Kofta is a family of meatball or meatloaf dishes found in the Indian subcontinent, South Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Balkan, and Central Asian cuisines. In the simplest form, koftas consist of balls of minced or ground meat—usually beef, chicken, lamb, or pork—mixed with spices and/or onions. In the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, koftas are usually made from lamb, beef, mutton or chicken, whereas Greek, Cypriot, and Balkan versions may use pork, beef, lamb, or a mixture of the three. In Greece and Cyprus there are also vegetarian versions known as hortokeftedes (Greek: χορτοκεφτέδες), often eaten during fasting periods such as Lent. An uncooked version is also made in Turkey, called Çiğ köfte. In India, vegetarian varieties include koftas made from potato, calabash, paneer, or banana. In Europe, kofta is often served in a fast-food sandwich in kebab shops.
Koftas in India are usually served cooked in a spicy curry or gravy and are eaten with boiled rice or a variety of Indian breads. In India kofta can be vegetarian or non-vegetarian. In Iran, Iraq, and Azerbaijan, koftas are served with a spiced gravy, as dry variations are considered to be kebabs. Shrimp and fish koftas are found in South India, West Bengal, and some parts of the Persian Gulf.
The word kofta comes from Classical Persian kōfta (کوفته), meaning "rissole", from the verb kōftan (کوفتن), "to pound" or "to grind", reflecting the ground meat used for the meatballs. The languages of the region have adopted the word with minor phonetic variation.
The meat is often mixed with other ingredients, such as rice, bulgur, vegetables, or eggs to form a smooth paste. They can be grilled, fried, steamed, poached, baked, or marinated, and may be served with a rich spicy sauce. Koftas are sometimes made from fish or vegetables rather than red meat. Variations occur in North Africa, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and India. They can be shaped into patties, meat balls or cigar-like shapes.
Early recipes (included in some of the earliest known Arabic cookbooks) generally concern seasoned lamb rolled into orange-sized balls, and glazed with egg yolk and sometimes saffron. This method was taken to the West and is referred to as "gilding" or "endoring". Many regional variations exist, notable among them include the unusually large Azerbaijani (Iranian) Tabriz köftesi, having an average diameter of 20 cm (8 in).
In Albania, specialized shops called qofteri offer qofte. They are considered to be a specialty of Korçë, where they are called kernacka. Qofte are usually served on a metal plate, salted, and topped with fresh raw onions with bread. Beer is the most popular beverage accompaniment.
In the former Yugoslav republics, present-day Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia and Slovenia, they are called kjofte, ćufte or ćufteta. They are made of any single meat including fish, or mixture of meats, mixed with finely chopped onions, breadcrumbs, eggs, and seasonings. They are most often made by first being browned and then simmered in a roux made with paprika called crvena zaprška "red roux", or in a tomato sauce similar to Italo-American meatballs.
In Greece and Cyprus, kofta are known as keftedes (Greek: κεφτέδες) and are usually cooked by being fried and eaten with tzatziki or yogurt. The name is also given to fried vegetarian fritters, such as kolokytho-keftedes (courgette fritters), horto-keftedes (wild green fritters).
Sushrutha Samhita mentions meatballs made of ground meat and was termed pishtha. Koftas in the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent are normally cooked in a spiced gravy, or curry, and sometimes simmered with hard-boiled eggs. Vegetarian koftas are eaten by a large population in India. The British dish Scotch egg may have been inspired by the Indian dish Nargisi kofta ("Narcissus kofta"), where hard-boiled eggs are encased in a layer of spicy kofta meat. In Bengal, a region of eastern India, koftas are made from prawns, fish, green bananas, cabbage or meat, such as minced goat meat.
In Israel, meat kofta is part of the Mizrahi Jewish cuisine, and is made of minced meat, herbs, and spices, and cooked with tomato sauce, date syrup, pomegranate syrup, or tamarind syrup with vegetables or beans. A fish variety is prepared with minced fish, coriander, dried peppers (bell peppers and chili peppers), onion, black pepper, and salt, and is usually cooked in a tomato stew with chickpeas or white beans. The word kufta in Modern Hebrew, however, is used to describe a broad variety of dough dumplings, and was coined after the mention in the Jerusalem Talmud, written circa 200 CE.
In Jordan, they are usually made of beef, chicken, lamb, or a mixture of chicken and beef with allspice, parsley, mint, onion, black pepper, and salt and are fried in olive oil or cooked in tomato or pomegranate stews. Kofta in the Palestinian Community is very similar to the Jordanian kofta. It also pronounced as kafta, is made of minced meat, usually beef or veal, or a mixture of beef with lamb. It contains herbs, finely chopped onions and spices, and it is either flattened on a tray and called suneyet kofta, or made into patties; the kofta is then either baked or cooked and simmered with tomato sauce, tahini sauce, date syrup, pomegranate syrup, or tamarind syrup, and typically accompanied by potatoes or other vegetables. Another common variety of Palestinian kofta is a kofta bi batata, which consists of a bed of thinly sliced potatoes in layers under flattened kofta baked in a tray.
In Pakistan, kofta is made from ground beef with onion, spices, and salt. Nargisi kofta with hard boiled egg encased in spicy kofta are also popular.
In Romania, a local variety of kofta is known as chiftele or chiftea. They are usually made from minced pork, mixed with mashed potatoes and spices, then deep-fried. They are served with pilaf or mashed potatoes. The Romanian Jews prepare a version of lofts which has a large amount of garlic and parsley, along with a small amount of sugar. Their traditional kofta is often served with an eggplant salad, and is sometimes called "garlic torpedoes" in the West.
According to a 2005 study undertaken by a private food company, 291 different kinds of kofta were found in Turkey. Turkish variations include a meatball stew called sulu köfte, kadınbudu köfte. Batırık köftesi is a vegan variety that uses tahini as a binding ingredient instead of the usual egg. Çiğ köfte is a vegetarian variety made with lentils or bulgur. Kibbeh, a deep fried meatball made from a bulgur and potato shell stuffed with ground meat and other ingredients, are called içli köfte in Turkish.