Thursday, August 4, 2011

Chez Michelle & Justin: Gluten-Free Kofte, Mucver and Yogurt Sauce


It's summer and for almost anyone with a garden in the US, you know what that means: It's zucchini season! Where I grew up, it was the season when all your neighbors with whom you'd previously been on friendly terms became aggressive zucchini pushers, leaving large bags on your doorstep, ringing the doorbell and then running away.

Here in the city, we haven't yet experimented with growing zucchini in our rooftop garden (though our tomatoes and herbs are thriving this year). Summer squash is, however, plentiful and inexpensive at farmers markets everywhere. We've been buying organic zucchini at the Union Square Greenmarket for as little as 99 cents a pound. Non-organic squash also available at some local grocery stores for 79 cents a pound. If you can, try to buy the organic sort or wash the vegetables well. You want to leave the delicious, nutrient-rich skin on when cooking.

Tonight, we decided to foray to Turkey for dinner. Kofte meatballs, lightened with cooked quinoa, are a perfect summer food, whether you grill them outside or pan fry them on the stove. Traditionally, they're served with pide bread. Chez Michelle and Justin, we serve them up with gluten-free, Turkish-inspired zucchini pancakes and yogurt sauce, two other popular meze.


Makes 16-20 small meatballs. Quinoa replaces the breadcrumbs or bulgur wheat often used in koftes. All measurements reference amounts after chopping, mincing or grinding. 

  • 1 pound ground lamb or beef 
  • 1/4 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp whole cumin seed, toasted and roughly crushed with a mortar and pestle
  • 1/2 tsp ground red chili pepper OR spicy hot paprika 
  • Optional: 1 tsp sumac; 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint; 1/8 tsp allspice; and/or 1/2 tsp freshly toasted and ground coriander seed.  
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil or fat for frying or for brushing on meatballs before grilling. 

Vigorously knead all ingredients except the oil together for 15 minutes to create an almost paste-like consistency or grind in a food processor. 

If you are making these on a stove top: 

Shape meat into 1.5 inch balls. Preheat pan -- I used a cast iron wok -- and lightly oil. I used duck fat, rendered from the duck breasts we had for dinner the previous night, which crisped up the kofte and mucver beautifully. Olive oil would be a tad healthier, though! 

Over medium high heat, evenly brown a small batch of meatballs on all sides until each meatball is firm and holds together easily when it is picked up. Drain on a paper towel covered plate. Repeat with remainder of the meat mixture. 

If you are grilling: 

Shape meat into 1-inch thick, 3-inch long oval patties. Brush with olive oil. Sear directly over heat source on medium high heat for 3 minutes per side, or until patties hold together easily. Handle the patties gingerly, since they are prone to crumbling until fully cooked. 

Serve over arugula or other lettuce with thinly sliced red onions, yogurt sauce and zucchini pancakes (recipes follow). 

Zucchini Pancakes with Yogurt Sauce

Zucchini Pancakes

This gluten-free version of zucchini pancakes replaces wheat flour with urad dal (black matpe) flour and rice flour. It is somewhere between Turkish mucver and Indian uttapam. Ground urad dal and rice flour are available at most Indian groceries. If you cannot find urad dal pre-ground, you can grind white urad dal in a blender or food processor to make flour. 

This recipe makes a helluva lot of pancakes -- I'd estimate around five dozen four-inch pancakes. Obviously, you can halve or quarter the recipe, though we've found that the batter keeps well in the refrigerator for several days. Allow leftover batter to warm to near room temperature before using. 

  • 4 medium zucchini (also known as courgettes). We used one golden zucchini and three green ones, which made for a very pretty contrast of colors. 
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup urad dal flour  
  • 3/4 cup non-glutinous rice flour 
  • 1 small bunch of dill (approximately 1/4 cups packed, after chopping) 
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely minced 
  • 1 bunch of scallions, green parts chopped, white parts minced
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, packed (note that feta cheese is a more traditional addition) 
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper
  • Salt to taste

Grate the zucchini, sprinkling each layer of zucchini with salt to help draw out the liquid. Do NOT discard the liquid. 

Mix in eggs. Slowly sift in urad dal flour, mixing thoroughly with the egg and zucchini mixture as you go. Urad dal flour clumps easily, so unless you grind it fresh, send it through a flour sifter. Sift in rice flour. 

Add dill, garlic, scallions, cheese and pepper. Mix well to incorporate. Add salt to taste. For best results, allow batter to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before frying. 

Heat a large pan and lightly oil. (I used my cast iron wok, again, with a layer of fat left over from frying the kofte.) Drop rounded large spoonfuls of batter -- about 2 to 3 tablespoons -- into the hot pan and spread into 4 inch pancakes of about 1/4 inch thickness. Fry over medium heat until bottom side is brown and crispy. Flip and brown the other side. 

Pretty Green and Yellow Mucver Batter

A superfluous vanity shot of duck breast with zucchini pancakes:

Long Island Duck Breast, Zucchini Pancakes, Duck Fat Green Beans

As you can see, zucchini pancakes go with everything... even coffee as part of a balanced breakfast. :)

Yogurt Sauce

This yogurt sauce is best made several hours to one day in advance to allow flavors to mature. 

  • 1 cup plain yogurt, preferably the thick, strained variety (Fage is a good Greek brand)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt to taste
  • Optional: a pinch of ground red pepper

Crush garlic clove well with salt, using a mortar and pestle. (If you don't have a mortar, you can achieve the same effect using the side of a knife and then finely mincing.) Stir garlic, tahini and lemon juice into yogurt. Taste and adjust salt, adding more if necessary. Serve with a sprinkling of ground red pepper over top.  

Yogurt-Tahini Sauce
Finally, some vanity shots of other favorite (Mediterranean, but not necessarily Turkish) accompaniments: 

Caprese Salad with Homegrown Tomatoes and Basil

Prosciutto di Parma with Cantaloupe Melon

Quinoa Tabouleh

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