Koofteh (Kufteh) Tabrizi is very famous in Iran, it originates in Tabriz (my hometown). Tabrizis are known to make the best Koofteh Tabrizi, because after all when a food is named after your city, it has to be worth that honor! I have had many koofteh Tabrzis in my life and have made quite a few myself, and I dare say this is the best! Cooking Koofteh takes some work and I am very grateful to my talented niece who has given me this recipe and has been there to answer the questions that I had when I made her very special Koofteh Tabrizi for the first time. What you will learn from this lengthy tutorial is that it is not just the ingredients but the technique that makes this Koofteh one of a kind. The taste is divine and the texture is incredibly light and moist.
Ever since I posted a picture of this Koofteh Tabrizi to Instagram and Facebook a few weeks ago I have received many requests for this recipe. So I think with Nowruz (Persian New Year) around the corner this will be my early “Eydi” (Nowruz gift) to say Thank You to all my lovely readers who appreciate my work and enjoy my recipes. This is not a quick and effortless recipe but you and all the lucky people whom you cook for will love it, and that is a promise!
Koofteh Tabrizi is a super meatball stuffed with dried fruits and berries, also a variety of nuts. There are some other interesting fillings for this very traditional Azeri dish that are worth mentioning. One very common item is a peeled hard boiled egg that is placed inside the koofteh along with nuts and dried fruit. The yellow cooked yolk surrounded by a ring of white makes a pretty presentation when you cut into the koofteh, so you might give this a try if you like. I personally prefer not to, simply because I think it takes up the space that I can fill with my favorite dried fruits and nuts that are more flavorful.
The other two choices for stuffing are almost unbelievable. I have never had either one of them myself, but I figure I should share these fun facts with you. Some cooks stuff one whole cooked chicken inside a koofteh. An even larger stuffing is a whole turkey! The latter koofteh can weigh up to 60 plus pounds. Keep in mind that each koofteh in my recipe weighs about one pound.
The delicious broth that you see in the picture is mixed with pieces of Sangak or other flat bread and then it is called “Tilit.” The koofteh has to cook in very little sauce otherwise it will fall apart. When the koofteh is ready the sauce is reduced to only about a cup or so. To make enough broth for the Tilit, a thin sauce is made separately and the reduced (thickened) sauce is added to it to create an amazing soup. When the pieces of bread soak up all of this broth, you will have what is called “Tilit,” with a melt in the mouth texture and an outstanding flavor.
Day 1: Ground beef, pieces of onion and cooked split peas are processed by a meat grinder attachment or a food processor until uniform and paste like. The rice and bulgur are cooked in water with some salt, turmeric and butter until most of the liquid is cooked off and the grains are tender but firm inside. In a large bowl the meat mixture, cooked rice mixture, eggs and spices are mixed until blended. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
DAY 2: Peel and slice 2 large yellow onions. Fry the onions in butter until golden brown. You will be dividing these fried onions and use them in the sauces (for cooking the koofteh and for the Tilit sauce), for filling, and for the garnish. Prepare the sauce (according to the recipe) in a large 12-inch stockpot or divide the recipe and make it in two 10-inch stockpots. Bring it to a slow boil, then turn off the heat and set it aside until all the Koofteh(s) are stuffed.
Add herbs and salt to the refrigerated ingredients. Knead the Koofteh mixture with your hands several times to blend well. Then comes the part that name Koofteh (to be beaten) comes from: Pick up handfuls of the ingredients, raise it above the level of the bowl and throw it back in the bowl (as you can see I had a pair of helping hands for this part!) Repeat this with the rest of the batter. This picking and throwing down will be done several times until you have a smooth paste that easily sticks together and will not fall apart when you pick it up in your hand.
Use a 10-ounce bowl to divide the paste into 6 equal meatballs. Divide one of the meatballs in two
Have the fillings ready for 6 koofteh. Have a small bowl of water near your work station. Add 1/2 tablespoon water to the same 10-ounce bowl that you have used for making the meatballs. Add one half of the meatball in the bowl and use your fingers to spread it in the bottom and all the way up the sides of the bowl.
Add a handful of the filling to the bowl. Cover the top with the other half of the ball. Press the top with the palm of your hand so the ingredients in the bowl stick together.
Invert the bowl and tap it a few times on the palm of your hand to release the meatball. Pass the meatball from hand to hand 5-6 times until there is no visible seam. Repeat this with all of the meat balls. Bring the prepared sauce to a low boil over medium low heat, or a little higher to maintain a low boil.
