There’s an amazing Lebanese restaurant just up the street from my house. I often say that if I could afford it, I would eat ALL of my meals there, because I never seem to tire of the bright, fresh flavors. This is the restaurant that turned me from a fresh mint hater into somebody who craves fresh mint, in the form of their mouthwatering tabbouleh.
Everything from the chicken shawarma to the mujadra (carmelized onions + lentils) to the baba ghannouge (eggplant dip) is packed with simple yet delicious, beautiful ingredients. When I order carryout, I’m guaranteed a healthful meal that still feels indulgent. And my very favorite thing to order from there? Shish Kafta.
Shish Kafta is a simple mixture of ground beef and lamb mixed with parsley, onions and spices. It’s incredibly easy to make at home, and can be served any number of ways – with rice, wrapped up in a pita, or on top of a salad. But my recent favorite way to serve it is to wrap the salad around the kafta, i.e. these Grilled Kafta Lettuce Wraps.
My good friends at organicgirl have recently introduced their true hearts butter lettuce. I’m such a butter lettuce lover that it’s already become a fridge staple for me, showing up in a great green salad with miso dressing at least once a week. But one of the coolest things about butter lettuce is how the leaves are big enough and flexible enough to use them as a wrap. Here, I made a slightly smaller version of traditional shish kafta and served the kafta in lettuce cups along with some traditional Mediterranean accompaniments like hummus and yogurt sauce.
For the Yogurt Sauce:
1/2 English cucumber, grated
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
For the Grilled Kafta:
4 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 pound ground beef round
1/2 pound ground lamb
1/4 cup grated white onion
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1-1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Vegetable oil, for grill
12 butter lettuce leaves
Thinly sliced English cucumber
Thinly sliced red onion
Hummus, store-bought or homemade (optional)
Tabbouleh, store-bought or homemade (optional)
Lemon wedges (optional)
Prepare white or brown rice (optional)
Make the Yogurt Sauce: Place cucumber in medium fine mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Sprinkle cucumber with salt and toss until well combined. Let stand 10 minutes.
Squeeze as much liquid as possible from cucumber; discard liquid. Place drained cucumber in bowl. Add yogurt, garlic and black pepper; stir until well combined. Refrigerate until kafta are ready to serve.
Make the Grilled Kafta: Preheat grill for direct grilling over medium-high heat. Place garlic, ground beef, ground lamb, onion, parsley, coriander, salt, cumin, allspice, black pepper, cinnamon and cayenne in large bowl; stir (or mix with hands) until just combined. Do not overmix. Using hands, gently form mixture into 12 equal balls. Roll balls into 3-inch long sausage-shaped pieces.
Lightly brush grill grates with vegetable oil; transfer kafta to prepared grill grates. Cook 6 to 8 minutes or until internal temperatue of kafta reaches 160 degrees F, turning occasionally.
Serve kafta in lettuce leaves garnished with cucumber, onion and Yogurt Sauce. Serve with hummus, tabbouleh, lemon wedges and rice, if desired.
Home Chef Tips:
The kafta mixture is aggressively seasoned, but don’t skimp on the spices. The complex flavor the spice mixture adds to the meat is a hallmark of kafta.
Kafta is traditionally formed onto skewers before grilling. I find that this step adds unnecessary time and work to the recipe, so I skip the skewers. I think these kafta are still plenty easy to turn on the grill simply using tongs.
Don’t have a grill? Bake the kafta in a 400 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until internal temperatue of kafta reaches 160 degrees F.