Kooftah Berenji – Persian Lamb & Rice Meatballs

These succulent spiced lamb meatballs are quite unusual as they are combined with split peas (chana dhal) and rice and then simmered lightly in a rich sweet/sour broth which is utterly heavenly. The word Kofta, or Kufta or Kooftah comes from a Persian word meaning “to pound” or “to grind”, and is referring (obviously) to the ground meat used for the meatballs. Recipes of this dish differ here and there and I do like to add fresh as well as dried herbs sometimes depending on what I have available.

They are quite light and naturally very healthy as less meat it used and the addition of the lentils and rice adds softness and a unique texture. Its a simple meal that has a sophisticated flavour and is one those dishes that can feed a crowd easily and economically.

Remember to double or triple the recipe depending on how many guests you have – and I like to make them slightly smaller and make more if I am serving them as part of a feast!

If you would like to see a video of me making these meatballs just click on the link below! In the video I forgot to put the onions in with the mince to blend it in the mixer so I added it after – it doesn’t really matter but I generally put everything in the processor as it makes life easier. I also add my own Pomegranate molasses into the sauce which is not traditional or necessary.

These fragrant and dumpling like meatballs are the perfect winter food!

A selection of the types of ingredients I use in my cooking sessions – the barberries or Zereshk are at the top

Serves 4 (2 large meatballs pp)

For the Sauce:

2 tbsp oil

20g butter

1 onion, finely chopped

1 tsp ground turmeric

3 tbsp tomato paste

1 vegetable/chicken stock cube

12 dried apricots finely chopped or whole.

1 litre water


500g Minced lamb or beef or a mix of the both

1 onion chopped

1 tsp ground turmeric, cumin & coriander each

½ tsp black pepper

4 tbsp barberries soaked and drained (optional – Olive Branch Deli in Kloof st sell them)

3 tbsp dried mint (Atlas stock this)

1 tbsp dried tarragon & dill each

Handful fresh – Flat leaf parsley/coriander & dill chopped – this is optional and only use if readily available.

2 egg

3 tbsp chickpea flour

70g Thai Jasmine style rice parboiled – to parboil – boil in unsalted water for 10 mins

50g Yellow split peas parboiled (Chana Dhal) – To parboil – boil in non salted water for 15mins till al dente

Koofteh Berenji
  • Make the sauce first by heating the butter and the oil together and then frying the onions gently until golden.
  • Add the turmeric and tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes before adding the apricots, water and stock cube. Bring to the boil and turn heat down to a simmer.
  • For the meatballs place all the ingredients except the par cooked rice and split peas into a food processor and blitz till thoroughly combined.
  • Mix in the lentils and rice and with wet hands divide into 8 sections and make large meatballs shapes. You can also make them smaller if you want! The mixture will be sticky and dough like so wetting your hands before shaping each meatball will help the cause. You can also make them smaller if you are serving them as part of a larger banquet.
  • Place the meatballs in the hot bubbling broth – which should almost cover them. Cover the saucepan halfway and leave to simmer on a low heat for approx an hour. Then take the lid off an increase the heat and reduce the sauce till thickened. Adjust the seasoning to taste – I like to squeeze half a lime into the broth!
  • Serve with flatbreads or my Persian rice with tahdigh and sharp crunchy salad like Shirazi and torshi (pickles).
Shirazi Salad