Belgian Journal : Coriander Scented Chicken Kofta Kebabs with Mint Chutney

The more time I spend in Brussels, the more I understand why the Surrealist movement gained a momentum here. The fact that a city of less than 2 million people contains a dozen governments should already tell you something. There is the European Union government, the Brussels region government, the French Community of Belgium government and its Flemish counterpart, each of which has its own representatives. If that weren’t enough, Brussels consists of 19 municipalities, each with its own mayor and laws. It’s no wonder that each trip to city hall leaves me with a minor nervous breakdown.

On the other hand, the diversity of people that Brussels attracts is the best thing about the city. You can cross the city on foot in a couple of hours, but sometimes turning onto a new street makes you feel as if you are in a different country. When it comes to food, the choices are limitless. Whether you have a craving for moules frites, the famous Belgian specialty of mussels and fries, for Sicilian cannoli or for something as exotic as mwambe, a Congolese chicken stew with peanuts, you can discover it all quite easily.

At first, my cooking attempts were timid, since I was stumped by the tiny hot plate in our temporary housing and the lack of proper cooking equipment. Making spaghetti in a tiny saucer made me feel like a Top Chef contestant, except that there was no prize for winning this Quickfire Challenge. But the more fresh and unusual produce I spotted at the local grocery stores, the more I craved to come home and cook. I was  no longer captivated by the chocolate displays. I stared longingly at the ruby red lamb steaks and plump chickens arranged in the butcher’s window and in my mind composed elaborate menus for feasts. I finally went out and bought a pot and a skillet and a few basic kitchen implements. Then I loaded my bag with various spices at the Moroccan store and fresh herbs from the Turkish grocery. Soon my apartment started smelling of cardamom and mint, and it felt more like home.

The chicken kofta kebabs I would like to share with you today is one of my favorite recipes for a quick and healthy summer meal. If I can make it successfully in my makeshift kitchen, you will have even better results under more comfortable cooking conditions. Kofta is just a pretty word for a meatball; it’s derived from the Persian “kuftan,” which means “to grind.”  Kebab refers to the skewered grilled meats, and the kofta kebab always tempts me the most whenever I walk past the Turkish restaurants with their baroque displays.

Although the most common meat for kebabs is either lamb or beef, I discovered that chicken makes for light and fluffy meatballs. Its delicate flavor is a perfect foil for the lemony coriander and musky cumin, a spice match made in heaven. I recommend toasting the spices to bring out their aroma. Coriander starts to smell more like orange, with a hint of hazelnut, while cumin gains a bitter chocolate accent. When you put them together, the result is a heady sweet-savory melange that begs to be explored in a perfume.

While kebabs are usually grilled, these kofta kebabs are just as delicious pan fried or broiled. You can serve them over rice or mashed potatoes, but my favorite way is to eat them wrapped in thin flatbread. It’s a messy business, but nothing makes you feel more like a kid (and hence, more lighthearted) after a long, hectic day than eating with your hands. My husband rolls them into a large burrito like package, while I make tiny individual bites with pieces of flatbread and herbs. One morsel might have a basil leaf and a dab of chutney, another–a mint leaf and a piece of cucumber. This is summer food at its best!


Chicken Kofta Kebabs with Mint Chutney

Serves 2-3

You can vary the meat to your liking, and besides chicken, this recipe works really well with lamb and turkey. You can make the kofta mixture as early as the night before and grill or fry the meatballs when you get home from work. While the kofta is cooking, you will only need to prepare the chutney and set the table.

Turkish cooks usually grill a few peppers alongside kebabs, and I follow their suit by tossing a few pieces of red pepper into the frying pan after the kebabs are finished. The pepper gets a nice char and picks up the zesty flavor of coriander and cumin.

The leftovers are delicious in sandwiches.

Chicken Kofta

1lb (450g) ground chicken
1 minced shallot
2 Tablespoons minced parsley (or mint, cilantro, basil)
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
a pinch of cayenne pepper or to taste
salt, black pepper to taste

Set a frying pan over medium heat and toast coriander and cumin till they become golden-brown, or about 2 shades darker. Set aside to cool and crush to powder with a mortar and pestle. Lacking a mortar and pestle, you can just wrap them in a piece of plastic and bash them with a rolling pin. That’s remarkably therapeutic.

Mix all of the ingredients together and set them aside for at least 15 minutes (or overnight) for the flavors to marry. Divide the mixture into about 12 walnut sized kebabs.

Heat up a frying pan on high heat, add olive oil. Gently slide kebabs into the frying pan and turn the heat down to medium-high. Cook for 5 minutes and turn over. The underside should be golden. Turn the heat down, if they color too fast. Fry them on the other side for another 4-5 minutes. The kebabs are ready when they are creamy-white inside and the juices run clear. Remove onto a platter lined with flatbread and serve immediately.

Mint Chutney

1 cup chopped mint
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 green onion or 1 chopped shallot
Juice of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste

Process all ingredients in a blender till coarsely pureed.  Taste for salt and add more lemon juice if needed.

For serving:

Thin flatbread, fresh herbs (basil, mint, tarragon, parsley, cilantro), sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, and olives.

Enjoy!

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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44 Comments

  • Lucas: My stomach is craving for your food right now. Look at those lovely meatballs on a flatbread! I will have to try and cook something like this one day. Last weekend I cooked delicious lemon cake, so I might feel like cooking again very soon.

    Looks like we both had an insporation to write about our favourite topics today. There you are about delicious food and at Chemist in the Bottle there I am with a first chemical article 🙂 July 19, 2012 at 7:26am Reply

    • Victoria: Mmmm, a lemon cake sounds so good. I love citrus in everything.

      This recipe is very easy to make. The best thing is that you can do most of the work in advance. And it’s fun to eat with your fingers. 🙂 July 19, 2012 at 10:11am Reply

      • Lucas: I’ll make you some when we’ll get a chance to meet in Poznan or Brussels.

        Eating with your fingers is fun, like a come back to childhood times. July 19, 2012 at 11:54am Reply

        • Victoria: Can’t wait! 🙂 Meanwhile, I hope that I get an oven in my next place, and you can share the recipe with me. July 19, 2012 at 12:10pm Reply

          • Lucas: No problem! I wonder how long would it take for us to meet… July 19, 2012 at 12:39pm Reply

            • Victoria: Hope not too long. Maybe, I will travel through Poland on one of my trips to Ukraine. July 19, 2012 at 1:27pm Reply

  • marsha: Victoria, sounds like you’re beginning to figure out how to settle down there already!

    Best wishes to you from a long-time lurker and sandalwood lover!

    Marsha July 19, 2012 at 8:36am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Marsha! 🙂 We’re taking the baby steps towards something resembling a normal routine. And there is nothing like a delicious smell in the kitchen to make one feel more at home. July 19, 2012 at 10:18am Reply

  • Suzanna: The food photography is really coming along, V.! You have tempted me to make this dish this weekend. I love chicken meatballs and usually dice up prosciutto and onion into mine, so your recipe makes for a change.

    Moules frites I would wash down with witbier. July 19, 2012 at 9:37am Reply

    • Victoria: Coming from you, that’s quite a compliment, Suzanna! Thank you.

      The combination of coriander and cumin really makes such a difference. My MIL makes this spice blend in large quantities and then uses it to season various dishes. Roasted coriander smells so wonderful. July 19, 2012 at 10:25am Reply

  • Barbara: Hi Victoria! I just loved this post. I figured that Brussels would have many different people from Europe, but it sounds like it’s even more international. Sounds like you’re doing all the right things to get settled, despite the bureaucracy! Looking forward to more of your gorgeous photos!

