Kafta ~ Spiced Kebabs

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Kafta, and kebabs, are ubiquitous in cultures across the Middle East. They’re now popular in North America too, because of their flavors and limitless variations. This version is made with your choice of ground meat and shaped into sausage forms that are perfect for tucking into a pita, drizzled with preserved lemon yogurt. But, as we said, your options are endless.

Eight kafta, or spiced kebabs, on a plate with a bowl of preserved lemon yogurt next to it and a bowl of rice beside it.

Adapted from Reem Kassis | The Arabesque Table | Phaidon Press, 2021

You would be hard-pressed to find a cuisine today that does not involve some version of a kafta or meatball, but the very first reference to finely minced well-seasoned balls of lamb meat dates back to a recipe in a tenth-century Arabic cookbook in which they were cooked and glazed in saffron and egg yolk. Although much has changed in terms of food since then, the ubiquitous kafta remains a rustic food prepared across cultures in similar ways. In Arab cuisine it is, at its most basic, ground meat mixed with onion and spices. Other additions like herbs and nuts also abound, but it is the shaping and cooking styles that are countless. From balls and discs to sausage shapes or flattened out in a pan, from fried or baked with tahini to simmered in tomato sauce or grilled over coals, where we call it “kebab.”–Reem Kassis

Kafta ~ Spiced Kebabs

Eight kafta, or spiced kebabs, on a plate with a bowl of preserved lemon yogurt next to it and a bowl of rice beside it.
The kebabs in this recipe are roasted in a home oven, but the texture is wonderfully browned and crisp on the outside but juicy and fluffy within. The flavor in this recipe takes inspiration from springtime in the Middle East when dill and cilantro (coriander) are plentiful, creating a unique combo that is delicious with a side of rice or roast potatoes or, if you’re like me, wrapped up in unleavened flatbread.
Reem Kassis

Prep 45 mins
Cook 15 mins
Total 1 hr 10 mins
Middle Eastern
5 servings
532 kcal
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  • Cooking spray
  • 2 pounds ground beef lamb, veal, or a combination
  • 2 ounces pita bread or white bread with crusts removed
  • 1 medium (7 oz) onion
  • 1 clove garlic peeled (optional)
  • Small handful of fresh cilantro
  • Small handful of dill
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baharat or Lebanese 7-spice blend
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper* (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Orzo rice, or flatbread, for serving
  • Preserved lemon yogurt


  • Preheat the broiler to high, set a rack above the middle of the oven, and lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan with cooking spray.
  • Place the meat in a large bowl and keep chilled until ready to use.
  • In a food processor, combine the bread, onion, garlic, if using, cilantro, dill, salt, spice blend, Aleppo pepper, if using, and olive oil and pulse to a fine paste.
  • Add the mixture to the meat in the bowl and mix with your hands until fully incorporated. Shape the meat into fat sausages (about 2 oz | 57 g each) and arrange them on the baking sheet or roasting pan. Flatten slightly with your hand, then use the side of your finger to make three diagonal indentations atop each sausage.
  • Move them to the oven and broil until the tops are browned and you see some oil released and bubbling around the edges, and the internal temperature has reached 160°F (71°C), 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with orzo, rice, or flatbread, and the preserved lemon yogurt sauce on the side.
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*What can I substitute for Aleppo pepper?

Aleppo pepper can be hard to come by—it only comes from a small area of the world, specifically in parts of Syria and Turkey. Also known as the Halaby pepper, it has a fairly mild, fruity flavor similar to raisins. If you can't get your mitts on any, you can substitute ancho chile or a mixture of sweet paprika with a pinch of cayenne.  

Show Nutrition

Serving: 1portionCalories: 532kcal (27%)Carbohydrates: 9g (3%)Protein: 33g (66%)Fat: 39g (60%)Saturated Fat: 14g (88%)Trans Fat: 2gCholesterol: 129mg (43%)Sodium: 528mg (23%)Potassium: 571mg (16%)Fiber: 1g (4%)Sugar: 1g (1%)Vitamin A: 408IU (8%)Vitamin C: 4mg (5%)Calcium: 55mg (6%)Iron: 4mg (22%)

Originally published May 23, 2021

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