Gently slip the stuffed Koofteh one by one into the sauce that is gently boiling. Do Not move or turn the koofteh at any point after you put them in the sauce. The sauce should be boiling gently so the koofteh starts cooking and setting, as soon as it is placed in the sauce. Add the rest of the koofteh(s), there will be almost no space between them and it is okay. While maintaining a low boil cook the koofteh without covering it for 30 minutes. By the end of this time the koofteh will start changing color and the top will feel firmer to touch. Baste the tops with some of the broth, lower the heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer for the koofteh for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Baste the tops a few times during this cooking time. At the end of this time the sauce will have a clear layer of oil rising to the top. This is called “be roghan oftadan” or “ja oftadan,” and it means your long awaited Koofteh Tabrizi is cooked. Turn off the heat and let koofteh sit in the pot for about 15 minutes. Most of the liquid in the pot will be absorbed by the koofteh(s) and there will be some thick sauce left in the bottom of the pot. You will be removing all the koofteh plus the thick sauce out of the pot. Next, a thin sauce is made and mixed with half or all of the thick sauce, depending on how many koofteh(s) you decide to serve . You have the option to either serve all 6 Koofteh or serve 3 and freeze the rest.
*For the rest of serving and/or freezing instructions I will refer you to the recipe section.
To serve, transfer the Koofteh Tabrizi(s) to the serving platter. Sprinkle the top with optional ground saffron and ground cinnamon, then add a tablespoon or two of fried onion and barberry mixture. The tasty broth is served separately in a bowl. Bite size pieces of Sangak (Persian flat bread) are torn and tossed in the bowl to soak up all the flavorful broth. The other possible choices for bread are lavash and pita bread. As most Persian food we serve Sabzi Khordan (assortment of fresh herbs with radishes), Torshi (pickled vegetables), Torshi Sir (pickled whole garlic) and Piaz (onion). Now that we have everything ready, Let’s Eat!
This is what I have been waiting to show you! this is what Koofteh Tabrizi looks like when you cut into one. Only if you could taste these delicious spices, berries and nuts all stuffed inside an equally delicious giant meatball! Just remember, if you use dried Albaloo (sour cherries) like I do, warn everyone about the pits, unless you are able to buy ones already pitted.
p.s. If you try this recipe or any of my other recipes please make a comment on the post and let me know about your experience.
You will need a meat grinder or a food processor for this recipe
Part of the koofeth ingredients are mixed and refrigerated overnight, and then the rest of the ingredients are mixed in the next day
A 10 ounce bowl is used as a scoop for making the Koofteh(s)
- KOOFTEH INGREDIENTS, TO BE ADDED (DAY 1)
- 2 ¼ pounds ground beef (about 85% lean)
- ½ cup yellow split peas (slow cooking peas preferred), cooked with water and ¼ tsp salt
- 1 cup Calrose short grain rice and ½ cup bulgur (cooked with 1 cup water, ¼ tsp turmeric, ¼ tsp salt, 1 TBSP butter)
- 2 medium yellow onions (about ¾ pounds), cut each into 8 pieces
- 2 large eggs
- 1 ¼ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- KOOFTEH INGREDIENTS, TO BE ADDED (DAY 2)
- 1 ¼ cups thinly sliced garlic chives (tareh), or green part of scallions
- 1 ½ TBSP crushed dried summer savory (marzeh), if unable to find it just leave it out.
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp saffron powder
- A small bowl of water, will be used in half tablespoons for shaping the koofteh
- 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced and fried to golden brown preferably in butter (about 10 ounces fried onions, divided)
- THE FILLING FOR 6 KOOFTEH:
- 2 ounces of the fried onions that you've already made
- 1 TBSP tomato paste (to be mixed with friend onion)
- ⅓ cup barberries (zereshk)
- 18 walnut halves
- 12 small apricots
- (Per Koofteh)- 1 TBSP each of: Dried cherries, cranberries, albaloo (sour cherry)
- THE SAUCE:
- 4 ounces of the fried onions that you have already made
- 2 TBSP tomato paste
- 1 TBSP butter
- ⅛ tsp saffron
- 2 ¾ cups hot water
- ¾ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- A light sprinkle of ground cinnamon
- A dash of saffron
- Zereshk (Barberry) and fried onion mixture (use some of the fried onions that you've already made and mix it with about ¼ cup zereshk)
- THE THIN SAUCE FOR TILIT (this is for 3 koofteh)
- 3 TBSP fried onions
- 1 TBSP butter
- 1 TBSP tomato paste
- 3 cups boiling
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ⅛ tsp saffron powder
- Day 1: Cook the yellow peas in a small saucepan with enough water to cover the peas by one inch. Add ¼ tsp kosher salt and cook uncovered until very tender. Drain and set aside.
- Meat Grinder Method: The ground beef, onions and cooked split peas will be grinded together to get a uniform mixture. I had to grind the mixture twice to get it all uniform. I have used the meat grinder attachment on my Kitchen Aid (OR),
- Food Processor Method: Depending on the size of your food processor you might have to do this in two portions. Divide the ground beef, cut up onions and cooked split peas in half. For each portion, use on/off switch chop the onions very small (do not puree). Then add ground beef and cooked split peas just until you get a uniform paste-like consistency. Do not over process.
