Recipes for kofta (also known as kufta and kefta) appear in the earliest Arabic cookbooks; the little meat patties can be seasoned with anything from mint to chiles and are typically baked, fried or simmered in curry, although they are grilled for an extra layer of smoky flavor. Za’atar, a spice blend usually made from thyme, sumac and sesame seeds, is available at many grocers and any Middle Eastern market. You will have leftover tzatziki. Store it, covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 2 days, and serve the leftovers as a dip with pita chips or alongside roast meats.
Lamb Kofta Burgers with Za’atar Tzatziki
For the tzatziki:
- 1 large cucumber, halved lengthwise and seeded
- 2 tsp. fine sea salt
- 1 cup (8 oz./250 g) plain Greek yogurt or drained regular yogurt
- 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
- 1 large garlic clove, crushed or pressed
- 2 tsp. za’atar
For the burgers:
- 1/4 cup (1 oz./30 g) fine dried bread crumbs
- 1/3 cup (3 fl. oz./80 ml) vegetable juice such as V8
- 1 1/2 lb. (750 g) ground lamb
- 1/4 cup (2 oz./60 g) grated yellow onion
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp. fine sea salt
- 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted in a dry pan until fragrant then ground
- 1/4 tsp. ground allspice
- 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
- 3 garlic, minced
- 2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
- 3 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 tsp. za’atar
- 4 whole-wheat pita breads
- 2 cups (2 oz./60 g) baby spinach leaves
- 4 lemon wedges
1. To make the tzatziki, place a colander over a shallow bowl. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the cucumber and transfer to the colander. Scatter on the salt, toss gently and let stand for 15 minutes.
2. Press on the cucumber to extract as much liquid as possible and discard the liquid. Transfer the cucumber to a small bowl and stir in the yogurt. Add the oil, vinegar, garlic and za’atar and mix well. Use immediately, or transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
3. Prepare a medium-hot fire in a grill for grilling over indirect heat.
4. To make the burgers, in a large bowl, stir together the bread crumbs and vegetable juice until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Add the lamb, onion, egg, salt, black pepper, cayenne, coriander, cumin, allspice, ginger, garlic, parsley and mint and mix everything together with your hands. Using a light touch, form the mixture into 4 oval-shaped patties about 5 by 3 by 3/4 inches (13 by 7.5 by 2 cm). Coat the patties on both sides using 1 Tbs. of the oil and set aside on a plate or rimmed baking sheet.
5. In a small bowl, mix together the remaining 2 Tbs. oil and the za’atar. Brush the za’atar mixture on both sides of each pita.
6. Brush the grill grate and coat with oil. Put the patties on the grate directly over the fire and cook, turning once, until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Move the burgers away from the fire, cover the grill, and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into the burger registers 145F (63°C).
7. During the last minute of grilling, put the pitas on the grate over the fire for about 15 seconds per side to toast lightly.
8. To assemble the burgers, cut one side off of each pita to expose the internal pocket. Coat the interior of each pocket with 2 Tbs. of the tzatziki. Put one-fourth of the spinach leaves in each pocket, followed by a burger, imbedding it deeply in the bed of spinach. Top with the more tzatziki and serve with the lemon wedges.
Recipe adapted from Grill Master, by Fred Thompson