Giant meatballs stuffed with fruit and nuts

Giant meatballs stuffed with fruit and nuts

Koofteh Tabrizi

Mark Roper

There is something vaguely comical about these over-sized meatballs, a speciality of the north-western city of Tabriz. In some cases they are made large enough to encase a small chicken, while other popular versions have a hard-boiled egg at the centre, similar to Scotch eggs. What follows is slightly less ambitious – although the number of ingredients may look somewhat daunting. But please don’t let that put you off – this dish is a stunner! The koofteh themselves are herby and moistly tender and have a delicious stuffing of dried fruit and crunchy walnuts. As they are about the size of a tennis ball, one per person should be ample. Serve with lots of creamy yoghurt and warm flatbread to scoop everything up.

One of the secrets to making these koofteh is to mince the lamb twice; ask your butcher to do this for you, or do it yourself at home. The mince must then be energetically and thoroughly kneaded so that the fat is evenly distributed throughout the meat and it turns into a soft, smooth, sticky paste. You can do this quickly in a food processor, if you like, but chill the bowl and blade in the fridge first.


Quantity Ingredient
50ml olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried mint
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
250ml crushed tomatoes
1 litre good-quality chicken stock
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely snipped chives
flatbread, thick natural yoghurt and fresh herbs, to serve
2 tablespoons Saffron liquid

Giant koofteh

Quantity Ingredient
400ml good quality chicken stock
100 grams yellow split peas, soaked overnight and drained
125 grams short grain rice, soaked overnight and drained
1 teaspoon sea salt
450 grams lamb (from the shoulder), minced twice
2 shallots, finely diced
2 eggs
1 tablespoon rice flour
1 tablespoon Saffron liquid
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/2 cups shredded tarragon leaves
1 1/2 cups shredded mint leaves
1 1/2 cups shredded flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper


Quantity Ingredient
30ml olive oil
1 small purple onion, finely diced
60g dried apricot halves, diced
50g shelled walnuts, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons currants, roughly chopped
1/3 cup shredded flat-leaf parsley leaves
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper


  1. To make the koofteh, bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat, then remove from the stove and add the drained split peas and rice. Return to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 20–30 minutes, or until all the stock has been absorbed. Season with the salt, then tip into a large bowl and leave to cool completely
  2. Add the remaining ingredients to the cold rice mixture and knead thoroughly for 5 minutes until combined, then refrigerate while you make the stuffing (alternatively, pulse in a chilled food processor).
  3. To make the stuffing, heat the oil in a small saucepan over a low heat. Add the onion and fry gently until soft and translucent. Stir in the apricots, walnuts and currants and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in the parsley, season lightly, then set aside.
  4. Heat the oil in a large, heavybased saucepan or casserole dish over a low heat. Add the onion and garlic and fry gently until soft and translucent. Stir in the dried mint, sugar, tomato paste,crushed tomatoes, saffron liquid and stock and season lightly. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently while you make the koofteh.
  5. Divide the koofteh mixture into 6 portions. With wet hands, roll a portion into a smooth, round ball about the size of a tennis ball. Use your thumb to make a cavity and wiggle it around a bit – the cavity needs to take a sixth of the stuffing mixture – then cram in the stuffing. Pinch the koofteh mixture to seal it over the stuffing, then roll the dumpling between your hands again to re-form. Repeat with the remaining mixture and stuffing. Lower the dumplings into the simmering broth, then cover and simmer for 1 hour, turning them occasionally so they cook evenly.
  6. Just before serving, sprinkle on the chives. Serve the koofteh and broth in wide, shallow bowls with plenty of flatbread, yoghurt and extra sprigs of fresh herbs.
Middle Eastern
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