- Cook the rice and bulgur in a 2-Qt saucepan with 1 cup water, 1 tablespoons butter, ¼ tsp salt and ¼ tsp turmeric over medium low heat until most of the liquid is cooked off and the grains are half cooked (tender but still hard inside)
- Add the meat mixture to a large bowl. Add the cooked rice and bulgur, 2 eggs and the spices (do not add the salt and herbs yet).
- Use your fingers to kneading the mixture until you have a uniform mixture. Cover the bowl tightly with a plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days.
- Day 2: Peel and thinly slice 2 large onions and fry them in butter until golden brown and set aside. You will be using this fried onion divided for different parts of this recipe.
- Get all the ingredients that you like to use as filling. What you decide to stuff the koofteh with is pretty much up to your preference, I have only mentioned a few to give you an idea. But I find it is helpful to make a handful of filling for each koofteh and set them on a plate so you will have it ready.
- Then get the sauce ready: Add the fried onions, butter and tomato paste to a 12-inch diameter large stockpot that will fit 6 koofteh, or divide the ingredients and make the sauce in two 10-inch diameter stockpots. Sauté until aromatic. Add saffron, hot water, salt, freshly cracked black pepper and ground cinnamon. Bring the sauce to a low boil. Turn the heat off. You will bring the sauce back to a simmer when the koofteh are stuffed and ready.
- To make the koofteh: Add salt, sliced tareh and crushed dried summer savory and saffron. Mix well to blend. Then pick up handfuls of the mixture and drop it back into the bowl. Keep doing this several times until the mixture is very uniform and sticks together very well when you press it into a ball.
- Fill up a small bowl with some water and set it aside near your work station.
- Use a 10 ounce bowl to scoop the koofteh mixture and make 6 balls and set them aside on a tray. You will be using the same small bowl to make the stuffed koofteh.
- Add ½ tablespoon water to the small koofteh bowl. Divide one meatball in half and place it in the bowl. Use your finger tips to spread the mixture all over the bottom and up the sides of the bowl.
- Fill it with the handful of filling ingredients that you have prepared ahead of time. Place the other half of the meat ball on top and press it with your fingertips so everything sticks together.
- Invert the bowl and tap it on the palm of your other hand until it releases. This might take a second and it might seem stock but with a little tapping and shaking it will release.
- Keep passing the stuffed meat ball from hand to hand 5-6 times until there is no visible seam between the two halves of the meat. Place the koofteh on a platter and repeat with the rest of the meat mixture and filling until all 6 koofteh are stuffed.
- Heat up the sauce that you made earlier over medium low until it comes to a low boil. Gently lift each koofteh with both hands and slide it into the sauce. Repeat with the rest of the koofteh; there will not be much space between the Koofteh(s) and this is fine. Do Not move or turn the koofteh(s) after you put them in the sauce.
- Without covering the pot, continue cooking over medium low for 30 minutes maintaining a slow boil, this will keep the koofteh from falling apart. After this time, the top of the koofteh will change color and will feel firmer to touch.
- Reduce heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 1 hour and half. Baste the koofteh tops with some of the broth a few times during this simmering period.
- At the end of this cooking time the broth will start looking clear and the oil will rise to the surface (this is called be roghan oftadan and it means the koofteh(s) are cooked).
- Turn the heat off and let koofteh rest for about 10 minutes. Most of the remaining broth will be absorbed into the koofteh and there will be about one cup of thick sauce in the bottom.
- Transfer the koofteh to a platter and the thick sauce to a bowl.
- NOTE: I usually serve 3 of the koofteh(s) and freeze the rest. I divided the thick sauce in half and freeze it with 3 (cooled) koofteh(s) in a freezer safe container for up to a month.
- To make the thin sauce for Tilit (for 3 koofteh): In a 6-Qt stockpot add 3 TBSP fried onions, 1 TBSP butter, and 1 TBSP tomato paste. Saute over medium low heat until butter melts and the tomato paste becomes aromatic. Add 3 cups of boiling water, ½ tsp kosher salt, ½ tsp cinnamon, ⅛ tsp saffron. Bring the sauce to a boil then stir half of the reserved thick sauce and bring to a boil over medium low and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add 3 koofteh to the pot and simmer for another 10 minutes until heated through. Garnish the top of each koofteh with a pinch of saffron powder and some ground cinnamon.
- Sprinkle some barberry and fried onion mixture to the very top of the dome.
- Serve the koofteh on a platter and the broth in a bowl. Add some bite size pieces of warm Sangak, lavash or pita to the broth and stir to coat.
- As usual no meal would be complete without some Sabzi Khorda, Torshi or Torshi Sir. Enjoy Koofteh Tabrizi that is named after my hometown,Tabriz.