Koofteh (a name that highlights their close relationship to the perhaps more familiar Indian kofte) are enormously popular throughout Iran, encompassing everything from tiny grape-sized meatballs to one large enough to encase an entire chicken. They can be made from lamb, as here, or beef, or be purely rice based, and are often flavoured with generous quantities of herbs and fruit, making them gently aromatic, rather than spicy. It's this quality, along with the slight sweetness of the meat which makes them a perfect match for a fruity New World pinot noir like this silky Californian example, with its notes of baked plums and star anise.
The recipe below is a slightly simplified version of a classic tomato sauce-based dish, just quick enough to throw together for dinner midweek, especially if you make the meatballs in advance – if you can't find all the herbs, or would prefer to use dried cranberries or currants instead of the cherries, for example, then don't worry too much; it's a very good-tempered dish. Similarly, the buttery lentil-studded rice is just a serving suggestion; these would also be good with flatbreads, potatoes or a simple green salad.
For the meatballs
- 400g minced lamb
- 15g flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- 15g coriander, roughly chopped
- 15g dill, roughly chopped
- 15g chives, roughly chopped
- 15g tarragon, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 50g dried cherries, roughly chopped
- 25g pine nuts
- 1 egg, beaten
- Olive oil, to fry
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
- 240g long grain rice, to serve
- 4 tbsp cooked brown lentils (optional)
- Knob of butter
- Start by making the meatballs. Mix all the ingredients together, and season well with salt and pepper – I find it easiest to use my hands for this. Roll them into walnut-sized balls with damp hands.
- Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large, heavy-based lidded pan on a medium-high heat and fry the meatballs, in batches if necessary, until golden brown on all sides (no need to cook them through at this stage). Scoop out and set aside for now.
- Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary (it probably won't be) and add the garlic. Fry for a minute or so, until aromatic but not brown, then tip in the tinned tomatoes and scrape the bottom of the pan to dislodge any delicious pieces of lamb.
- Bring to a simmer, then add the meatballs back, half cover, turn down the heat slightly and cook on a medium heat for about 30 minutes, then remove the lid and allow to bubble more enthusiastically for another 10-15 until the sauce has thickened and steam holes are appearing in the top of it. Meanwhile, cook the rice.
- Once the rice is cooked, drain the lentils and stir through the hot pan with a knob of butter and cover. Leave to heat through for 5 minutes, then serve with the meatballs.