Beef kafta is a traditional Middle Eastern (Lebanese) style dish that’s packed with flavor yet so simple to make. Typically served as kabobs, this recipe goes great with a side of rice, a tomato cucumber salad and sprinkling of feta or dollop of hummus.
I talked about my post-college apartment in New Haven, CT before in this gluten-free tabbouleh recipe.
In fact, that recipe would be a delicious side dish to these beef kafta kabobs.
It was the city that opened my eyes to Middle Eastern cuisine (despite actually being 25% Middle Eastern – Syrian or Iraqi we think but my dad’s ancestry is confusing so that’s a whole other story).
At Mamoun’s in New Haven, I not only ate falafel and tabbouleh though, I was also introduced to the wonders of beef kafta.
Aka a weird oblong skewer of meat.
WHAT IS KAFTA?
Firstly, let’s get the spelling variations out of the way.
Kafta is also called kefta or kofta. They’re all interchangeable and mean the same thing.
When referenced as “kafta” it’s usually Lebanese in origin.
Kofta is more typically used in reference to other middle eastern countries and India. And don’t confuse it with korma, that’s an Indian dish quite different from this.
So regardless which spelling you use, think of kafta in a few ways: Lebanese meatloaf, meatballs or even a hamburger.
At its most basic form, kafta is just a mixture of ground meat formed into a ball (usually when Indian) or oblong shape (usually middle eastern).
Its classic oblong appearance and unique spices is what sets it apart from those “American” meals and when served as a kabob (like it normally is), it’s just more fun to eat!
Kafta can technically be any type of ground meat so it’s not specific to beef. Although beef is probably the most common.
You may see lamb kafta or chicken kafta as well. Either meat can be substituted for the ground beef in this recipe.
The beauty of kafta is how truly simple it is to make.
Any kafta (regardless of meat) is just a mixture of fresh herbs, spices and onion.
The mixture is combined using your hands and then shaped into an almost cigar-like shape. It can be skewered or not when cooked.
Typically, kafta is served with hummus and pita (like many street foods would be) but, you can also make it more of a meal too with some rice, a quick tomato cucumber salad and garnishes such as feta and olives.
WHAT DOES KAFTA TASTE LIKE?
The easiest thing to liken the taste of kafta to is a middle eastern meatball.
In fact, some say it might actually be the original meatball. (source)
Prepared well, kafta is juicy and moist with an incredibly delicious bite.
The spice blend used in the meat mixture really sets it apart from other cuisines’ meatballs, etc. It’s both aromatic and flavorful.
Whereas meatballs are more texturally soft from the use of breadcrumbs and sometimes even milk, kafta is more firm (which is why it can easily be skewered).
INGREDIENTS TO MAKE BEEF KAFTA
The ingredients you’ll need for this kafta recipe are very simple which is what makes this meal so approachable!
- ground beef
- yellow onion
- garlic cloves
- fresh parsley
- Kosher salt
- black pepper
As you’ll see, the ingredient list is mostly spices, all of which you probably have on hand.
If you don’t happen to have sumac, grate some fresh lemon zest into the mixture in its place.
Besides this list, you’ll also need some skewers for the grill if you want to make kafta kabobs.
If using wooden skewers, make sure to soak them in water for about 30 minutes before shaping the beef mixture onto them so they don’t burn on the grill.
GRILLED BEEF KAFTA RECIPE
To make the beef kafta, place the ground beef in a large mixing bowl.
Add the onion, parsley and garlic to a food processor and process, scarping the sides down as necessary until very finely minced.
Take the mixture past the point of a fine mince to where the onions start to give off their water and the mixture is a tiny bit watery.
Traditionally, the onion is grated for kafta but I find the food processor approach much easier and quicker.
Add the onion mixture to the beef in the bowl along with all the spices.
Using clean hands, mix together all the ingredients until very well combined.
Cover with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator for 10 minutes while you preheat the grill.
Preheat an outdoor grill (or indoor grill pan) to medium-high heat (about 450-500°F) and lightly grease the grates. It’s best to use a higher smoke point oil for this such as avocado oil.
Remove beef mixture from the fridge and shape into an oblong form about 4-5 inches long and 1-2 inches wide on a skewer. Repeat with remaining mixture.
Gently place the beef kafta kabobs on the preheated grill and let cook for about 6-8 minutes.
