kefta and zucchini kebabs

One of my favorite things about cooking is being surprised. As much fun as it is chasing some childhood recipe or flavor ideal I caught a whiff of at some restaurant, somewhere, nothing matches the surprise of finding a recipe that you’re not entirely sure will be your thing, trying it anyway and then spending the rest of the night going “this is good,” “wow, this is so good,” and “wow, I had no idea it would be this good.”

marinating the zucchinimint garlic yogurt saucwmince onion, herbs, pine nutsgetting the meatballs ready

Well, that part is kind of boring to anyone but the person experiencing the delicious surprise but still, this recipe is one of those. I have to admit that my fearful-of-combining-sweet-and-savory husband has poisoned me a little, and when I see warm spices like cinnamon and allspice in a savory recipe, I’m skeptical I will like it. I’m delighted to have been utterly wrong here.

tiny meatballs, marinated zucchiniready to grill or broil

But these meatball skewers are awesome. Awe-some. And then some. I expect that some astute readers might have noticed that I rarely feature meat recipes; I’m not enthralled enough with it that I am easily impressed into trying new recipes. But when I am, well, hot damn. I didn’t think I could even like a meat anything this much, nonetheless a meatball. They’re spicy and juicy and delicious charred at the edges, and the minty yogurt sauce is the perfect contrast for the kefta as well as the zucchini skewers and I want more right now.

kefta and zucchini kebabs

Note: These kebabs got some fresh photos and light recipe edits in 2020 It originally looked like this:

kefta and zucchini kebabs

Kefta and Zucchini Kebabs

Kefta, more often spelled kofta, is a family of spiced, seasoned ground beef, chicken, pork, or lamb, sometimes popular throughout the Middle East as well as the Indian subcontinent, the Balkans, and Central Asia. Most often, they’re grilled in cigar-like shapes on skewers. This version, with tiny meatballs, is a twist on the classic from a 1980 (!) Gourmet Magazine.

I suspect if you’re thinking this through, you’re imagining that it would be difficult bordering on impossible to threat raw meatballs on skewers and then somehow move them to a grill without them falling off–I know I was. Nevertheless, as tricky as that part is, and you should do so with the greatest of care and minimal movements (i.e., where it lands on the grill, let it stay), within two minutes the meatballs will be nicely firmed up and you’ll have no trouble rotating them.

    Sauce and assembly
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (preferably full-fat)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 12 (10-inch) wooden skewers, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes
  • Zucchini
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (we used about half of this)
  • 2 medium zucchini (1 1/4 lb total), cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices (don’t skim on their thickness, or you will have difficulty threading them)
  • Kefta (meatballs)
  • 2 slices firm white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 pound ground lamb or ground turkey, preferably dark meat
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Make sauce: Stir together yogurt, mint, garlic, and salt in a small bowl and chill until you’re ready to serve the skewers.

Prepare zucchini: Whisk together lemon juice, sugar, salt, pepper, and oil in a large bowl and stir in zucchini slices. Marinate at room temperature while making meatballs.

Make meatballs: Cover bread with water in a bowl and soak 10 minutes. Pulse onion and herbs in a food processor until finely chopped. Add pine nuts, and finely chop as well. Squeeze handfuls of bread to remove as much excess water as possible and add it to the food processor. Pulse until it is well chopped. Add this mixture to the lamb or turkey in a large bowl, along with salt and spices. Mix with your hands or a fork until well-blended. Form meat mixture into 36 balls (1 scant tablespoon each).

Assemble and grill kebabs: Prepare grill for cooking over medium-hot charcoal (moderate heat for gas). Thread 6 meatballs 1/4 inch apart onto each of 6 skewers. Thread zucchini lengthwise onto remaining 6 skewers, so cut sides are on the grill, leaving 1/4 inch between slices. Grill zucchini and meatballs on oiled grill rack, turning over once, until golden and just cooked through, about 4 to 6 minutes on a charcoal grill and 10 minutes on a gas grill. Cut a meatball in half to visually check for doneness. Serve warm, with yogurt sauce.

If you don’t have a grill: Kebabs can be broiled on 2 large shallow baking pans 5 inches from heat, turning over once, until golden and just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes. Cut a meatball in half to visually check for doneness.

A few updates: This recipe got some fresh photos and tune-ups in 2020. See the source link above for the previous, original version. There was always too much marinade for the zucchini, so it’s now halved. The food processor does more of the work for the meatballs. And I’ve trimmed down the long grilling instructions a bit, as I suspect you weren’t coming here to learn how to use a grill for the first time.

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177 comments on kefta and zucchini kebabs

  1. Mary

    Try putting two parallel skewers through each string of meatballs. That makes the whole thing way easier to handle and they won’t turn over on the skewers as you turn them on the grill.

  2. Chris

    While not nearly as traditional, square metal skewers keep food from slipping around and they don’t need to be pre-soaked.

    Does anyone think that having hot metal running through the middle of a piece of food will change cook time at all vs. wood skewers? I’ve never noticed a difference in flavor or cooking, but I never used wood skewers regularly enough to know what they are like.

  3. After getting food poisoning from lamb in Turkey, and only being able thereafter to find lamb to eat, thanks for including the substitution of dark turkey! I’ll have to try this!