    The recipe sounds fab too. I bet my boys would love eating with their fingers. 🙂 July 19, 2012 at 10:47am Reply

    • Victoria: Brussels has a large Moroccan and Turkish community, and since Congo was a Belgian colony, there are lots of Congolese living here. It’s a really fascinating mix of people. On days when I feel down, I go to one of these areas, interact with people, observe the incredible diversity and feel that I too can carve out some sort of niche for myself. That’s an incredible aspect of the city. July 19, 2012 at 12:13pm Reply

  • Nikki: What a lovely description! How nice that you are making your space your own! Your small kitchen reminds me of having one hot plate in the Caribbean where I lived with my husband during the first years. I picked mangos and made all kinds of interesting things with mangos, chicken with mango, bread with mango, anything and everything. We lived on Dominica, the emerald isle of the Caribbean which at that time (25 years ago) had very limited grocery supplies so I had to bake my own bread and a trip to the grocery store was one hour away, in a minivan with way too many people….As you are young, the times with having one hot plate will become interesting memories. Of course, you have a wonderful sortiment of stores and cultures and lovely Belgian beer. I don’t know if you have been to the coast yet but it is stunning. Adventures are the spice of life, make sure you cook well for your husband and life is good. I would also try to go to Paris as often as you can. Amsterdam is maybe worth one trip for the Grachten and some museums, but not more. Maybe you can take the train to Cologne, a great city and the station is right at the Dome and the Roman museum and the art museums and 4711 perfumery, all within walking distance. Nice daytrip. Exploring the romatic Rhine river with its castles on a city cruise may also be tempting…but not in summer, best in fall. Enjoy Europe. July 19, 2012 at 10:54am Reply

    • Victoria: That sounds like quite an adventure, Nikki! Chicken with mango sounds wonderful to me. I love cooking, so trying something new and with local ingredients is very exciting.

      Thank you for more exploration ideas! July 19, 2012 at 12:18pm Reply

  • elle: I’ve been a fan of your blog for more than a year, but I was prompted to comment by all of your beautiful posts this week, including this one. I just wanted to say thank you for your stories, perfume reviews and for your blog overall. Coming here is such a pleasure. I love reading your comments too. There is so much warmth and generosity here. This makes your blog very special to me.

    Good luck in your new adventures! I admire your courage for moving so far away from home. July 19, 2012 at 11:21am Reply

    • elle: I forgot to add that your kofta makes my mouth water! My parents were born in Izmir, Turkey, btw. My mom likes to use a mixture of beef and lamb for kebabs. She says that it has more flavor than just one type of meat. July 19, 2012 at 11:30am Reply

      • Victoria: My mom also says that mixing several types of meats makes for a richer flavor. It’s interesting, because here in Belgium (at least, at my local supermarket) I noticed that some ground meats are mixed. For instance, I haven’t yet seen only ground pork. It’s usually sold mixed with beef or veal. July 19, 2012 at 12:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: Elle, thank you so much for your kind words. This is such a lovely thing to say, and of course, I’m very happy to hear that you find BdJ to be a warm and friendly place. The people who visit and comment here make it so, and I’m glad to be a part of this community. July 19, 2012 at 12:45pm Reply

  • Carla: There are so many restaurants in Brussels, but nothing like cooking up your own meal. July 19, 2012 at 12:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: True! We ate out a lot in the beginning, but then the novelty started wearing off. Plus, on most evenings we’re too tired to go out. Making something simple and then eating it in the comfort of our home feels more appealing. July 19, 2012 at 12:26pm Reply

  • Daisy: This looks absolutely amazing!

    Whenever I move, my new place never really feels like home until I start making the kind of food that I really like eating in it.

    Just one quick question: did you use dark or light meat? A mix?

    Your kofta kebabs looks really good! Small kitchens take some adjustment, but it does force you to be very organized — which is never a bad thing. Here in NY, I can think of a lot of restaurants that have nothing more than one or two hot plate burners and a toaster-broiler. One of my favorite places is so cramped, that they use the milk frother of the capuccino machine for eggs! And the food doesn’t suffer at all 🙂 July 19, 2012 at 1:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Daisy! I used a mixture that seemed to be a mix of dark and light meat. Because these kebabs contain onion and herbs, even with all light meat they will still be juicy. But of course, if you can do a mix, it’s better. The texture then is really luscious.

      Your point about being organized is spot on! Originally, what stumped me was not the small size of the kitchen itself, but rather than electric burners. I wasn’t used to cooking on them, and at first everything kept burning. But now I figured out how to use them, and I’ve gotten pretty adventurous with my cooking. At times even too adventurous, like when I plan to make something that requires more than 2 burners or a big stock pot. 🙂 July 19, 2012 at 1:34pm Reply

      • Daisy: That all just sounds wonderful. I can just imagine how juicy and flavorful the kebabs are. Yummy!

        I live in a super tiny New York studio so I’ve got the tiny kitchen routine down 🙂 The trick for me is to think vertically, so I put in a lot of open shelving, magnetic knife strips, and my wine is racked on the wall. It kind of looks like a kitchen store, but counter space is such a premium.

        I agree though that the hardest adjustment is using an electric range instead of a gas one. Is it one of those glass top ones?

        Btw, I just wanted to say that I have just started following your blog and I think it’s really great! I look forward to reading more and hearing about more of your adventures in Belgium! July 19, 2012 at 6:03pm Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, it is a glass top stove. The tricky thing is to regulate the heat. The first time I cooked rice, the bottom burned before the water even started to evaporate. 🙂

          I like your idea to think vertically. I noticed that here most kitchens are arranged this way–lots of cupboards going up to the ceiling. So, while you have little counter space, you have a lot of storage. I like that.

          Thank you! Glad to hear that you’re enjoying my blog. I guess, if I didnt train as a perfumer, I would have gone to the cooking school. I love to cook and experiment. July 19, 2012 at 6:26pm Reply

          • Daisy: I remember that. There is definitely a learning curve with those things! I also found that heavier pans worked better too on those too, even though I was a little nervous about putting something heavy on top of glass!

            I’ve always loved perfume, but just started really thinking about what I like recently. It’s great to be able to find a community of people to learn from! And food and perfume people seem to have a lot in common 🙂 Eating and drinking well seems to follow liking to smell good things 🙂 July 19, 2012 at 10:15pm Reply

            • Victoria: That’s good to know, Daisy. We’re going to ship some of our things from the States, and most of my pans are heavy. My current pans are just some inexpensive ones I picked up to use in the interim. They’re made of some sort of metal that doesn’t really conduct the heat properly. But for now, they will have to do.

              Taste and smell are so tightly linked! And since I love to cook, I’m always happy to meet more people who share my interests. And your dissertation topic of food and contemporary French literature sounds absolutely fascinating. As I mentioned before, sign me up to read your book! 🙂 July 20, 2012 at 8:54am Reply

  • Rose D: Coming from a country that was an unavoidable stop for the greatest artists of the Surrealist movement, I can definitely relate to the feeling of living in one-of-a-kind places. I guess one just learns to deal with things as they are.

    I am curious about the mixed-meat recipes, since I have only tried beef meatballs; which usually are served a little dry with flat bread on the side. I did not know the roasting trick also worked with spices. I have tried it on pecan nuts and sweet almonds and the flavor that comes out is beyond comparison. It also makes sweet peppers even sweeter, and turns them into a perfect side dish or salad when served with a lithe olive oil. July 19, 2012 at 3:15pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, it’s learning a totally new skill set, which can be very humbling at times.

      I always never make all beef meatballs (hamburgers are an exception). But for other preparations, I like to mix beef and pork or beef and turkey. I’ve seen Italian recipes for a meatloaf where 4 types of meat are used. It’s a nice way to get a new flavor with little expense. Toasting works remarkably well to amplify the flavor of spices, just as you say about toasting nuts. I keep a jar of toasted cumin to add to salads or salty yogurt shakes. It tastes nutty and chocolate-like. July 19, 2012 at 4:48pm Reply

      • Daisy: I LOVE toasted cumin seeds in salty lassi! I’m glad you do too. There aren’t many people who prefer a salty to sweet yogurt drink! July 19, 2012 at 6:06pm Reply

        • Victoria: Have you ever tried adding fresh curry leaves to your salty lassi? They give such a bright green flavor and somehow make yogurt taste sweeter. July 19, 2012 at 6:28pm Reply

          • Daisy: Oooh! That sounds yummy! I’ve had dried curry leaves, but not fresh. I will definitely write this down in my food notebook and try it! July 19, 2012 at 10:16pm Reply

            • Victoria: Ah, you have a great discovery to make then. Fresh curry leaves have an incredibly complex flavor.
              To try them in a salty lassi, simply crumble a few leaves with your fingers and let them infuse in yogurt. You can also add a bit of fresh ginger. July 20, 2012 at 8:55am Reply

