July 10, 2014 at 1:00 am

Flexible spicy Middle Eastern koftas have Hungarian influences

The lamb koftas are grilled, making them healthier and more flavorful. (Joseph Erdos)

The flavors and spices of Middle Eastern foods, especially the grilled kebabs and koftas, are some of the most interesting and unique, with influence stretching from the Himalayas to the Mediterranean. Koftas, grilled ground meat patties, can be found in many countries in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and Central Europe.

A few years back, I enjoyed some wonderful lamb koftas at a Turkish restaurant in New York City. Ever since then Iíve kept the idea in the back of my mind of creating my own recipe. Inspired also by the Hungarian fasirt my mother makes, I wanted to create a recipe that combined spices from the various regions: paprika from Hungary and coriander, cumin and turmeric from India.

My motherís fasirt combines beef and pork and only uses the simplest spices, whereas koftas are generally made out of beef or lamb and use the most pungent spices. These koftas can be shaped into patties or meatballs, but I thread them onto skewers, one of the more interesting methods of cooking them. They can be fried in oil, but grilling them is healthier and lends more flavor. In South Asia, koftas are seared first and then stewed in curry. This recipe can be adapted to suit many tastes and preparations. The idea of meat on a stick is so novel that itís worth making, especially for kids.

To cut the spiciness of the meat, I pair it with a creamy Asian-inspired slaw of Napa cabbage with a few sliced chilies thrown in for heat. Sour cream in the dressing helps cool the palate and counteract the heat and spiciness. It makes for a meal thatís great for a quick weeknight dinner around the world.

Grilled Lamb Koftas

1 pound ground lamb
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large egg
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
ľ cup finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
Canola oil, for grilling
Metal skewers or bamboo skewers, soaked in water

In a large bowl, combine lamb, oil, egg, onion, cilantro and spices. Mix until thoroughly combined. Mixture should be sticky.

Preheat a grill pan over medium-high to high heat.

Form ground meat mixture into 8 evenly sized meatballs. Thread 2 meatballs per metal skewer or 2 bamboo skewers. Squeeze meatballs to adhere to skewer and form each into a sausage shape.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Brush grill pan with oil. Place skewered koftas onto pan and cook until almost cooked through, about 5 to 7 minutes per side.

Place koftas on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until completely cooked through and juices run clear when pierced, about 10 to 15 minutes. Yield: 4 servings.

Per serving: 316 calories; 23 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 66 percent calories from fat); 4 g carbohydrates; 136 mg cholesterol; 89 mg sodium; 23 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Napa Cabbage Slaw

1 small head Napa cabbage (about 1 pound), thinly sliced
Ĺ head radicchio, shredded
1 medium carrot, grated
2 red Thai bird chilies, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
ľ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine cabbage, carrot, radicchio and chilies in a large bowl.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together vinegar, lime juice, oils, sour cream, mustard and ginger. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour dressing over vegetables and toss gently to combine. Chill for 20 minutes before serving. Yield: 4 servings.

Per serving: 117 calories; 9 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 69 percent calories from fat); 9 g carbohydrates; 3 mg cholesterol; 175 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 4 g fiber.