  4. Allie

    Melissa Clark had a great “fake kibbe” recipe in the NYT in the past year or so that was similarly spiced and was fabuous – and could be broiled. I thought I don’t like lamb either, but ground lamb tastes less intense to me and worked really well.

  5. Nancy

    Oh, I want to try these so badly, but I’m one of those people who simply despise cilantro. Do you think substituting a bit of toasted, ground coriander would be too different a flavor? Hmmm…..just had an idea… about celery leaves?

    1. Ires

      We made this last night and it was wonderful ! Kiddo is allergic to walnuts so we subbed out toasted almonds. Husband is reducing red meat so we used dark turkey. Delicious and thank you !

  6. deb

    I don’t like cilantro either, and whenever I see it in a recipe, I simply replace it with flat-leaf parsley. In this case, I doubled the parsley.

  7. Eri

    Oddly enough, we’re having something very similar for dinner tonight. Planning on taking it in a more Spanish direction though and eating the keftas as tapas with some pickled veggies, olives, fruit and manchego. Now I think we’ll need to add some zucchini, though!

  8. This sounds awesome, even though I’m sure I won’t be able to get anyone else to eat the zucchini part of it. I’m thinking I’ll toss some other veggies on as well for the no-zucchini peeps. And that maybe, finally, I’ll a) have a use for the huge freaking pot of mint I have growing next to my steps (anyone want some? I’ll mail it to you, fresh mint!!) and b) maybe finally my yogurt sauce will measure up to my husband’s exacting standards, which I am always falling short of when it comes to tzatziki-type sauces.

  9. amy

    it is very common (especially in Persian cooking) to include spices like cinnamon in the cooking of meat… it really does add to the recipe and it has caused me to stop thinking of them “sweet and savory” but just… spices!
    can’t wait to try these out myself!

  10. Amelia

    I am a bit of a kefta junkie, and always have trouble with the grilling, so thanks to Mary for the 2 skewers suggestion!

    I love to make them tart, so while my recipe is almost the same, I nix the ‘sweet’ spices and put in pomegranate molasses, ground coriander and cumin. Mmm. I think tonight’s dinner plan might have just changed…

  11. I love your site! I have been a lurker for a while now. You’ve won!! I have nominated you for an award on my site. Please check it out and congratulations ;)

  12. Jen

    This takes me back to when I was in Turkey. Such YUMMY food. If you want another good one to try? Iskender. My favorite dish there… I’ll email you the recipe.

    1. Carol

      I have made these at least 3x without the bread in it because I don’t eat grains, and they were still very good. I’m not a lamb person, but I liked these, especially with homemade hummus and tzatziki. I made a greek salad to go with it also. I didn’t do the zucchini skewers, just the lamb. I did the lamb in the shape of hotdogs and threaded them lengthwise.

  13. courtney

    Yeah, I’m not a big meat eater either, but am married to a meat and potatoes person, so I have started eating more. But meatballs are one thing I have always been good at, from growing up watching my dad (he was full blooded Italian). So I am a bit of a meatball snob (I don’t choose to eat them made by anyone but myself), and I can’t stand a meatball that doesn’t have a nice crust on the outside. But I had never thought of grilling them. Hmm wonder if I would have to make them bigger than I like?

  14. Susan

    eehck..lamb. I’ll just use ground ‘anything’ but. Scandinavian meatballs usually contain allspice or cinnamon and cardemom. I like cardemom..but the other spices in meat (except pork) are something I just can’t contemplate. I can eat it if someone else fixes it, but it just can’t be me doing it.

  15. MBT

    Is it bad that now I want to cancel my plans to go out to dinner so that I can make these? I’m also of the hate-cilantro-with-a-passion camp, so I’ll be heeding your advice and using parsley instead. Too bad these will have to wait until later in the week. Looks yummy!

  16. I adore (adore adore adore) cilantro, but I just realized I have aphids on my cilantro and since I’m a terrible gardener I’m scared to put anything on them because I still want to be able to eat my cilantro! Oh, and catepillers ate my entire parsley plant … I took pictures but it’s just too depressing to post yet. Someday I’ll have decent things that grow and I won’t be scared of them (well, I eat my basil every day but nothing affects my basil, and so far my oregano and rosemary are faring well).

    Anyhow, not to have gone on a tangent, but I just about drooled when I opened my browser today. Chicken Kiev is on the menu tonight but this might be on next week’s meals!

    1. Allie

      Whoa, April…those “caterpillars” on your parsley might be black swallowtail butterflies in the making. Let them be and you might see a cocoon on your parsley in which case you are doing Mother Nature a wonderful favor as a swallowtail caterpillar host-ess. Maybe it’s worth buying a bunch of parsley and leaving your garden batch to the butterflies #:->! Whatever you decide, just don’t squoosh them! See this:

  17. Marie

    Thanks for the poll. OK, I have a few questions. Do you know how many people visit SmittenKitchen everyday? I’d love to know where you buy some of the beautiful serving dishes you use. Like those long glass ovals for the eggplant? Love them. Or the cork (?) thing-y (maybe mat) under the espresso biscotti? How do you do the photo’s that look like they’ve been shot from the ceiling? Molly, at Orangette does it too. Do you stand on a ladder? Is Alex 9′ tall? Thanks!

