This traditional dish is one of the specialties in Iranian cuisine. As the name reveals, this Iranian dish is originated in Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan province, northwest of Iran. What makes Koofteh Tabrizi one of a kind among all other Iranian foods is not just the ingredients but the way it gets prepared and cooked.
This recipe may take you much time but the outcome is so delicious that you’ll admit it’s worth trying.
Ingredients Needed for Koofteh Tabrizi:
- 500 g ground veal (about 85% lean, ground twice)
- 1 large onion, grated, and the juice squeezed out
- ½ cup half-cooked, yellow split peas
- 1 cup rice, half-cooked without salt
- 1 medium potato, boiled and peeled
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup finely chopped chives
- ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
- 1 tbsp. crushed, dried summer savory (if unavailable, just leave it out)
- 1 tbsp. crushed, dried tarragon
- ½ tbsp. crushed, dried mint leaves
- 1/8 tsp. saffron powder, presoaked using 1 small ice cube
- Salt, turmeric powder, hot and black pepper powder
- 2-3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
- 6 yellow prunes, presoaked for about 30 minutes
- 1 medium onion, finely diced and fried to golden brown
- ½ cup dried barberry, presoaked for about 30 minutes, drained
- 1 cup coarsely crushed walnut
- vegetable oil
- 3 tbsps. tomato paste
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 1/8 saffron powder
- Cooking oil
- Salt, turmeric powder, hot pepper powder
- 3-4 cups hot water
Directions to Cook Koofteh Tabrizi:
1. Process the rice, yellow split peas, and potato all together using a food processor until uniform. Set them aside. Be careful not to over-process them to paste.
2. In a large bowl, mix the ground meat and grated onion thoroughly. Note: High-fat meat, and also, not squeezing out the onion juice can cause this Iranian dish to fall apart while cooking.
3. Add the rice mixture prepared through processing, egg, herbs, liquid saffron, salt, and turmeric, and pepper powder. Mix them all completely using your hand. Then, continue kneading for about 10-15 more minutes.
- Add the rice mixture, the herbs, and the egg and condiments separately in three phases. Add one of them, mix well, and then add the other one. Mixing and kneading play an important role because it prevents your meatballs from falling apart.
4. Refrigerate your paste-like mixture for about 1 hour. Meanwhile, prepare the fillings and the sauce.
- You can also prepare the mixture one day earlier and refrigerate it overnight.
- It’s even possible to freeze your mixture for up to one month and use it to make Koofteh Tabrizi whenever you feel like it.
5. Sauté the barberry and walnut separately just for a few minutes and set them aside.
6. In a large pot, fry the diced onion with some turmeric powder until golden brown over medium heat.
7. Add tomato paste, salt, and pepper. Stir for about one minute and then about 4-5 cups hot water. Stir a bit. Increase the heat to bring it to a boil.
8. Add the saffron. Reduce heat to low. Cover the pot and let the sauce get thick while simmering gently.
9. Line a bowl with cheesecloth. To fix the cloth, you can use a rubber band around the bowl.
10. Remove the paste-like mixture from the refrigerator. Knead it a little.
11. Add about half of the mixture to the bowl. Use your fingers to spread it at the bottom and bring it up toward the sides.
- Choose a bowl big enough that can hold half of your mixture.
- Keep a bowl of cold water next to yourself. To prevent the mixture from sticking to your hands, wet them in cold water then start making meatballs.
12. Put 2 hard-boiled eggs in the middle. Add the other fillings all. Then, place the remaining mixture on top and press down with your palm to get the two halves sealed. Go around the edges and make sure they’re sealed.
- You can exclude the Boiled egg from your Koofteh Tabrizi recipe if you don’t like it.
- Take about one tablespoon of fried onion and one tablespoon of sautéing barberries, and set them aside for garnishing this Iranian dish.
13. Tie the cloth closely. Be careful not to leave any corner open. Make a bow since it’s easier to open.
14. Pick up your gigantic meat wrap gently and pass it from hand to hand a few times to shape it like a ball.
15. Go back to the sauce. Remove the lid. Increase the heat to medium to maintain a low boil. Then place your meatball gently into the pot. Within the first 30 minutes, don’t cover the pot and also don’t move or turn the Koofteh.
16. By the end of 30 minutes, the Koofteh starts changing color and it feels firmer. At this time, reduces heat to low, and baste your Koofteh with some of the sauce using a spoon or a ladle. Then cover the pot (tilt the lid) and let it simmer gently for about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
- While the meatball is being cooked, toss it gently and carefully once in a while to get it cooked evenly in all parts. You can also baste the top with the sauce occasionally. Don’t forget to cover the pot again.
- The reason for wrapping your Koofteh Tabrizi in a cloth is to prevent it from falling apart while cooking.
- Instead of making a gigantic Koofteh, you can divide your mixture and make about two or three smaller meatballs in size of an orange. In that case, there is no need to use cheesecloth, just use a bowl in an appropriate size as a scoop for making meatballs. You’ll also need 1 hard-boiled egg for each meatball.
- In case of making orange size Koofteh, have some cold water next to yourself. Add about ½ tablespoon cold water to the bowl using as a scoop, then add the mixture and continue making a ball. This way it would be easier to get your meatball out of the bowl. You just need to invert the bowl on your palm and tap it a few times. Do the same with the rest of the meatballs.
- Arrange the small meatballs in the pot with about 1 cm space in between.
17. Finally, when your Koofteh Tabrizi is cooked completely and the meat in it doesn’t smell raw, it’s ready to serve. Turn off heat and let the Koofteh sit in the pot for about 15 minutes, cooling down a little bit.
In the end, there will be just about a cup of thick sauce left in the pot.
How to Serve This Iranian Dish:
Transfer your gigantic Koofteh Tabrizi into a serving bowl or onto a deep serving plate. Then, remove the cloth and baste your Koofteh with some sauce. To garnish, use the fried onion and sauté barberries you’ve set aside. In a separate bowl, serve the remaining sauce, too. You can also shred some bread in the sauce and eat it.
As side dishes, you can have table vegetables, sliced raw onion, fresh lime/lemon or lemon juice, and pickles. The most preferred kind of bread with this Iranian dish is Sangak (a traditional Iranian bread). And about drinks, it would be Doogh (Iranian yogurt drink) as usual.
If you’ve cooked a gigantic Koofteh Tabrizi, it would be better to help your guests serve themselves by cutting it into halves or quarters. Or if you’ve prepared orange size meatballs, each person can have one on their plates. Then, spoon a small amount of it onto a piece of bread and enjoy the taste. (Watch out for the pits of the prunes while eating and warn everyone about them).
It may not be a quick and effortless recipe, but it’s worth trying. You’ll love it. The wonderful flavor of this Iranian dish is convincing enough.