This koofteh is one of the very first dishes that I made on my own after my auntie showed me how to make them. She called them poor man’s kufta (yolchi kuftasi in her native Azari language). I was eleven years old but can still remember the day and the scrummy dish.
I hadn’t made these in years. I was craving them but wasn’t sure my meat-loving husband would be a big fan. I was even prepared to heat him some other leftovers if he didn’t like it. But to my amazement he loved it so much he had them the next day too and asked me to make them again!
So what makes these meatless “meatballs” so delicious? I’d say lots and lots of herbs, the barberries and especially the prunes that lend a slightly sweet and sour flavour to the “meatballs” and the sauce.
These “meatballs” are called koofteh in Persian which basically means “pounded”. In old days meat for koofteh was pounded with a huge stone mortar and pestle. Pounding gave the meat a sticky texture that held the meatballs together during cooking. But poor man’s koofteh don’t need pounding. There is no meat to pound!
The trick to hold the ingredients together is to knead the mix lightly and to use a sticky type of rice. Any kind of short or medium grain rice will be good. I used Italian Arborio which I often use to make sticky mixed rice dishes. It’s also important to allow the sauce to boil, lower the heat a tad bit so it doesn’t boil briskly and then submerge the meatballs one by one so the temperature of the sauce doesn’t drop. The rest is all really easy peasy.
Barberries do make this dish tastier but you can do without if they are hard to come by where you live. They come dried but I keep them in the freezer to preserve their gorgeous colour for longer. The tiny ruby red berries don’t even really freeze so I use them in my dishes after a quick rinse under the tap.
Nowadays most Middle Eastern and Persian groceries in the UK and online suppliers stock barberries. The dried berries are very light so a packet of 200 grams will see you through quite a few dishes.
Serve these “meatballs” with warmed flatbread or crusty bread to dunk in the sauce. Iranians love to have a bowl of fresh herbs such as mint, coriander and tarragon, spring onions and radishes on the table too. The herb mix is called sabzī khordan (herbs for eating). The herbs serve as flavour enhancer and refresh the palate between morsels.
To serve five persons (two meatballs each) you will need the following ingredients:
For the meatballs:
For the sauce:
PS: A little bit of the rice and herbs will eventually get into the sauce but that’s OK. It will thicken the sauce and add to its flavour.