  18. mmmmm kefta kabobs! The last time I did them I was feeling like I couldn’t be bothered with making the balls so I squished the meat around the skewer in one long piece… think corn dog shaped kefta yummyness. It was also stable enough to get to the grill with no problem.

    Thanks for the reminder of this yummy dish, I think I will buy some lamb today!

  19. deb

    Apologies to anyone whose comment(s) seem to have gone missing. We had some web hosting issues earlier this afternoon, but everything *should* be back to normal…

  20. deb

    Thanks everyone–We’ve received over 20 comments about the lack of NZ on the poll–and other countries–and apologize, we were simply unable to update it once it was published.

  21. Deb, have you ever had raita? You are 20 times the culinary genius I am, but we make it all the time and I think you’d love it if you like the minty yogurt sauce. Here’s the basic recipe we use

    -1.5 cups strained or greek yogurt
    -1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, and removed of seeds
    -1 clove garlic, pressed
    -1/4 tsp chili flakes
    -1 tsp dried dill (or a small handful of fresh, chopped)
    -1/2 tsp salt, a few grinds of pepper
    Slice cucumber thinly, then toss with salt and let drain in a colander for a wee while. throw 1/2 the cukes into a food processor with the garlic and spices, give a few pulses. Stir into yogurt and the rest of the cukes. Eat on and with everything, esp. curry, naan, bagels, veggie sticks, etc.

  22. Mary

    For April(#25): I was one of the commenters whose remarks fell into the black hole. Anyway, here it is again: spray your plants with a diluted liquid soap and the aphids will be OTTA THERE and your washed herbs will be safe to eat and bug-free.

  23. PeterW

    Nice to finally see an Indian inspired recipe! I love Indian food above all else, especially the tandoori dishes and curries. I do quite a bit of Indian cooking myself, so for this meatball recipe, I would probably add some garlic and chilipowder instead of cayenne to make it more yummy.

    Nancy: You can try adding ground or even whole coriander seeds, but go easy on it (1 tsp-ish) because coriander has a really flowery taste, which is probably why so many people don’t like cilantro. Personally I prefer it to parsley so I would probably do the exact opposite of Deb and go all cilantro. For that authentic Indian taste, cilantro really should be used if possible. Even if you – like me, don’t like the cilantro taste on it’s own, used in meat dishes it actually works.

    Also, since I believe this is my first post, I would just like to say hello to everyone and thank Deb for an awesome blog. I guess I’m a bit of a minority here being male (the only one?) but there’s nothing wrong with that right? :D

  24. Almond Joy

    Hi Deb,

    Sorry, I posted the comment without finishing it. I wanted to tell you to dry roast all the ingredients over a medium-low flame until fragrant. I usually add the cloves and cinnamon at the last minute and then grind them in a spice grinder to keep on hand whenever you want to make kefta.
    I hope you enjoy it.

  25. Yael

    Not traditional? I’m from the middle east (Israel), and have been to a number of local-food places around here, and they use the metal skewers, not the bamboo kind. I don’t think there’s anything not-traditional about them. And they’re sturdier, and can be washed and re-used.
    We bought a bunch to use at home, and they’re quite good, and do help cook the meat through, but they don’t necessarily make it more stable. Especially with all-meat kebabs, you have to be very careful When threading them on the skewer.
    The best thing is probably to keep them on a plate or a tray or something until they have to be put on the grill – like Deb said, just not to play with them too much. I also suspect that adding an egg to the mixture could help keep it together, but not sure if it won’t affect the taste and/or make it too rubbery. I don’t have enough grilling experience to figure this out without trial-and-error.

    Also, lamb is EXCELLENT meat. You Americans are way too fussy. :-P

  26. Liz

    Yum! We tried making vegetarian kefta (made with chickpeas) this weekend and they were terrible, so this is exactly what I need to get over the horror.

  27. RachelM

    Thanks for the suggestion on what to substitute for the lamb. I am one of the minority that lives out in the country (think 20 miles to nearest grocery store; 45 miles to nearest one with anything ‘exotic’ like cilantro and kalamata olives). If I asked for lamb at either of my available stores, I believe that I would just receive a blank stare in return.

    Also – I am with you on the ‘warm’ spices in meat – it is all highly suspicious to me! But, you have not failed me yet, so I am planning on trying this recipe this weekend. My husband will be grateful – this sounds right up his alley.

    Now to find some fresh mint… does it grow wild? Maybe I’ll take a previous poster up on the mail-order offer… :)

  28. erin

    Wow! I would have never thought to use this spice combo in lamb, but it was delicious! Thanks so much for the recipe! It was a rare opportunity for me to show off to a foodie friend who is rarely impressed.

  29. Kua

    Sadie’s trick of shaping the meatballs around the skewer is how the Turks normally make these… they’re a little bit more phallic, but a lot easier!

  30. Kelly

    Sory to be cynical, but is the “getting to know you” market research for your site? If so, I’d like to know that I participated in market research rather than you just wanting to know us better.

    The meatballs look great.


