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Kofta (see § Naming for other terms) is a family of meatball or meatloaf dishes found in South Asian, Middle Eastern, Balkan, and Central Asian cuisine. In the simplest form, koftas consist of balls of minced or ground meat—usually beef, chicken, lamb, or pork—mixed with spices and/or onions. In South Asia and the Middle East, koftas are usually made from lamb, beef, mutton or chicken, whereas Greek, Cypriot, and Balkan versions may use pork, beef, lamb, or mixture of the three. In India, vegetarian varieties include koftas made from potato, calabash, paneer, or banana. In Europe, kofta is served as fast food as a type of kebab.
Koftas in India are usually served cooked in a spicy curry/gravy and are eaten with boiled rice or a variety of Indian breads. In Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan, koftas are served with a spiced gravy, as dry variations are considered to be kebabs. Shrimp and fish koftas are found in South India, West Bengal, some parts of the Persian Gulf, and parts of Egypt.
The meat is often mixed with other ingredients, such as rice, bulgur, vegetables, or eggs to form a smooth paste. They can be grilled, fried, steamed, poached, baked or marinated, and may be served with a rich spicy sauce. Koftas are sometimes made from fish or vegetables rather than red meat, especially in India; deep-fried kofta made from shrimp is known in Egypt. Variations occur in North Africa, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and India. According to a 2005 study done by a private food company, there were 291 different kinds of kofta in Turkey. In the Arab world, kufta is usually shaped into cigar-shaped cylinders.
Early recipes (included in some of the earliest known Arabic cookbooks) generally concern seasoned lamb rolled into orange-sized balls, and glazed with egg yolk and sometimes saffron. This method was taken to the West and is referred to as "gilding" or "endoring". Many regional variations exist, notable among them include the unusually large Azerbaijani (Iranian) Tabriz köftesi, having an average diameter of 20 cm, (8 in).
Koftas in South Asian cuisine are normally cooked in a spiced gravy, or curry, and sometimes simmered with hard-boiled eggs. Vegetarian koftas are eaten by a large population in India. The British dish Scotch egg may have been inspired by the Indian dish Nargisi kofta ("Narcissus kofta"), where hard-boiled eggs are encased in a layer of spicy kofta meat. In Bengal, a region of eastern India, koftas are made from prawns, fish, green bananas, cabbage or meat, such as minced goat meat.
In Albania, there are specialized shops called Qofteri, which offer qofte and beer.
In Israel, meat kufta is part of the Mizrahi Jewish cuisine, and is made of minced meat, herbs and spices, and cooked with tomato sauce, date syrup, pomegranate syrup or tamarind syrup with vegetables or beans. A fish version is prepared with minced fish, coriander, dried peppers (bell peppers and chili peppers), onion, black pepper and salt, and is usually cooked in a tomato stew with chickpeas or white beans. The word kufta in Modern Hebrew, however, is used to describe a broad variety of dough dumplings, and was coined after the mention in the Jerusalem Talmud, written circa year 200 CE.
In Pakistan, kofta is made from ground beef with onion, spices and salt. Nargisi kofta with hard boiled egg encased in spicy kofta are also popular.
In Jordan, they are usually made of beef, chicken, lamb or a mixture of chicken and beef with allspice, parsley, mint, onion, black pepper and salt and are fried in olive oil or cooked in tomato or pomegranate stews.
In Romania, there is a local variety of kofta, known as chiftele or chiftea. They are usually made from minced pork, mixed with mashed potatoes and spices, then deep-fried. They are served with pilaf or mashed potatoes.
Meatballs or Keftes, in a strict sense, is finely chopped meat, mixed with herbs and spices, formed in small balls or patties, and fried, baked, broiled or boiled. If the main ingredient is meat, then the outcome is meat-balls, and if fish, then fish-balls, if cheese, then cheese-balls, and so on. One method of meat preparation in ancient Greece, was to finely chop it into "perikomma" (περίκομμα), a term derived from "perix" (πέριξ), meaning all around or throughout, and "kopto" or "kovo" (κόπτω or κόβω), meaning to cut or chop, what is known today as ground-meat. The ground-meat called "perikomma", was mixed with herbs and spices and was called "myma" (μύμα), that is, mincemeat [Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae III, 103f, XIV 662e], which was used to make meatballs. During the Hellenistic era, perikomma or chopped meat became known as "sarkoptes" or "sarkoftes". Again, the word sarkoftes consists of the two words, "sarx" (σάρξ=flesh, meat) and "koftes" from kopto or kovo (to cut or to chop). So, sarkoftes that means chopped-meat is the perikomma of Athenaeus. The well-known culinary writer of antiquity Apicius devoted a chapter with title "Sarkoftes", in which he listed several recipes [Apicius, De Re Coquinaria, book II]. Over time, the term sarkoftes was shortened to the generic Greek term "koftes" and "keftes". Another version of the origin of the word kofta comes from Classical Persian kōfta (کوفته), meaning "rissole", from the verb kōftan (کوفتن), "to pound" or "to grind", reflecting the ground meat used for the meatballs rather than chunks (Persian reference needed). The fact remains that the taste of meatball from country to country and from city to city may differ, as the type and amount of herbs and spices in them vary, reflecting local culinary traditions, and currently, as in antiquity, meatball recipes carry an epithet identifying the city/country of origin of the meatball recipe.
- Afghanistan: کوفته (kofta)
- Albania: qofte
- Arab countries: كفته (kufta in standard Arabic and most dialects; 'kefta)
- Armenia: քյուֆթա (kyuft’a)
- Assyrian Neo-Aramaic: kipti (Iraqi Koine), kipteh (Urmian) and kufta (Tyari and Chaldean Neo-Aramaic)
- Azerbaijan: küftə
- Bangladesh: kofta কোফতা Dhakayi Bangla or kufta কুফতা Sylheti Bangla
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: ćufte
- Bulgaria: кюфте (kyufte)
- Croatia: ćufta
- Georgia: გუფთა (gupta)
- Greece: κεφτές (keftés)
- Israel: כופתה (kufta)
- India: कोफ़्ता (kofta)
- Iran: کوفته (kufte)
- Kurdistan: کفته (kefta)
- Macedonia: ќофте (kjofte)
- Pakistan: كوفته (kofta)
- Romania: chiftea
- Serbia: ћуфтa (ćufta) or ћуфтe (ćufte)
- Turkey: köfte
- West Bengal: কোপতা (kopta)
- Abdel Fattah, Iman Adel (5 December 2013). "Bites Fil Beit: Koftet el Gambari – Shrimp kofta". Daily News Egypt. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
- "Türkiye'nin tam 291 köftesi var" [Turkey has 291 meatballs]. Sabah (in Turkish). 6 March 2005.
- Oxford Companion to Food, s.v. kofta
- "Nargisi meaning in Hindi - Meaning of NARGISI in Hindi - Translation". Dict.hinkhoj.com. Retrieved 2016-09-16.
- Oxford Companion to Food, s.v. kofta and Scotch egg
- Jill Tilsley-Benham, ""Sheep with Two Tails: Sheep's Tail-Fat as Cooking Medium in the Middle East", In: Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery, 1986: The Cooking Medium, p. 48
- "Maachalim LaChag" מאכלים לחג [Holiday Food] (in Hebrew). The Academy of the Hebrew Language. 14 March 2013.
- "Basic Kafta Recipe by dianak". Retrieved 7 September 2016.
- Alan S. Kaye, "Persian loanwords in English", English Today 20:20-24 (2004), doi:10.1017/S0266078404004043.
- The dictionary definition of kofta at Wiktionary