Keftes are a type of Syrian Jewish meatballs that are seasoned with baharat or allspice and Aleppo pepper. While cooking, they plump up ever so slightly, like a dumpling, in a rich sauce of tamarind, tomato paste, fresh lemon juice, and spices. These sweet and tangy meatballs are served at almost every holiday table in the Middle East.
This recipe is designed to feed a crowd, but can also be cut in half for a smaller portion. There are variations of keftes throughout the Middle East. Use more or less Aleppo pepper according to your spice tolerance. Also, the amount of tamarind concentrate, lemon juice, and tomato paste varies so we do recommend tasting the sauce as you go along the first time you make these.
For the meatballs:
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil, for frying
- 3 lbs ground beef
- 6 large eggs
- 1 1⁄2-2 cups toasted pine nuts
- 3⁄4 cup unsalted matzah meal, plus extra in a bowl for rolling
- 1 1⁄2 Tbsp kosher salt
- 1 heaping Tbsp baharat or allspice
- 1 Tbsp Aleppo pepper
- 1 cup fresh herbs (such as parsley, cilantro, dill, or mint), finely chopped
For the sauce:
- olive oil
- 1⁄2 tsp Aleppo pepper (or more for extra heat)
- 1⁄2 tsp allspice
- 4 cups water
- 1⁄2 cup plus 2 Tbsp good quality tamarind concentrate
- 4 oz or 1⁄2 cup tomato paste
- juice from 1 lemon, about 3 Tbsp
- salt, to taste
- sugar, to taste (optional)
- Combine all the meatball ingredients minus the oil and, with wet hands, gently form walnut-sized balls. Place them on baking sheets.
- Roll each meatball in matzah meal.
- Over medium-high heat, add vegetable oil to a pan and brown the meatballs on all sides. Brown in batches so as to not overcrowd the pan. Set aside.
- In a separate pot over medium heat, add a generous drizzle of olive oil and the Aleppo pepper. Once the oil has turned a reddish color, add the allspice and the rest of the sauce ingredients. Stir and let simmer for a few minutes.
- Add the meatballs and simmer for about 30 minutes. Taste the sauce to see if it needs adjusting. The meatballs should plump up a little when done, and the sauce should thicken.
- Serve with rice.