Thursday, July 7, 2011

Chi Kofte (Armenian Steak Tartare)

Some people have an aversion to eating raw meat and fish. I laugh in the face of raw meat and fish! Muahahaha! Bring on the steak tartare, the carpaccio, the sushi and sashimi. I fear you not! For I have grown up eating you, and think you're delicious :) To be specific, I have long been a lover of chi kofte, or Armenian steak tartare. If you live in Los Angeles and are hankering to make or buy some chi kofte, you are seriously in luck. Visit any Armenian market and you can buy chi kofte meat artfully prepared for this use (they have special machines). Otherwise, you will need to ask your butcher to grind your trimmed beef top round meat multiple times to achieve a similar texture, or grind it at home the same way (if you grind at home, grind the paprika directly into your meat instead of mixing it in later!). It takes extra work, but it's vital to get the silky texture of the chi kofte meat. It should not be chunky like a French tartare. It should be smooth like a paste.

The special ingredient in chi kofte, other than the super-ground beef, is the bulgur, or cracked wheat. It is soaked with water and softened, and then all mixed together. For Lebanese-style chi kofte, pat out the mixture flat in a serving dish and serve simply with extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling. Armenians shape their chi kofte into little chunks, and serve it with either gheyma (cooked ground beef with onions and parsley), salata (much like Israeli salad, but better), or both. Some will drizzle theirs with olive oil also. I personally like to take my chi kofte chunks, smash them flat on my plate, top with gheyma, salata, and sometimes a drizzle of the oil. My parents eat their chi kofte with ghema, and with the salata on the side. Some people will take the chi kofte chunks one at a time with their hands and actually dip them into the ghema and take bites. It's really just personal preference, but if this is your first chi kofte experience, try them all and see which technique you prefer!

Chi Kofte (Armenian Steak Tartare)
Serves 6

1/2 T. unsalted butter
1/2 lb ground beef round
1 small onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 green Italian pepper, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
4 scallions, sliced
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp. paprika
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 T. olive oil
1 tsp. sumac (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chi Kofte:
1 1/2 cup grade #1 fine bulgur (cracked wheat)
1 1/2 cups cold water, plus more as needed
1 1/2 lbs very fresh top round, trimmed of all fat and ground four times until fine like a paste
1 T. plus 1 tsp. kosher salt
1 T. paprika
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sliced scallions
1/4 cup plus 1 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley

Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving (optional)

Start by making the gheyma. Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When melted add the ground beef, stirring and breaking up into small pieces. When the beef has started to brown but is not completely cooked yet, add the onions and season with salt, pepper, and paprika. Continue to cook until the beef is well-browned and cooked through. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Stir in the parsley and remove from the heat. The gheyma can be made ahead and reheated as needed. It can also be frozen.

For the salata, mix together all the ingredients and set aside until service.

Fill a small bowl with some water to use to wet your hands as needed during the mixing and shaping process. In a large mixing bowl, soak the bulgur with the 1 1/2 cups cold water for about 15 minutes until absorbed but still wet. Add the meat and mix thoroughly with your hands. Season with salt, paprika, and pepper and mix well.  Mix in 1/4 cup scallions and 1/4 cup chopped parsley.

To shape the kofte*, dip your hands in the water and grab a small handful of the mixture. Form it into a ball and then lightly begin to make a fist with your hand to make it a bit more oblong (but not completely flat) and leave finger imprints on one side. Place on a serving dish, dip your hands in water and repeat the process until all of the mixture has been used to form koftes. Garnish with the remaining green onions and parsley and serve with the gheyma, salata, and olive oil (if desired) on the side for topping.

*To make a more Lebanese-style chi kofte, omit the herbs from the chi kofte mixture and instead of forming it into chunks, pat the entire mixture flat on a large flat serving dish and serve with a cake server for cutting and serving to individual plates.


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