  • MB: I frequently toast cumin seeds to rub into chicken quarters (which are also salted and peppered) and then I make a splash of olive oil, chopped garlic, chopped fresh oregano and lime juice – which I pour over hot off the grill! I can’t wait to make this Kofta! How do you think ground turkey would work? July 19, 2012 at 8:38pm Reply

    • Victoria: The ground turkey works really well, especially if you use dark meat or a mix of light and dark. Otherwise, it might be too dry. What I often do when I make these kofta with leaner meats is to add more onion and herbs. The onion in particular makes them juicy.
      I love your recipe–cumin, garlic, lime, oregano, olive oil. Sounds like a perfect summer grilling recipe. I will try it with lamb steaks this weekend. July 20, 2012 at 3:36am Reply

  • Nikki: We use mixed meats for “Frikadellen” which are part pork, part beef minced meat with one onion, a milk soaked stale white bread (small) and minced onion and salt and white pepper to be fried on low heat in butter/oil. Very delicious. July 19, 2012 at 9:58pm Reply

    • Victoria: My mom makes soup with frikadellen (frikadelki as they are called in Russian), and it’s a soup both me and my brother request on regular basis. So good. I’m writing down your recipe to try out. Thanks! July 20, 2012 at 8:41am Reply

  • Judith Marianne Paesano: Dear Victoria,

    Your comment on nervous breakdown brought a smile to my face as this was exactly how I felt each time I had to visit some maison communales. Added to it the erratic hours and the on and off disponibility of the personnel, c’etait affreux ! What doesn’t kill you huh 🙂
    Your kofta looks delicious ! Looking forward to finally meet you.
    Bisous July 19, 2012 at 10:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: Judith, me too! 🙂
      You know exactly what I mean then. Maybe, I would have handled all of this better under normal circumstances, but when you feel confused and disoriented in the first place, it’s like being thrown into a cold lake. Pretty much all of the people (even the clerks) in that building looked exhausted and frustrated. But as you say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
      Oh, and since we’re going to be moving, we have a pleasure of dealing with a new commune as we re-register. Fun! 😉 July 20, 2012 at 8:47am Reply

  • Sandra: I have been reading your blog for a while now and am finally delurking. Congratulations on your move to Brussles. As an American living in Vienna, and having moved internationally throughout my life, I understand what you are going through. I found that it generally takes six months to truly settle into a new country. But after that, the adventure begins. Thank you for your lovely posts which keep me entertained. Thank you for the lovely recipe above. Finally a meatball recipe that does not contain eggs! Hurray. I can try to make them this weekend for my son who has multiple allergies. Enjoy settling in, take it one day at a time and just smile to yourself when something does not go the way you think it should. July 20, 2012 at 2:53am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Sandra, both for your nice words and your encouragement. I like this perspective, and I will try to keep it in mind. I have good and bad days, which is probably also normal. 🙂

      I almost never add egg to meatballs, because it makes them too tough. When you form these, compress them lightly, but they should stay together quite well. You can also dip them in bread crumbs for a crispy exterior, if you’re frying them. I do that only if I make large patties, not the small meatballs as in this photo. July 20, 2012 at 9:10am Reply

  • Maria: This entry and the accompanying letters have made me happy. It is 3:30 am, i have a cold, cant sleep, etc. So experiencing the kofta etc in words has been just delightful. I love cumin and will toast some ASAP.

    Thank you, Victoria and everyone for this little bit of beauty in the middle of the night.

    Maria July 20, 2012 at 3:38am Reply

    • Victoria: Please feel better, Maria! Sounds like you need a big cup of chamomile tea with honey and lemon. Chamomile makes you sleep better, and the scent of honey, lemon and flowers is so pleasant and soothing. Plus, it’s a great anti-cold drink. Ginger tea is another great remedy when you have a cold. Take care! July 20, 2012 at 9:12am Reply

  • Diana: OMG, I’m drooling. July 21, 2012 at 9:09am Reply

    • Victoria: 🙂 Hope that you try them! They’re so easy to make. July 21, 2012 at 1:27pm Reply

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