Do you love juicy grilled meat but prefer a lean version? Then this recipe is for you! Let me introduce you to one of my favorite Middle Eastern recipes: chicken kafta. Made of ground chicken and a few seasonings, chicken kafta is absolutely delicious, juicy and very easy to make. This dish is perfect for busy weekdays as well as special occasions alike. Let’s dive right in.
What is Kafta?
Kafta (also spelled kofta) is ground meat (usually beef, lamb or chicken) blended with aromatic spices and condiments. The meat mixture is shaped by hand into circular or lengthy patties according to preference. This dish is easy to prepare, relying on staple ingredients. Patties are shaped by hand (no skewers needed) and can be pan-fried, grilled (BBQ) or oven-baked.
The word “kafta” refers to ground meat, which is the main ingredient to this dish. Unlike “Kafta Kebab” (which is meat on skewers), “Kafta” is made without skewers. For this reason, Kafta is a great dish to prepare at home (inside), as you can easily pan-fry or oven-bake the meat (no outdoor BBQ needed).
Kafta can be made with beef or lamb (or a combination of both), or chicken. The main difference between beef/lamb kafta and chicken kafta lies in the choice of seasonings. Additionally, ground chicken holds together less well than beef or lamb, prompting many to add breadcrumbs for binding. Let’s have a look at the ingredients for chicken kafta.
- Ground chicken: Naturally, ground chicken (minced chicken) is the main ingredient to this dish. You can purchase ground chicken at most grocery stores or butchers. If you happen to have a meat grinder at home, you can make your own ground chicken using boneless, skinless chicken meat (chicken breasts or thighs).
- Tomato: A fresh, fully ripe tomato adds to the flavor and juiciness of your kafta. We’ll need the entire tomato (including the juice and flesh).
- Onion: Yellow onion, finely chopped.
- Parsley: A couple of stems of flat-leaf parsley (Italian parsley) is part of the traditional recipe.
- Mint: Fresh mint leaves give a unique, refreshing taste to your kafta. Be sure to use fresh mint, not dried mint (they taste differently). You can omit the mint if you don’t like it or don’t have fresh mint available.
- Garlic: Fresh garlic cloves work best (if unavailable, substitute by garlic powder).
- Tomato paste: Adds to the color and taste.
- Olive oil: Improves taste and texture.
- Breadcrumbs: Ground chicken holds together less well when compared to beef/lamb. To ensure the patties stay in shape, we’ll add some breadcrumbs. You can use store bought breadcrumbs or easily make your own from pita bread / Lebanese bread (more on this below).
- Seasonings: Coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric, baking soda (soda, not powder!), salt and pepper.
Note: Quantities can be found in the recipe card at the end of this recipe and can be adjusted according to the amount of servings you’d like to make.
By the way: the above mentioned ingredients (most notably the selection and combination of seasonings) works great for chicken kafta. For beef/lamb, a different selection of spices is recommended. Beef kafta is one of the most popular recipes in my Middle Eastern cookbook.
How to Make Chicken Kafta (Step-by-Step)
Ready to make chicken kafta? Yallah, let’s get started!
Step 1: Make breadcrumbs
Breadcrumbs can be purchased or made from scratch. Making them from scratch is a great way to use leftover bread. In fact, day old bread works great to make breadcrumbs (you don’t need to have fresh bread). In Middle Eastern cuisine, breadcrumbs are made from Lebanese bread, which is a round white flatbread, similar to pita bread.
Break the bread into large chunks and place them in a food processor. Blend for about 1-2 minutes until you get a fine texture with no large chunks remaining. Set aside while you prepare the meat mixture.
Step 2: Chop vegetables
All vegetables and herbs for the kafta should be very finely chopped. This can easily be done if you have a good chef’s knife, but you can also speed up the process a bit by briefly pulsing the vegetables in a food processor. Note that we’re aiming for a fine chop, not a “sauce”. If using a food processor, be careful not to overblend the vegetables.
I personally prefer chopping everything using a knife. Start with the herbs: cut off the large stems of the parsley and discard them. Then bunch the leaves and chop them a couple of times until you get a fine chop. Pluck the mint leaves of the stems one by one and finely chop the leaves. Discard the stems.
Peel the garlic clove, cut off the hard ends and mince the garlic using a mortar and pestle or finely chop using a knife.
Finely chop the tomato. We’ll be using the entire tomato (remove only the core, but keep the skin, flesh and juice).
Peel and finely chop the onion.
Step 3: Make meat mixture
Add the ground chicken to a mixing bowl. Add all chopped vegetables and herbs (parsley, mint, garlic, tomato and onion). Add all seasonings (see ingredients lists), olive oil, breadcrumbs and tomato paste.
Step 4: Knead meat mixture
It’s essential to mix all the ingredients evenly. The best way to achieve this is by kneading everything by hand. You can wear gloves (optionally) for kneading and shaping the meat (step 5). Once all ingredients are well incorporated, place the mixture in the fridge for at öeast 30-60 minutes to allow the flavors to combine. If you don’t have time, you can omit this step, but allowing the spices to set is highly recommended.
