Kafta: Middle Eastern Burgers, Ovals or Sausages

Kafta on skewers

Kafta on skewers

By Cat, June, 2010 (Photo, right, from Rainhasdolar.com (9))

This is just one of my many favorite Lebanese foods that I learned to love at several Lebanese restaurants in Portland OR, where I used to live, including Nicholas’ Restaurant and Al-Amir).

Traditionally Kafta is made with lamb, but here in America, it is more-often made with beef. However, lamb is the better choice unless you raise your own beef or hunt your own venison, because commercial beef is fed grain/soy feed that is not natural to their diet and is likely GMO. Sheep and buffalo insist on pasture. Mixtures of lamb and buffalo, or lamb and venison are other great options.

I make up a big batch and then freeze most of the kafta for a future quick dinner. I love to serve this with Lebanese Spinach Pies.

Kafta: Middle Eastern Burgers, Ovals or Sausages

Cat's Lamb Kafta Salad

Cat’s Lamb Kafta Salad

See photo, left of my kafta served as a salad and accompanied by yogurt sauce, sautéed fava beans, & steamed fresh beet.

This recipe, for those wonderful lamb burgers found throughout the Middle East, is based upon a recipe from one of my favorite Lebanese restaurants in Portland (Al Amir), and versions in Epicurious (1)  using lamb; All Recipes (2) using beef; and Fine Cooking (7). See also Fine Cooking’s page on paprika (8) for a good discussion of the different types of this spice. Paprika’s flavor only comes out when mixed with fat – another reason not to use low-fat meat, or to add olive oil to the mix.

My Lebanese version of Kafta (or Kofta), is seasoned with allspice, and may include steamed bulgur added for bulk (similar to adding bread crumbs to meat loaf); I include bulgur as an optional ingredient, but highly recommend it (unless you have gluten issues). The mix is then shaped into balls or ovals and fried, baked, or grilled on skewers. It can then be sliced for use in sandwiches after cooking.

I’ve added some optional herbs & spices (7) that I add when using lamb and/or venison, as they go well with the ‘wild’ flavor of these meats.

A Greek restaurant in Portland used to add chopped blueberries to the recipe when they shaped the kafta as thick, round and flat burgers. Mmm.

Serves 4.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • ¼ cup whole grain bulgur (optional, but I always use it)
  • 1 ½ lb (24 oz) ground lamb (or mix of lamb and beef/buffalo/venison)
  • 1 tsp Unrefined sea salt, divided
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Herbs and veggies
  • ¼ cup lightly packed chopped fresh mint
  • ⅓ cup lightly packed chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbsp lightly packed fresh oregano (optional)
  • 1 small onion (or ½ large), minced or grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, or more to taste
  • Spices
  • 2 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp coriander (optional, instead of/in addition to allspice)
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
  • ¼ tsp cayenne powder (or more, to taste)
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • Equipment
  • large bowl
  • small bowl
  • grill or cast iron grill pan


  1. If using bulgur, measure it into a small bowl, add cold water to cover and let soak 30 minutes, then drain.
  2. Break up ground meat into chunks in a large bowl.
  3. Chop mint and parsley (and oregano, if using); mince or grate onion and combine in small bowl. Mince garlic, sprinkle with ¼ tsp salt, and press with the side of a knife blade until it liquifies into a paste. Add to chopped greens with spices and remaining ¼ tsp salt.
  4. Add veg & spice mixture, bulgur (if using) and oil to meat, working with your hands until well blended.
  5. Shape into 4 equal 1-inch thick patties, or 8 elongated ovals, or ‘fingers’ around a skewer. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 20 minutes to 4 hours.
  6. Grill until just cooked through, 4 – 6 minutes per side. If using:
    • Charcoal or gas grill fire, cover grilling meat with vents open.
    • Cast iron grill pan on top of the stove, cover with splatter screen.

Assembly or Serving ideas

  • Serve with a Cucumber and Yogurt Sauce such as Tsatziki or Lebneh.
  • Accompany with a fresh Middle Eastern Salad such as Horiatiki (Greek Village Salad and Dressing) or Tabouli (tabbouleh): 2 versions. Or try Grilled Vegetable Salad with Feta (6), from Fine Cooking magazine.
  • Pita (Middle Eastern Flatbread) or other flatbread is a great accompaniment, or for making a sandwich with the kafta and fresh veggies such as tomato, cucumber, onion and spinach or lettuce greens.
  • Accompany with Lebanese Spinach Pie and greens salad.
  • Serve with the Orange-Cucumber Salad from Fine Cooking.com: Lamb & Sweet Onion Pitas with Orange-Cucumber Salad (5). The original recipe doesn’t make the ground lamb into kafta but rather does a sauté with onion, then serves it in pita. I’d prefer to serve it as Kafta with the salad and pita on the side.
  • See also Middle Eastern Mezza for more ideas.


Testing 5/6/12: Made as written using whole wheat bulgur and allspice (no coriander, cinnamon or oregano), and shaped into 8 long ovals (4 per serving). Pan-grilled about 12 minutes (3 min for each of 4 sides). Served with Tsatziki, Horiatiki salad, whole wheat pita (commercially made), half of a Lebanese Spinach Pie and ¼ of a cooked beet. The only thing lacking in this wonderfully delicious dinner, was a glass of retsina.

Testing 6/18/12: Made again as before but used the oregano and ¼ tsp each allspice and coriander; no cinnamon. Pan-grilled again, and served with a salad of spinach, tomatoes, cucumber, onion and sliced brined Greek olives, with Lebneh sauce. Also a whole wheat pita. As before, excellent!


  1. epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/LAMB-KAFTA-1239562
  2. allrecipes.com//Recipe/kafta-bbq/Detail.aspx
  3. arabicnews.com/recipes/Kafta.html
  4. finecooking.com/recipes/middle-eastern-spiced-turkey-burgers.aspx
  5. finecooking.com/recipes/lamb-sweet-onion-pita-orange-cucumber-salad.aspx
  6. finecooking.com/recipes/grilled-vegetable-salad-feta.aspx
  7. finecooking.com/recipes/spiced-mediterranean-lamb-burgers.aspx
  8. finecooking.com/item/5571/paprika
  9. rainhasdolar.com/index.php?itemid=1799

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