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Kefta is the Moroccan Arabic term for ground meat or minced meat, with or without classic Moroccan seasoning that includes at a minimum paprika, cumin, onion and fresh herbs. At most Moroccan butcher shops, meat is selected and then ground to order. If it’s to be seasoned, spices and herbs will be added directly to the mincer along with the fresh meat and added fat. The kefta will be wrapped to bring home, or as is sometimes the case, taken to an adjacent or nearby grill to be cooked and enjoyed on the spot as street food.
Prepared this way, grilled kefta kebabs can be eaten directly from the skewer or used as a sandwich filler; for the latter, they’re traditionally stuffed into Moroccan bread along with a tomato and onion salad or with grilled onions and tomatoes as condiments.
Although buying seasoned kefta simplifies the process for getting it ready for the grill or stove, I rarely enjoy it as much as kefta that I’ve mixed at home using the Kefta Recipe below. Ginger, turmeric and cinnamon are optional but I recommend that you include them. A little Ras el Hanout may also be added for a hint of exotic, aromatic flavor.
Ground beef, lamb or a mix of the two are all traditionally used in kefta; a little added fat is necessary for classic texture and flavor and there will be a compromise if you omit it. Whether you follow tradition or opt for a leaner version, be sure to ask your butcher to finely grind and/or double-grind the meat; this makes the meat softer and easier to shape without following apart.
Molding or threading the meat onto skewers and then cooking over coals is not mandatory. The same basic mixture can be shaped into patties for pan frying; into sausage-like logs for oven baking; or into petite meatballs for poaching in sauce or butter.
Please note that the total time below does not factor in the time involved in prepping a grill for cooking or preheating an oven or broiler.
For another variation, try Nada Kiffa’s Kefta dyal Gharb recipe.
Moroccan Kefta Kebab Recipe
- 1 lb. finely ground beef or lamb or a mix of the two
- 4 to 5 oz. beef or lamb suet (recommended for classic flavor and texture)
- 1 medium onion finely chopped or grated
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves (optional; great with lamb)
- 2 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
- 1 tsp ground ginger (optional)
- 1 tsp ground turmeric (optional)
- 1/2 tsp ras el hanout (optional)
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
- In a large bowl, combine the meat with the herbs and spices. Knead by hand for a minute or two to ensure the seasoning is evenly distributed.
- Shape the kefta into small sausage-like logs. Arrange the logs in a grill basket or thread and mold them onto skewers.
- Grill the kebabs over medium-hot coals several minutes per side or until evenly browned and cooked through but still juicy. Moroccan preference is for little to no pink so watch carefully to avoid avoid drying out the meat.
- Alternatively, the kefta can be baked in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C). Arrange the shaped meat on a rack set over a pan and bake until browned and cooked through, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Time will depending on how thick the kefta was shaped.
- Wrap the cooked kebabs in foil to hold warm until serving.
- If you don't like red meat, try using ground chicken or turkey instead.
- You can use a stand mixer to incorporate the spices and herbs into the meat. Use a paddle attachment and mix on low speed just until the kefta is thoroughly combined.
- Dipping your hands in a little water will help prevent the kefta from sticking to your hands while shaping it.
- If shaping the kefta into patties, try making them into thin, petite rounds. They'll cook quickly in a pan and can be enjoyed in sandwiches in the same manner as kefta kebabs.
- If you want to use the kefta to make Moroccan seasoned hamburgers, I suggest reducing spices by half, particularly if you use typical condiments such as mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard.