Today’s recipe is for kufte-bozbash, more commonly called just kufte. This is one of the staples of Azerbaijani cuisine. Jumbo apple-size meatballs cooked in a simple broth with chickpeas and potatoes.
Kufte is the Azerbaijani word for meatball. The word kufte is derived from the Persian “koftan,” which means “to pound.” The name reflects the general method of preparation of a kufte: They are formed by pounding the meat to incorporate it with additional ingredients, then shaped into meatballs, small or big. I’ll talk about some other varities of kufte dishes in my book, but today let’s talk about kufte-bozbash.
So what’s in these jumbo meatballs? Meat, which can be lamb or beef, onion, egg, salt, and pepper. In our family we also add crushed dried mint (nane), dried summer savory (merze), and dried basil (agh reyhan). Adding dried herbs is common in the regions of Nakhchivan, while Bakuvians, on the other hand, do not add any herbs at all. I personally like my meatballs with dried herbs. Makes them so much more flavorful. My Ordubadi grandmother used to make meatballs that way and so does my mother. I follow in their footsteps. I am lucky – I brought my dried herbs from Azerbaijan. They smell heavenly. And so does the kufte-bozbash I make using these herbs.
Also. Each meatball is stuffed with a small dried sour plum (available in Persian/Middle Eastern markets), in part because sour fruits are believed to help with the digestion of the meat, and also because a tart fruit adds a nice bright flavor to the rich meat. If cherry plums or other varieties of small sour plums are in season, you can stuff the meatballs with the fresh fruit instead of dried ones.
Nush olsun! Enjoy!
This is dried mint. We crush it finely and add it to the meatballs, if desired. We also garnish the soup with it.
This is dried summer savory (merze). It has an intense aroma. We add it to the meatballs as well. Again, it is optional, but recommended if you have some at hand. I understand it is a hard-to-come-by ingredient in the U.S.
This is the meat mixture, ready to be shaped into meatballs.
Here are the meatballs, with a dried sour plum inserted in the middle of each. Ready to cook.
Azerbaijani Meatball Soup (Kufte-Bozbash)
You can choose to use any of the dried herbs I’ve listed below, using a combination or all if you have. If none of the herbs is available, simply omit.
½ cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water or 1 cup canned, drained and rinsed
Crushed dried mint, for garnish
For the Meatballs:
1 pound ground beef or lamb, or a combination (I use 85% lean/15% fat organic ground beef)
1 medium onion, passed though a meat grinder or grated
1 large egg
1/3 cup medium-grain white rice, rinsed
1 tablespoonful crushed dried mint (optional but recommended; read about the herbs in the intro to the recipe)
1 teaspoonful crushed dried summer savory (optional but recommended)
1 teaspoonful crushed dried basil (green basil; optional but recommended)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
4 dried small sour plums
For the Broth:
2 tablespoons clarified butter or regular unsalted butter
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 medium potatoes, peeled and left whole
¼ teaspoon turmeric
Ground black pepper
If using dried presoaked chickpeas, boil them in a small saucepan filled with water to cover until tender but not soft (it will cook more later), about 1 hour. Drain and set aside.
To prepare the meatballs, in a large mixing bowl combine all the ingredients for the meatballs except the dried sour plums. Using your hands, mix thoroughly until the ingredients are well blended. Shape the mixture into 4 big balls, each the size of an apple (You can also make smaller meatballs to feed more people. Make 8 smaller meatballs in place of the 4 big.) If the mixture is sticky, wet your hands in a bowl before shaping the meat. Make a hole in each meatball to reach its center and place one dried sour plum inside. Shape back into balls, packing them hard so that they don’t split apart while cooking. Set them aside to rest.
Meanwhile, prepare the broth. In a medium saucepan (it should be big enough to fit all the meatballs without touching each other), heat the butter over medium heat. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for half a minute. Add 7 cups of water and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium. Gently drop the meatballs, one by one, into the broth. Cook, uncovered, without stirring (to prevent the meatballs from breaking), until the meatballs are set, about 10 minutes. If froth rises to the top, remove it with a slotted spoon.
Add the potatoes, turmeric, and cooked (not canned) chickpeas. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the potatoes and the meatballs are cooked through, about 40 minutes. If using canned chickpeas, add to the cooked soup at this point.
Ladle the soup into individual bowls, making sure each serving receives a meatball, a potato and some broth with chickpeas. Garnish with crushed dried mint. Serve immediately with bread.