“Ladies can grill too!” is what I thought while watching the men tend to the grill at one of my favorite Middle Eastern eateries recently. But after years of owning a charcoal grill and by default, having the husband maintain it, I figured it was about time this lady learned to worked some magic over the coals.
So we took an afternoon last weekend for my husband to educate me on charcoal grilling, and as suspected (ahem…) I’m a natural.
The technique is all about maintaining that close pile of coals, yet having enough room so oxygen can circulate and produce fire. It may sound a bit scary, but I really had a blast. I so carefully placed the starter snugly in between coals and waited in anticipation until the coals got about 90% gray and chalky. At this point I knew my heat level was perfect and grilled kofta and vegetables were the perfect introduction to my new cooking challenge.
The kofta grilled perfectly and maintained it’s crimped shape and the eggplant and tomatoes charred and softened beautifully. After everything was cooked, I placed the meat on top of pita bread in proper Turkish fashion, so that all the meat juice soaked into the bread. The flavor of freshly charred eggplant from robust coals and smoke is like no other.
And to all my ladies (or anyone looking for a new cooking challenge) – go ahead and get those hands dirty grilling some delicious meat. The men shouldn’t get to have all the fun.
For the kofta and veggies:
3/4 lb ground beef
¼ lb ground lamb
2-3 Tbsp grated onion (about 1/2 of an onion), excess liquid removed
Small bunch of fresh mint and parsley, chopped finely
1/4 tsp Turkish red pepper (or any red pepper for spice)
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp sumac
1 Tbsp tomato paste
Salt, to taste (right before grilling)
2 small eggplants, cut in half
For the tahini sauce:
½ cup tahini paste
¼ cup water (may not use all of it)
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 lemon, juiced and zest
1 Tbsp olive oil
Pinch of cayenne
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a bowl, combine ground meats and all the spices and herbs except for the salt. Use a light touch to mix everything well so spices are evenly incorporated. Place plastic wrap over the bowl and allow to sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
When ready, season meat mixture with salt and mix again. I chose to salt the last minute so it doesn’t draw the moisture out as it marinates.
Using metal skewers (or wood ones that are soaked), take ¼ of the mixture and form into an oval shape. Place meat on the skewer and use your hands to firmly press the kofta onto the skewer into a long, oval and flat shape. You can also your use fingers to form crimps for texture and looks.
Lightly oil the grill (or indoor grill pan, if using) and on medium-high heat, grill the kofta until the first side is lightly charred (about 4-5 minutes), then turn over and continue cooking the other side.
As meat cooks, lightly oil vegetables and place on grill until they are charred and softened.
When done, place koftas on pita bread so meat juices can soak into the bread.
To serve, drizzle tahini sauce over kofta and vegetable sand serve with pita bread and lemon wedges.
To make tahini sauce:
Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend well. The texture should resemble honey and not be too thick.
Add more or less water for desired consistency.
Taste for seasoning. Store extra in an airtight container in the fridge for several weeks.