  31. Liz

    Hey – I’m in market research. If you want some statistical testing done on your survey data – I could easily run it pretty fast. Let me know! Wouldn’t you feel so cool saying “the number of people who read this blog that go out to eat 4 times a week is directionally higher than those who do not”, etc…

  32. I totally understand the excitement of trying something new in the kitchen and discovering that it’s really good. I love that about cooking, though my husband gets tired after my third “This is SO good!” comment.
    These look really, really good. I am a sucker for yogurt sauces after spending some time in India. Of course, sans eating any part of a cow in India!

  33. I answered the survey and now am drooling over the pics of this post. Hmm — I wonder if I could cheat and just use lean ground beef (I have some in the freezer that needs using-up).

  34. Allie

    off topic request: am looking for a chocolate cake that will taste great unfrosted (we are traveling a number of hours). thoughts? want to bring a cake, not cookies or brownies.

  35. Linda

    Hi, this is off post, but I spent my whole food budget for the week at buying RuME bags. I couldn’t give you props because you’re not included in the drop down list during the final checkout (right before I spend the $$).

    There is a fill in the blank field earlier in the registration process and I got to enter your site there. But still, it’s like you’re New Zeeland or something for marketing purposes…

    Taking the time and trouble to enable a link for their target audience (who here doesn’t shop for food?), is worth adding your site to their listing of COOL FOLKS.

    IMO, ok?

  36. Carla Hinkle

    I have made these several times … delicious … but I followed the advice of a commenter on Epicurious and instead of meatballs made “logs” of ground meat that seemed to stick to the skewer better.

  37. Sounds delicious, I have never eaten zucchini with kefta before. I usually dollop ketchup on mine. It’s one of my favorite childhood recipes, that my mum used to make.

  38. Emily

    These look absolutely fabulous. I’ve already almost set off the building’s smoke alarm with my grill pan twice, but I may have to laugh in the face of danger and try again. Yum.

  39. Sam

    I agree with Eri. I haven’t tried these yet but I plan on making them for my birthday party on the 30th as an app….Instead of on skewers of strictly meat or zucc, I plan on cooking them on chopped wood skewers or even thick toothpicks, in the tapas style of bandilleras. Just as they are about to be done, put a thin slice of manchego on them so it melts quickly, then serve. Ought to be quite nice in the Denver end-of-summer air.
    Thanks for presenting this!

  40. :)

    I never liked lamb before until I was invited to a potluck party and one of the dishes was grilled lamb made by a Russian lady. I did not know I was eating lamb at the time and a lot of people who thought they didn’t like lamb love it.! Since then, I only eat grilled lamb…and recently loved lamb cooked in Indian dishes and greek dishes (gyros, etc.)…plus middle eastern (schwarma, etc.). Not to mention grilled rack of lamb and grilled leg of lamb. I have to say that the middle eastern knows how to cook their lamb without being gamey.

    Traditionally middle eastern don’t roll their meatballs on a stick. The ground meat mixture is wrapped on a flat skewer in one long piece. We’ve have eaten this in a middle eastern restaurant and is very good. Any coments in finding a traditional flat metal skewer will be great. I suppose a middle eastern market?

  41. kate

    In order to get the correct consistency (so that the kofte will stick onto the skewers) you really need to work the meat. Meaning that you mush it and mix it and when you can see that the fibers of the meat have softened, then it is ready for you to form the meatball. The best way to form a perfect kofte is to toss the alloted from hand to hand, then do some rolling, and then a mix of both. This is going to eliminate any smaller clumps of meat that would cause the kofte to break up either during cooking or when placing on the skewer. Adding an egg would be the shortcut for this technique, but it will just keep the meat together, not give you the proper kofte consistency. With the correct consistency, the kofte will not split on the sides/edges, keeping it nice and juicy.

    I love my kofte individually pan fried (meaning without skewers), no cilantro but with flat leaf parsley instead. And ground beef is a wonderful substitute for the ground lamb, and of course, the fattier the meat, the better. Yum!

  42. MoS

    Someone upthread made a comment about having to convince someone to eat ground meat – the spouse is “one of those” and I convinced him by buying the grinder attachment for my KitchenAide mixer and hinting – very ungently – that if he would grind up the meat he could actually eat hamburger again.

    It worked! And he even cleans the grinder attachment, so I don’t have to touch it.

    Earlier in the year I bought some long thin BBQ “baskets” that work great for things like this. I don’t have to thread things onto skewers, cook them and then pull the skewers out, I just pop open the baskets. Each basket holds the equivalent content of one skewer.

  43. Tres Amie

    In my favorite middle eastern restaurant that serves Kofta (their spelling) they say that the meat is formed around the skewer… perhaps that would be a helpful trick!

  44. Another Deb

    I made this the other night and had exactly the same reaction – I couldn’t stop saying, “this is so good!” Next time I make it, I’ll do them as burgers and layer long, thin strips of the zucchini and slather the sauce on pita bread. Thanks for another awesome recipe!

  45. eg

    There used to be a little place near where I work that had good kefta for not too much money. They had two sauces you could buy that were amazing — one was a spicy tomato sauce, the other an amazing garlic sauce that I still dream about. Boy, I miss that place!

    My mother used to grind meat for burgers for us which is probably why I don’t really eat hamburgers now. Most places just can’t compare.

  46. foodiemama

    just made them-oops forgot pinenuts. but it didn’t matter-delish! kefte in a pita with fresh tomato, yogurt sauce, feta-yum yum. this was a home run, deb! -as always! thanks again. keep the good stuff coming!

