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.”
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.
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.
Note: These kebabs got some fresh photos and light recipe edits in 2020 It originally looked like this:
Kefta and Zucchini Kebabs
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.
- 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
- 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)
- 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
Sauce and assembly
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.