well, then with cold wet hands, shape the meat in 8 to 10 football or torpedo shapes.
  3. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in an ovenproof skillet or pan over high heat. Add the koftas in batches, without crowding the pan, and brown on all sides, about 2 minutes each side. When all of the koftas are browned, remove the pan from heat and arrange koftas in one layer in the pan.
  4. Mix the chicken stock, pomegranate molasses, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Drizzle over the kofte. Transfer kofte to the oven and cook, uncovered, until completely cooked through and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve over extra quinoa with the sauce.

Kitchen Tips

This pairs nicely with simple roasted sweet potatoes, sauteed greens, and warm pita bread.

Generally speaking chopped protein should be handled with care and never overworked. Kefta is an exception to that rule. It is often worked extensively, so blend it well.

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