At this point, the kabobs should pull away from the grate easily and have grill marks on the bottom.
Flip onto the other side and grill for another 3-4 minutes until the beef is cooked through.
Remove the kafta kabobs to a dish and let rest for a few minutes.
Pour any accumulated juices from the dish over the kabobs before serving.
Garnish with additional fresh parsley.
TIPS TO MAKE THE BEST BEEF KAFTA KABOBS
- Use a high quality beef (or whatever ground meat you’re using) – grass-fed, organic meat that’s about 15% lean is my preference. Too much fat content gets messy on the grill, too lean a blend tends to dry out. This recipe is similar to meatloaf in that regard.
- Don’t overcook the kabobs – much like a good hamburger, kafta shouldn’t be overcooked. Aim for medium-rare to medium off the grill to enjoy the juicy taste of the beef kafta.
- Form the beef kafta into even shapes – even kafta kabobs will cook evenly. I use a food scale to weigh the mixture before forming onto the skewers and divide it by how many skewers I have so each one is the same size.
- Refrigerate the mixture before skewering – the little bit of time in the refrigerator really helps firm up the kafta mixture making it easier to skewer.
CAN BEEF KAFTA BE MADE IN THE OVEN?
If you don’t want to grill the kafta (or it’s the middle of winter), you can use an indoor grill pan on the stove-top or, make this in the oven instead.
For oven baked beef kafta, skip the skewers and just form the beef mixture into an oblong shape with your hands then place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake at 350-375°F for about 18-20 minutes until cooked through turning the kafta half way through baking.
The flavor of beef kafta on the grill is preferable but the oven will work just as well!
Beef kafta would also be great to serve in a bowl.
Similar to this burger in a bowl recipe, layering the brown rice, tomato cucumber salad, hummus and toppings such as olives and feta into a bowl with the beef kafta makes this a fun meal to enjoy.
I’ve made a lot of skewered meats and kabobs like Indian steak kabobs, tart cherry ahi tuna kabobs and smoky grilled lamb kebabs but these beef kafta kabobs are the definite winner when it comes to ease of preparation.
With just 10 minutes of preparation and 10 minutes of grilling, you have a deliciously authentic middle eastern meal that’s not only a delight to your tastebuds but genuinely healthy as well!
WHAT TO SERVE WITH BEEF KAFTA
Outside of the recommendations throughout, here are some ideas for serving this dish:
- Turmeric rice – try the turmeric rice from this coconut pork with turmeric rice recipe as a more flavorful option to plain rice.
- Bulgur wheat salad – bulgur wheat is the grain used in tabbouleh and while not a traditional tabbouleh, this salad is a great accompaniment to kafta using authentic middle eastern ingredients. Or, go for a higher protein and fiber version with this lentil tabbouleh recipe.
- Simple summer corn and tomato salad – more American in origin but still a still deliciously light side salad to serve along kafta, use ripe summer tomatoes to make this easy salad!
- Lemon herb tahini dressing – not a fan of hummus or feta? Or, just want even more delicious toppings for the beef? This tahini based dressing is easy, delicious and fits right in with the middle eastern vibe of kafta!
Beef Kafta Kabobs
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 small yellow onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon sumac
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon allspice
- Place ground beef in a large bowl.
- Add onion, garlic and parsley to a food processor and process until very finely minced scraping down sides as needed. Mixture should almost start to liquefy (just past the point of a very fine mince).
- Transfer the onion mixture to the bowl with the beef and add all the spices.
- Mix well using clean hands until all the ingredients are fully incorporated. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for 10 minutes while you preheat the grill.
- Preheat an outdoor grill to medium high heat (450-500°F) and lightly grease the grates with a high smoke point oil like avocado oil.
- Remove the beef mixture from the refrigerator and form the beef into an oblong shape on skewers (*see note). Using 6 to 8 skewers, repeat until beef mixture is used up.
- Carefully place each skewer on the preheated and greased grill. Grill for about 6-8 minutes.
- Gently flip skewers when meat pulls away from the grates easily and grill marks have formed on the bottom. Grill on the other side for an additional 3-4 minutes until cooked through.
- Transfer the kabobs to a plate and let rest for a few minutes before serving.
- Pour any accumulated juices over the kabobs when serving and enjoy with your favorite sides.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.
Gina Matsoukas is the writer, founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients as much as possible. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.