Middle Eastern Kofta Meatballs in a spiced but not spicy baharat tomato sauce. When you crave Middle Eastern food in the comfort of your own home, these kofta meatballs are easy to make with no hard-to-get ingredients! Homemade baharat, or Arabic 7 Spice, only has 7-8 pantry staple spices.
Lebanese food is one of my absolute favorites. Always so warming and comforting flavors, they are bold flavors too, so absolutely far from boring. That is why I love this Middle Eastern inspired grilled feta cheese sandwich or green shakshuka for breakfast as well.
These are juicy meatballs full in warming flavor, in a tomato sauce for even more comfort and warming spices. This is perfect with a big slice of warm naan or batbout, fresh pomegranate arils and couscous!
What is kofta (kefta)?
Kofta, or kefta, are a family of meatballs found on the Indian subcontinent, Balkan and the Middle East and more. There are a lot of varieties depending on where you eat them, but they are all some sort of meatballs with spices.
In Muslim countries you won't find pork meatballs, and in India you won't find beef meatballs. In Iran, Pakistan and Iraq, kofta is usually served with some sort of gravy or sauce because the dry ones are known as kebabs.
Since I use an Arabic 7 Spice in this recipe, and a tomato sauce, I refer to these as either Lebanese or Middle Eastern kofta meatballs. They are not authentic, as I'm not from there, but they have a lot of the same flavors. I hope you will like them as much as I do!
How to cook meatballs - on the stove, in the oven, in a sauce
There are several ways to cook meatballs. All three are acceptable to use for this recipe too. I like to use a combination of these for the absolute best flavor.
How to cook meatballs on the stove
On the stove is really easy, and you don't have to heat the entire house (or kitchen) by turning your oven on. You also get the absolute best sear on the meatballs by cooking them on the stove. However, they are a little more hands-on and the kitchen can get messy by the splatter.
Heat a skillet to medium high-heat. I absolutely love to use butter when pan frying meatballs. If you want to use a higher heat on the stove, you can use a combination of butter and oil. Fry the meatballs on one side for 2 minutes, then flip to brown on the other side for 2 minutes.
Now that they're browned, you can either flip them occasionally for about 10-15 minutes (or no longer pink in the middle), or combine them with baking in the oven or in a sauce. More on that below.
How to cook meatballs in the oven
Baked meatballs are easier, because you can cook a whole lot at the same time and there's very little hands-on time. You won't get that amazing sear, but they are still pretty fantastic if you ask me. I'm not sure if this is true or not, but I think, baked meatballs always are the juicier.
Bake on a parchment lined baking sheet in a 375F (190C) oven for about 25-30 minutes or until no longer pink in the middle. You can also semi-bake for 12-14 minutes and continue cooking in the sauce, like we do in this recipe.
How to cook meatballs in a sauce
You can cook raw meatballs directly in the sauce. Cooking the meatballs in the sauce gives the sauce more depth of flavor. You definitely get the best sauce from cooking the meatballs in the sauce!
Make the sauce first, then shape the meatballs. Add in meatballs and cover and cook for 10 minutes. Gently stir the meatballs, and cook uncovered for 10 more minutes, or until cooked through.
I like to sear the meatballs first, before adding them to the sauce.
For more meatball ideas, try these sticky ginger pork meatballs!
My favorite way to cook meatballs
So I take these three methods and combine them into one. Getting the best flavor and texture in one.
- Best sear
- Most flavorful sauce
Get it? Absolutely worth it!
1. Best sear: Shape the meatballs. Heat a skillet (for easier clean-up, make sure to use an oven-safe skillet) up to medium high heat. I prefer to use butter for flavor, but you can also use a combination of butter and oil or just oil. Butter doesn't take heat so well, but medium high heat should be ok. Pan fry the meatballs, 2 minutes on each side, or until browned.
2. Juiciest: Pre-heat oven to 375F (190C). Add the skillet into the oven. If you didn't use an oven-safe skillet, prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the meatballs on the baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. This step can be omitted, and just cook the meatballs until cooked through in the sauce (about 30 minutes).
3. Most flavorful sauce: After the sauce has cooked for 5 minutes, add in the baked meatballs. Cook for about 20-30 minutes, but a little longer is also fine. The longer you cook, the more flavor you get. It's hard to dry out meatballs that's sitting in a sauce, so don't worry too much about that.
What temperature should meatballs be cooked to?
The internal temperature of the meatballs should be 165F (74C), however, I rarely check this. What I do is, I open one meatball to see if it's still pink inside. Then I give it a couple more minutes, check again. Once they're no longer pink - they're done!
How much salt should you add?
There's a few things to consider when making meatballs, and salt is definitely one of them. Do not skip the salt! 1 teaspoon is sufficient for 1 lb of meat.
I have gone down to ¾ teaspoon for this kofta meatballs recipe, but feel free to use 1 teaspoon as well. Meatballs need to be heavily seasoned, and that's why I'm adding so much salt and (unsalted) baharat spice mix.
Baharat = Arabic 7 spice
What I didn't realize when I first made this recipe, was that baharat and Arabic 7 spice is the same spice mix. It is a Middle Eastern all-round seasoning and works with pretty much everything.
I have another recipe for baharat, and it's just 8 simple pantry staple seasonings, with no added salt so it's easier to control the salt when cooking. That recipe yields 1 cup of spice mix, so it's enough for making this dish 8 times!
But of course, there are other ways to use baharat too, read under 'Other Middle Eastern recipes'.
Middle Eastern Kofta Meatballs in Baharat Tomato Sauce
By now, you should be an expert meatball maker. In short, we combine the ingredients for the meatballs together. Brown in a skillet, bake for 12 minutes and then continue to simmer in the sauce for best sear, juiciness and flavor.
To make the sauce, heat a large skillet with oil. Cook onion for 5-7 minutes or until transluscent, then add in garlic and cook for 30 seconds more or until fragrant. Now add in the rest of the sauce ingredients - apart from honey and salt. Bring it up to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes.
Add in the meatballs and let it simmer for 20 minutes, or longer for more flavor. Once done simmering, adjust seasonings accordingly. The longer you let it cook, the less likely it is you will need any honey.
Serve with couscous or rice, warm pita and fresh pomegranate arils - enjoy!
Did you like these kofta meatballs? Here's other Middle Eastern recipes
I looove Middle Eastern cuisine. They are often so warming, full of spice and flavor and just so comforting without being boring. If you're interested in trying some of my other Middle Eastern and North African inspired recipes, I can recommend trying
- Baharat Spice Mix
- Za'atar Spice Mix
- Flatbread with Baharat Spiced Beef and Mint
- Chicken Shawarma + Shawarma Spice Mix
- Tabbouleh with Quinoa
- Za'atar and Date Goat Cheese Naan
- Grilled Harissa Chicken Salad
- Moroccan Butternut and Chevre Soup
- Crispy Baked Falafel
- Healthy Halloumi Quinoa Salad
- Moroccan Turkey (or chicken) Stew (scroll a little to find it)
- ...and for dessert: White Chocolate Mousse with Rose and Pistachio
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