  47. jenn

    My husband absolutely cannot stand mint but would love everything else about this recipe. Do you have any suggestions for an alternative sauce?

    (I, uh, might have helped with the server issues as I showed up when the peanut butter and chocolate recipe appeared. And I linked to it on my blog.)

  48. robyn

    Ask your butcher to run the meat through the grinder a second time, for finely ground meat, the texture will be nicer and it is easier to keep the meat on the skewers (which are traditionally flat).

  49. this set of recipes is fab!!!
    I placed the skewers on a mesh grate (about 12×18″) we use to grill smaller items–didn’t have to worry about meatballs falling apart through the grill grates.
    I served with brown rice that had sauteed onion, roasted red pepperand chopped parsley, with a squeeze of lemon.
    Thanks for sharing–we’ll be making this again!

  50. These look and sound delicious. I didn’t have anything planned yet for dinner tonight and these just might be it. I am going to try it with the ground turkey. I just found your blog yesterday and I am really enjoying looking through it. Your pictures are amazing, I would love to know how you do them (professional light box or studio nearby?).

  51. Becky

    I made these last night with ground beef since I couldnt find ground lamb- one word AWESOME! My husband is Armenian from Turkey and loves his mothers ketfa so I had some well trained taste buds to impress. The skewer thing didnt work out too well- the meat balls sort of fell off everywhere on the grill. Next time, I will do as his mother does, shape them into the shape of XXXL eggs and grill them without skewers. My husband’s verdict came mid -mouthful, “babe, although the grill’s a mess, you did something right, ’cause these things rock”. Thanks for a keeper of a recipe that easily competes with the real deal!

  52. Brooke

    I made a double batch of these for a baby shower for my office. I didn’t do them as a kebab, just cooked them in my grill pan. Nor did I cook any veggies with it. I substituted the turkey for the lamb, and even though I don’t like cilantro, I didn’t substitute with parsley.

    My office LOVED them! I had around 65 of them and among 15 people, they were all gone (and it wasn’t from lack of different foods to eat). I will say that the cilantro is hard to taste – as in, I didn’t even notice it.

    Either way, thanks for the inspiration! They are fantastic and I’m making more this weekend for visiting family.

  53. Candice

    The flavors in this dish are amazing!!! That said… it is extremely difficult to keep these on the skewers. They didn’t even make it to the grill pan, so I just grilled them without. They still turned out delicious. I mad the zuchini, although DH refused to try it.

  54. giselle

    I made these tonight and they were perfect! So good! I used turkey because my grocery store does not carry ground lamb, I know lame. Anyway, thanks for the recipe. I can’t wait to make it again.

  55. Just wanted to say that I made this dish last night and it was G-O-O-D. I got mad props on dinner from the old ball and chain! I also recently made your blueberry crisp and it was also fantastic! I figured I should say thank you instead of just lurking around and gobbling up your great recipes. So Thanks!!

  56. Mel

    These look so fantastic–thanks!

    Quick question about this recipe…I am planning on making this tonight for dinner for a few friends. I”ve already got the meat balls formed and in the fridge and I was planning on grilling them before everyone comes over. Do you think it would be ok to put them in a very low heat oven to keep them warm? or do you think that would dry them out horribly?

    thanks in advance for any advice!

  57. I made these months ago and LOVED them. I did part of the batch as meatballs and then ended up making a couple of burgers as someone mentioned. They were delightful both ways and this was the first time I felt like the zucchini actually retained the flavor of what I was marinating them in. So a late thank you and I’m making these again tonight.

  58. Anna

    My husband (who grew up partly in Turkey) and I made these the other night, and he says they had the most authentic kefta flavor he’s had outside the Mediterranean. I think it helped that we used really awesome locally-raised lamb too. We had predictable difficulties grilling the slippery little buggers, but we’ll try again with multiple skewers or a larger, flatter shape. Also, don’t forget to soak your wooden skewers for the full half hour. We only gave them maybe 15-20 minutes and they caught fire…which was visually spectacular but slightly alarming, given the fact that dripping lamb tends to lead to flames anyway.

  59. Hi! I just discovered your blog..and fell in love. You have some awesome recipes and post! I am a fellow blogger as well but mainly in not a great baker! Your kefta’s look awesome look very Turkish. I make kofte often, it is a signature classic Turkish dish. My parents own a Turkish Gourmet store in Bay Ridge Brooklyn, my father is the butcher and he has makes and sells the best Kofte’s in NYC!
    Thank you for sharing..Aysegul…

  60. Kathleen

    I just spent half an hour looking through my old Gourmet magazines for this recipe. I had the picture in my head, and was becoming more and more frustrated, when I realized…. A gorgeous picture does not necessarily mean Gourmet. It could be Deb! Thanks, Deb!

  61. Debra

    Made the lamb kefte meatballs and fried them in my grill pan on the stove top. Delicious. Even those who weren’t keen on lamb liked them very much. Thank you.

