Friday, 27 September 2013

ilona's tea-time koftas

frying the koftas
i have always wanted the recipe for these delicately spiced little koftas. they are a departure from the traditional pakistani ones that are usually simmered in gravy. they are very much my mama’s recipe, partly drawn from a norwegian cookbook as well as being inspired by auntie y’s teatime entertaining who made something similar. i do not remember auntie y’s koftas but have a vivid memory of her person. she had a petite frame and was the essence of femininity and grace. her signature fragrance was motia especially in the long months of summer when she would weave a gajra into her long hair or wear individual jasmine flowers in her ears. perhaps that is unsurprising given that her name is the persian variant from which ‘jasmine’ is derived.

the koftas in question usually made an appearance on choti eid as part of the tea-time trolley for entertaining the dozens of guests that would drop in unannounced. communality is an essential feature of feasting at eid and every household will have an eid spread. in our house i recollect mama preparing a large bowl of kheer (rice pudding) or dhood seviyan (milky vermicelli), channa chaat, egg sandwich mixture and these koftas. she would serve them impaled with intricately carved cocktail forks that looked deceptively like ivory but were in fact plastic. i often helped her by polishing the silver, laying the trolley and piercing the meatballs with cocktail forks. the koftas were my favourite savoury element on the eid trolley, competing marginally with the sweet and sour channa chaat. we always served mitchell’s ketchup and chilli garlic sauce on the side. the latter was quite popular with guests but i personally felt it obscured the gentle lemon flavour of the coriander seeds. it is clear that o is in the same category as he quite happily ate his with a generous squirt of sriracha.

the opportunity to learn how to make koftas presented itself on mama’s recent trip to london when we had her parents, uncle and aunt over for tea. their softly spiced profile makes them well suited to afternoon tea and so we had them as an addition to the traditional fare of scones, cake and sandwiches. i took some of the leftovers as a packed lunch to work encased in a pita pocket finished with some mint and yoghurt. o had his share with a fried egg and sriracha for dinner. 

{ilona’s tea-time koftas}

one medium white onion
two or three small cloves of garlic
sunflower oil
two slices white bread
two tablespoons whole milk
two level tablespoons whole coriander seeds
two teaspoons chilli flakes
one teaspoon cumin
salt to taste
one kg lean beef mince

finely chop the onion into a small dice. do the same with the cloves of garlic.

warm a generous pour of oil in a frying pan. you will need enough to coat the onion and garlic without them swimming in it. sweat the mixture on a low-medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent. then turn the heat up and allow some of the onions to catch a little colour around the edges. put aside.

crumble the bread into crumbs into a bowl and add the milk to it. allow the bread to absorb the milk.

place the beef mince in a large mixing bowl. crush the coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle. you basically need for them to release their fragrance and be roughly broken rather than ground into a powder. crush the cumin seeds by rubbing them between your palms. add the spices and salt to taste. lastly, add the soaked bread crumbs. bring the contents of the bowl together by working it gently with your hands. allow the mixture to sit for ten to fifteen minutes.

fry a bite-sized amount of the mixture to check the seasoning. if it requires more salt or spice then add it and mix well before shaping it into teaspoon sized balls. make sure that there are no cracks in the surface as these will cause the koftas to loose moisture and break when frying. the easiest way to achieve this is by wetting your palms before shaping.

coat the bottom of a frying pan with a shallow film of oil. the oil should be very hot when you place the koftas in it. you can fry a batch at the time so long as they are in a single layer and have enough space to move around. allow the exterior to sear and turn brown before lowering the heat to medium to ensure that they are cooked through. jiggle the pan very gently to move the koftas around for even cooking. it should take roughly four to six minutes for them to fry.

you may need to skim and remove any small pieces of mixture that have fried to a crisp. you will also need to replenish the amount of oil in the pan as you fry.

serve warm or at room temperature using cocktail sticks or forks.

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