Step 5: Shape into patties
Prepare a bowl of cold water. Grab the bowl with the meat mixture and an empty plate to put your kafta on. Now, dip your hand into cold water and take about 4-5 tablespoons of the meat mixture for each patty. Shape your kafta into long, thin patties (traditional shape). If you’d like to use the kafta for burgers, you can shape onto circular patties. Be sure to shape the patties evenly and relatively thin to ensure they cook all the way through.
Step 6: Pan fry
Heat a grill pan (or a regular non-stick frying pan) on your stove. Add a thin layer of olive oil and add the kafta into the hot pan. Pan fry on medium-high for about 3-4 minutes on each side (about 6-8 minutes in total), turning halfway through. The kafta should be browned on the outside and fully cooked on the inside. Remove the kafta from the pan and serve warm.
How to Serve
Chicken kafta pairs wonderfully with a variety of other main dishes and sides. The way it’s served largely depends on the occasion. In fact, kafta is the perfect weekday dinner but also impresses at dinner parties and on special occasions.
If you serve chicken kafta as a weekday meal, simply add to a serving platter or plate. Serve alongside fries, white rice, Lebanese butter rice or bulgur pilaf. My easy and quick yogurt sauce (which is similar to tzatziki) will be the perfect side that comes together in no time.
If you’re hosting a dinner party or planning to serve kafta on special occasions, serve the grilled kafta on Lebanese flat bread (the bread will absorb the juice). Mezze dishes like Muhammara (paprika dip), Mutabal (eggplant dip), Tabbouleh (parsley salad) or Fattoush (green salad with roasted bread) make the perfect side dishes to kafta.
Make Ahead & Storage
Kafta tastes best right after grilling. The meat mixture can be perfectly prepared ahead of time (keep in the fridge for up to 24 hours). Grilled kafta can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge and consumed within 1-2 days. Warm up leftovers in the microwave or on the stovetop and enjoy with rice, bulgur, fries or as part of a salad or sandwich.
Learn Middle Eastern Cooking
Are you a new to Middle Eastern cuisine? Then this Middle Eastern cookbook is what you need! In addition to a varied choice of recipes, the cookbook offers plenty of insights on ingredients, cooking techniques and Middle Eastern food culture.
Chicken Kafta (Middle Eastern)
- 500 g (1.1 lb) ground chicken
- 1 tomato
- 1 onion yellow, medium
- ¼ bunch flat-leaf parsley
- 10 mint leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 Lebanese bread 1 Lebanese bread yields about 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- ½ tsp cumin powder
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- Breadcrumbs can be purchased or made from scratch. If making from scratch: Use day old Lebanese bread / pita bread. Break into large chunks, place in a food processor and blend for 1-2 minutes until you get a fine texture. Set aside.
- Finely chop the vegetables (tomato, onion, parsley and mint) with a knife or briefly pulse in a food processor (don’t overblend). We’re aiming for a fine consistency (not mushy).
- Peel the garlic cloves, cut off the ends and mince or finely chop the cloves.
- Put the ground chicken into a large mixing bowl, add all chopped vegetables, all seasonings (see ingredients list), olive oil, breadcrumbs and tomato paste.
- Mix thoroughly by kneading with your hands until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
- Ideally, place the chicken mixture in the fridge for 30-60 minutes to allow the spices to combine with the meat.
- When ready, dip your hand into cold water and start shaping your kofta into long thin patties or small circular patties (per preference). Take about 4-5 tablespoons of the meat mixture for each patty.
- Heat a pan (grill pan). Add a thin layer of olive oil onto the pan. Pan fry the koftas for 3-4 minutes on each side (6-8 minutes in total), until browned on the outside and fully cooked on the inside.
- Remove from the pan and serve warm. Serve with bread, salads, spreads, yogurt sauce, rice or fries.
- You can chop the vegetables using a knife. Be sure to finely chop them (no large chunks). Alternatively, you can briefly pulse them in a food processor. If using a food processor, be sure not to overblend them. We’re aiming for a fine chop. Blending them for too long would result in the vegetables getting mushy, which we don’t want.
- Chicken always needs to be cooked all the way through. Medium heat will work best for most stoves as it allows the kafta to be cooked well on the inside, while getting a beautiful brown color and texture on the outside. If you’re unsure if your kafta are ready, cut one to check.
- Baking soda helps retain moisture and makes the kafta juicer. However, it’s optional and you can totally do without. If using, be sure to use baking soda, not baking powder.
- Shaping the kofta into long thin patties is great when eating them with rice, fries or salads. Circular patties are great for burgers.
- Pan frying (grilling) yields the best result. Alternatively, you can also bake them in the oven. This will take about 20-25 minutes in total (flip halfway through), bake at 200°C (390 F)
Nutrition information is only a rough estimate and may vary depending on factors such as the cooking method, exact weight, type, and brand of ingredients used.