  62. rachel

    so, i’ve been reading this blog for the first time this summer and found this picture and instantly recognized the image from the page that i ripped out of a dentist’s office copy of gourmet years ago (reprehensible, i know). i’ve made the recipe several times, adhering to the directions in various degrees (lately i’ve taken to making elongated tube-shaped meatballs and slicing the zucchini lengthwise, because then i can skip the skewers and the whole process goes faster) over the years, and have saved that page of gourmet to reference. i hadn’t made it in a while so i called my dad and told him to pick up some ground lamb and that i would make dinner that night. then i got called in to cover for a sick co-worker at the restaurant i work nights in, so the recipe had to wait. but…
    that night i was walking from the restaurant to my boyfriend’s house, and he pointed to a big stack of magazines on the ground and asked weren’t those copies of one of the ones i like? someone in my neighborhood had left four decades worth of gourmet magazine out on her front steps with a free sign hanging overhead. if i hadn’t had to work i wouldn’t have seen them. i couldn’t believe it. we carried as many as we could to his apartment, and the next day i went rummaging through her recycling bins to salvage the rest and drive them home.
    that night, as my sister helped me prep the lamb, i rifled through the magazines and found the one i had stolen the page from at the dentist’s office so long ago. i laughed to look at my wrinkled, folded, stolen page next to this pristine magazine. i can’t wait to start cooking the other best-of-the-year recipes in that issue.
    anyways, i’m eating grilled zucchini from the recycled marinade (do you do that with the marinade? you should..) for lunch right now, and i thought you might appreciate the story. lovely blog, i’ve enjoyed it greatly. happy summer

  63. Niki

    I made these with beef and chives instead of cilantro. They came out delicious and I will definitely make them again, but next time with the food processor…I was lazy and didn’t want to wash the food processor so chopped everything. Bad move – the large onions kept the meet from holding together – three fell off the skewer.

    Also, I think this feeds 4 active young adults (rather than six people).

    And I’d add lemon to the yogurt.

  64. Nicole

    Deb–These sound great, except for the lamb part, so i’m glad you included the turkey… and gosh, I feel so much better knowing that I’m not the only foodie in the world who doesn’t like cilantro or lamb.
    Sadly, despite my huge love for the animals themselves (favorite farm animal, hands down!) I also cannot bring myself to like goat cheese. There are so many delicious sounding recipes with goat cheese, and I feel like such a loser for not liking it, but it tastes absolutely horrid to me! But, at least i do feel better tonight about not liking lamb or cilantro, and knowing i’m not alone!

      1. carol

        okay, the kefta was awesome. i am eating gluten-free, so i just left out the bread. it came together fine, even without adding an egg as another poster suggested. i did not make them into meatballs though. i just divided it into 4 and made them into logs. i’m not a lamb person, but i just trusted you deb, and i’m glad i did! it was delicious with the yogurt sauce. (i made mine more like tzatziki, with cucumber, mint, and dill in it. i paired it with your ethereally smooth hummus, which was divine, and warm pita for the family, and a greek salad. thank you thank you thank you! nice to have something different once in a while.

  65. Kathy in St. Louis

    Wow, these were delicious. The only change I made was to use a mix of toasted nuts (pine nuts, pepitas, almonds, walnuts) instead of just the pine nuts. (The mix was left over from your granola bars a few weeks ago; I love putting odds and ends to use.). We ate ours with whole wheat pita and choped tomato and avocado (and the sauce, of course), and it was a satisfying, gratifying, delicious meal. Quick, too – it was no more than a half-hour, start to finish.

  66. claire dweck

    Made these last night! YOu make my husband very happy!! They were amazing! I used ground chicken because thats all i had in my freezer. The consistency of them were a little slimey and didnt really hold up but they were amazing- once cooked, they held the shape of a meatball nicely. Thanks so much for the help!

  67. Brian

    This recipe was absolutely amazing! The meat balls were moist and spiced perfectly. I have been following this website for 3 or 4 months and made a half dozen of the recipes. This was by far the best yet. Thanks for the great meal!

  68. WineGirl

    Yum!!! I randomly pushed the Surprise ME button and came upon this! You have no idea how excited I was. I just visited Egypt in December and fell in the love with the food, especially the lamb dishes! Recipe was great! Thanks for all the great recipes!

  69. I am so excited to try this- I have flat metal skewers and love them so I will def. use those for the non-slippage factor. I just got some local ground lamb to keep on hand…and this will be lovely!! And I’m a sucker for zucchini….thanks!

  70. I made these for my family on mother’s day and they were very popular! I did them with greek salad, nice white crusty bread and homemade baba ghanoush- a great combination.

    The family ate it all and there were lots of nice compliments- they all want to try this out themselves now! You can see the spread here…

    Thanks- great recipe! xxx

  71. lovely flavor.However…. I will never ever ever again do this on a grill unless using a solid surface underneath. – love the spices, sauce, etc—-lamb is one of my favorite things. I almost cried when bits of it started falling (when we tried to turn, and not too early mind you:) alas—such is life. ;)

  72. Nicole

    i’m so relieved to hear you say you don’t like lamb OR cilantro. i don’t like them either and sometimes feel like a lame excuse for a foodie because of it. ;) Glad i’m not alone! i’m SO making these! :)

  73. Colleen


    The “getting to know you” poll that the post refers to cracks me up. When I make something from this site or the cookbook and my husband asks where the recipe is from, my response is “Deb”, as if you are a friend who we had dinner with the past week who sent me a recipe. He even knows who I am referring to. Thank you for being a constant source of inspiration!

