This week, I worked a set of nights in the A&E department. Any doctor will be able to tell you that when you’re on nights, you flip into survival mode: suddenly all that matters is that you’re getting enough sleep in the day, and that you’re eating enough good food when you can, so you can make safe decisions at 3am when you’re utterly exhausted. On completion of your nights you get the reward of being allowed to re-enter back into civilisation with a sense of accomplishment. This week I had the added reward of knowing that the day after my last night shift was Nowruz, AKA Kurdish/Iranian New Year, AKA an opportunity for mum and I to hang out while cooking my favourite meal of all time: Kifta. 

Kifta has a soft outer shell that acts as a parcel, holding in the fruity lamb filling which is gently spiced with cumin and jewelled with almonds and sultanas. The kifta are then cooked in either a chickpea, rosemary and tumeric soup, or a beetroot and spinach soup. This is by no means a ‘quick dish’, and if I were to rank its skill level I would have to go with ‘difficult’, though complexity aside this dish is a triumph. It is the ultimate display of Kurdish flavour and technique, and it would undoubtedly make an impressive showstopper at any dinner party. 

1kg short grain pudding rice
750g minced lamb (20% fat)
4 tsp ground cumin
3 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper 

750g minced lamb (20% fat)
1 ½ large red onions
150g tomato purée
80g (1 cup) toasted flaked almonds
80g (½ cup) sultanas
50g parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tsp salt 

There are two great recipe options for the soup base for this meal: This beetroot and spinach soup recipe, or this chickpea, rosemary, and turmeric soup recipe

Both recipes are vegan and taste incredible on their own, but with the kifta they taste exceptional. The quantities of both recipes are enough to cook 4 kifta balls, which serves 2 to 4 people for dinner, depending on hunger levels. 

Note: If you go for the beetroot and spinach soup base, I tend to omit the spiced chickpeas from the recipe, otherwise the whole dish gets a bit too cluttered with the kifta. Also, add the spinach to the soup a few minutes before serving, so as not to overcook, and to keep the vibrant green colour. 

Preparation time: 40 minutes (plus soaking the rice) 
Cooking time: 1hr 20 minutes
Makes:14 kifta balls. One kifta with a serving of soup is a good-sized portion for one adult, but you may want to throw a few more kiftas into the pot for your hungrier guests. 
Make ahead:This can be made ahead and frozen for up to 6 months

1. Soak the pudding rice overnight (or for a minimum of 4 hours) in cool water.
2. To make the outer casing mix, first drain the rice. Using a food processor, blitz the rice for just a few pulses (I used a hand blender and did it in batches). Don’t grind it down too fine as you don’t want a powder (see picture). Add 4 tsp ground cumin, 3 tsp salt and 1 tsp ground pepper to the ground rice and mix until evenly distributed. Add 750g minced lamb to the spiced rice and combine using your hands, being careful not to overwork. Measure into apple-sized balls (around 150g each) and set aside for later, covering with cling film. This quantity should make 14 balls.
3. On a medium heat, add a glug of sunflower oil to a pot, and once hot add the finely chopped onions. Sweat them down for 5 mins, then add 750g minced lamb. After 5 minutes of browning the meat, season with 2 tsp salt and 1 tbsp ground cumin. Stir in 150g tomato purée, and cook for another 5-10 mins until the meat is cooked through. Finally, add the flaked almonds, sultanas and finely chopped parsley, and give it all a final stir before taking it off the heat. Leave to cool.  
4. Now for the actual assembly of the kifta balls (there are pictures of each step below): Get a bowl of warm water ready, then wet the back of your hand and make a fist. Shape a ball of outer casing over your fist gently until you have evenly spread the mixture, and it is no more than 1cm in thickness. It should resemble a cup in shape. Turn out the mixture, and put around 2 tbsp of the lamb filling into the outer casing. Gently bring together all the edges so that the filling is encased in the rice mix, and work into a smooth ball with your hands. Set aside for later.    
5. There will probably be some lamb mixture left over once you’ve made all the kifta. This makes for an excellent snack while you cook, or if you have the self-control, you can serve it with dinner as an extra topping to go on the finished dish. 
6. Make the soup. Once it’s ready, make sure its bubbling and drop 4 kifta into the pot so they are submerged. Cover and bring the heat down to a gentle simmer, and leave to cook for 1 hr. 
7. Freeze the remaining kifta for up to 6 months. Defrost fully before you start cooking at step 6.
8. Serve each kifta in a bowl, cut into two and with a generous portion of soup over the top, with an optional sprinkling of the lamb mix for extra flavour. Enjoy!

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