  74. Jessica

    Sadly I didn’t have access to ground lamb or ground turkey, so I took a chance and did ground chicken…SO GOOD!! With lamb this would be phenomenal! The zucchini was the perfect match, and the mint yogurt (I made it with Greek yogurt) was killer.

    I have grilling mats for my BBQ, they’re to grilling what a silpat is to baking, perfect for a tricky thing to grill like these (especially made with chicken). I picked up 2 mats for under $20 at a BBQ store, and they’re even dishwasher safe.

  75. Parsley

    You make good food, Deb Perlman. I make more of your recipes than any other blogger, and without exception, they come out great. Thank you!

    1. mizizzle

      I’ve made these a few times to rave reviews. Even brought them frozen as burger patties on a camping trip. They thawed on the way there and were so so satisfying after a nice hike.

  76. I’m with Parsley here; I always love anything you post!

    Could this be made vegetarian? I don’t like the black bean meatballs that always get posted, and this sound good!

  77. Hey, Deb! Any recommendations for substitutes for the bread to make these gluten free? If not, omitting the bread and just making them as smallish patties instead of skewers would probably work, right? Thank you for helping out a kebab novice who is trying to avoid refined starches. Your recipes are always amazing!

  78. What are your thoughts about making kefta ahead of time and then reheating? How would you reheat so the meat doesn’t turn too dry?
    Thanks Deb. I am a forever fan, and this is my first question!!

  79. Sue

    Hi, Did you reply to:
    Hey, Deb! Any recommendations for substitutes for the bread to make these gluten free? If not, omitting the bread and just making them as smallish patties instead of skewers would probably work, right? Thank you for helping out a kebab novice who is trying to avoid refined starches. Your recipes are always amazing!

    JUNE 23, 2016 AT 5:42 PM REPLY

    I, too need gluten free (allergy) and don’t think GF bread would be a 1-1 substitution. Maybe rolled quinoa and some kind of starch. Any ideas?

    1. deb

      No I think I missed the comment from June 2016. :) I haven’t used a lot of gluten-free swaps in meatballs but the ones I hear the most about are: gluten-free breadcrumbs, and/or rolled oats.

  80. Anna

    The marinade on the zucchini really added a lot of flavor—but man, threading oily zucchini slices onto a wooden skewer is one of the least-fun kitchen tasks I’ve done in a while. I think next time I’ll just put them on the grill and flip them with a metal grill spatula. And definitely will be trying the metal skewers instead of wood as suggested early on in the comments: there may or may not have been an incident where I was singing “I lost my poor meatball”…

  81. Laurie m Lindop

    I found it was really hard to get meatballs on skewers.They kept plopping off. So I just made them into falafal size patties and put them in grill pan. Made a cabbage salad and toasted some pita to go with it all. Very nice and refreshing.

  82. Mary

    How do the meatballs stay on the skewers?
    Would it work to soak the bread crumbs in milk or cream instead of water?

    1. deb

      The meatballs stay because they set up as they cook. Sometimes it can be easier to put them on two parallel skewers — easier to flip. Milk instead of water is fine.

  83. Kira

    These meatballs were phenomenal. Whoever is skeptical of the warm flavors, don’t be. The allspice and cinnamon have a very toned down presence and elevate the lamb without adding their own usually-distinctive flavor.
    I was nervous about the cayenne as I am sensitive to heat, but these weren’t spicy at all.

    I did make two changes: almonds because I didn’t have pine nuts; double the parsley because I don’t like cilantro. Still delicious.

  84. Michelle

    Omg I just made this and it was sooo good! I used ground turkey instead of lamb and broiled instead of grilled and it worked fine . Definitely keep this one in my rotation! Thank you for the recipe.

  85. Diana

    The meatball mixture was fairly difficult to skewer, so we opted to cook it in a skillet. The flavor was ASTOUNDING! So moist and delicious! Loved this recipe

  86. Anne Brentan

    Do you foresee any problems if I made these ahead as tiny, appetizer meatballs – baked (broiled?)i n the oven, cooled, frozen, then reheated and served with toothpicks, having the yogurt sauce for dipping?

  87. Rashmi

    This looks SO GOOD! I can’t wait to try it. I never thought that we can do this as well. Thanks for the recipe process :)

  88. leslie

    I made this last night! I loved it. I served it over naan with the yogurt sauce, zucchini and meatballs – delicious! thank you always for inspiring me to try new things!

  89. Juanita

    Maybe a dumb question, but why can’t you just shape the meatballs onto the skewer? I’ve had similar in Persian restaurants, called kubideh kebab.

  90. Gabi

    I’ve made many of your recipes over the years and have developed a trusting relationship with you. Sometimes I have an internal dialogue with myself if a step seems unnecessary or gross, ie, ‘Soggy bread?!; I can probably skip that and just use dry bread.’ But then I remind myself that you wouldn’t steer us wrong. And you never do. These meatballs were delicious!

    1. deb

      Thanks! Panade — using bread or crumbs soaked with milk or another liquid — is a common technique in meatballs and meatloaves, and it often (also) means that the meatball doesn’t require eggs. It’s great!

  91. Anna

    These were amazing!! As a cilantro-hater I left it out and increased the parsley a bit, used turkey, and shaped them into small patties after giving up on the skewers. Served them with the grilled squash and yogurt exactly as written, and everything piled on couscous. Kids fought over the last bites, big success. Thank you!

  92. Elena K

    This made an excellent late summer meal. I made the kefta into small patties since it seemed people had trouble with the meatballs on skewers and placed the sliced zucchini on the grill without the skewers as well.

    Delicious and super easy!

  93. Miranda

    Made this tonight. Came together super quick. Didn’t have bread so I used panko and some milk to keep the mixture moist. Also subbed in ground beef cause it was all I had and in the air fryer for 14 mins at 350. So delicious! Served with couscous drizzled with olive oil, some lemon juice, scallions, and pomegranate seeds. AddI got this to the rotation….Deb saves the day again!

  94. Christine Todd

    Made this with turkey – tasted great – but was too soft and fell off the kabob sticks. I grilled them up as patties instead – but maybe bread crumbs instead of soaked bread next time.

  95. Catherine

    We made this for dinner tonight and it was a glorious success, that will make it onto our summer dinner rotations… We had to hold ourselves back from eating all of it. It was perfect for the hot day of today.

    Not sure why I’ve never made it before, as we are a huge fan of all of these items..
    We used lamb, and panko… and made them into kefta rolls on metal skewers. We had no problem with flipping them, and they slid off the skewer beautifully. Got to use fresh mint from my mint plant….

  96. Emily

    The meatballs had a great flavor, but they were so soft they wouldn’t hold on a skewer. They were the texture of wet mud, so I broiled them instead of grilled. I wonder if the bread wasn’t pre-soaked in water if they’d have a more substantial texture?

  97. Christine

    This recipe was awesome. My grocery store didn’t have ground lamb and I wasn’t in the mood for turkey so I did half ground beef half ground pork. Oh my goodness was this good. Having lost way too much food over the years between the grill plates of my grill, I used a grill mat and ditched the skewers. Much easier. Next time I’ll try it with lamb.

  98. soshedances1126

    Made with turkey tonight and grilled some z’aatar flatbread from Serious Eats. I made a hybrid yogurt sauce with lemon/garlic/olive oil/z’aatar for dipping both things. So so good! I doubled the parsley and left out the cilantro because I’m sadly one of those people who thinks cilantro tastes like soap, it worked out fine. We also have the kebab baskets so I made the meatballs and grilled them in those instead of trying to get them to stay on a skewer. We really enjoyed this- will probably go in the regular meal rotation. The turkey was excellent, though I would also love to try it with lamb (one of our dinner guests doesn’t eat lamb, hence the turkey).

  99. Kristie Vang

    Great and easy recipe. Made the kefta ahead of time and just before grilling I shaped them into balls. I had these with the yogurt dip and zucchini kebabs. I even made Syrian rice to go with it. Great combo!

  100. Laura H.

    These meatballs have great flavor! I used ground turkey, and didn’t change the recipe but for using Dave’s 7 seed thin sliced bread for the sandwich bread. The one step I would add in next time is squeeze the entire meatball mixture in cheesecloth to really extract as much liquid as possible, before shaping into balls and skewering. That’s because our meatball mixture ended up being a bit wet and some of the meatballs came apart from the skewers from the grill. If you want a carb with this like we did, I suggest the roasted Yukon gold potatoes Deb has in her Piri Piri chicken recipe — they are super simple to make and taste amazing dipped in the yogurt sauce! Oh, and I can vouch for labneh in place of yogurt in the yogurt sauce! Yum!

  101. Agata

    Question about using panko instead of bread soaked in liquid: roughly how much panko should I use? And do I need to compensate for the loss of moisture by adding a bit of milk or yogurt or similar?

  102. Allie DK

    Oh, those meatballs! So very soft and unable to grip the skewer. So, I removed the skewer and placed them on an oiled grill pan. I worried that they’d slip right through the grill grate because they were so loose and floppy. Did I measure wrong? Nonetheless, I grilled them (sans skewer and on a grill pan) for a good 8 minutes before attempting to turn them. From there they were just fine. Very yummy with the zucchini and yogurt/mint sauce. Still wondering if I measured my kabab ingredients wrong…anyone else?

  103. Moe

    Yummmmm! Whipped this up tonight for friends, to raves. Definitely going on my favorites list. So easy, too! Leftovers tomorrow in pitas! (Only had leftovers cuz I made sure to make extra!)

  104. Brenda Coomes

    Just made this and it is awesome. Instead of skewers, we just grilled the meatballs and zucchini. We put a plancha on our grill and cooked the zucchini there while grilling the meatballs. We made the meatballs a touch larger so that then didn’t fall between the grates and just grilled them. Definitely now on my keepers list.

  105. Hannah

    These are absolutely delicious and I will be making these again! I did some on the grill and some in the oven. Loved both.

  106. Katie

    These were delicious! I was serving dinner for company and was nervous about grilling them and didn’t have time for the skewers and tiny meatballs so I made them slightly larger and in the oven. They were delicious that way but I think they would be phenomenal on the grill. The yogurt sauce really takes them up a notch. Will definitely make again.