Meatless Monday: Zucchini “Meatballs” With Red Sauce

Enthusiastically is how you responded to last week’s proposal for a weekly meatless feature. We take that as a “yes” and we’ve decided to waste no time in getting started.

Welcome to the first edition of Meatless Monday, a Mighty Appetite feature that explores the idea of taking a break from meat one day a week. Although many readers have expressed an interest in diversifying their diets, they also tell me that they don’t know how and could use a little help in the motivation department.

That’s why, starting today and every Monday, I’ll dish up a different recipe (with Casa Appetite testing notes, as always), but the meat will nowhere to be found. It won’t be on the side, it won’t be in the soup stock, it just won’t be -- for one day of the week.

Curiosity can often be a great motivator -- and a recipe doesn’t hurt, either.

This week’s menu is a take on kofte, spiced ground meat patties eaten as street food in the Middle East, the Balkans and south Asia. The way these fry up, though, they almost look like Middle Eastern kibbe.

Because I had a handful of ripe tomatoes that were running out time, I decided to make a marinara sauce, seasoned only with a few cloves of garlic and salt. The sauce was beautiful, naturally sweet and a perfect complement to the zucchini.

A few things to keep in mind:

The original recipe, as published in Gourmet magazine, is eggless, but I discovered that the binding action of one egg was necessary to help minimize splitting kofte in the hot oil. Feel free to experiment with other binders, including ground-up bulgur wheat, which is a traditional filler.

Just-rolled zucchini on their way to set up in the fridge. (Kim O'Donnel)

I highly recommend trying the bulgur pilaf, which is full of flavor and a lot of promise for playing with other root veggies.

Should you decide to do this on a weeknight, do the pilaf by itself or do the kofte and sauce. All three dishes after a long day at work would be too labor intensive. The other option is to make the pilaf the night before, then use pilaf leftovers with your kofte and sauce on the second night.

The recipe calls for forming the kofte into balls, and I think it's a shape worth pursuing so that they look like meatballs on top of your red sauce. However, if the ball thing isn't working for you and they aren't holding together, make'em into patties. They'll still taste just as good.

Zucchini Kofte With Root Veggie-Bulgur Pilaf

Adapted from the October issue of Gourmet


For Kofte
About 4 cups zucchini (from 3 medium zucchini), coarsely grated
2 garlic cloves
½ cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
½ cup packed cilantro sprigs
1 cup rinsed and drained canned chickpeas (I used the entire 15-ounce can)
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¾ cup plain bread crumbs
1 egg (My addition, after kofte refused to hold together in hot oil)
About 1 quart vegetable oil for frying

For Bulgur
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups bulgur
1 pound medium beets with greens, beets peeled and diced (1/4 inch), stems discarded and greens coarsely chopped (I substituted about six carrots, coarsely grated)
4 cups water
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted (I substituted equal amounts walnuts)

For Sauce
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

(Taking advantage of the end of tomato season, I cooked down five tomatoes with a few cloves of garlic in a sauce pan, until tomatoes were soft, then passed the mixture through a food mill, resulting in a skinless, seedless puree.)

Make Kofte
Toss grated zucchini with one teaspoon salt in a colander. Let stand 10 minutes.

Pulse garlic, parsley and cilantro in a food processor until finely chopped.

Wrap zucchini in a kitchen towel and twist to wring out as much liquid as possible.

Mash chickpeas with a fork (or a mortar and pestle or potato masher). Combine chickpeas with zucchini, garlic mixture, spices, bread crumbs and ¼ teaspoon in a large bowl.

Using a 1/8 measuring cup (or 2 tablespoons) to portion kofte and roll into balls. Refrigerate kofte on a baking tray while making bulgur.

Cook onion and garlic in oil and butter in a deep 1o-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 5-7 minutes. Stir in bulgur, ½ teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste, and cook, stirring until fragrant and a shade darker, about four minutes.

Stir in beets (or carrots) and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until water is absorbed and vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in greens (if using) and cook until just wilted, about one minute. Fluff bulgur with a fork, then sprinkle with nuts.

Fry kofte: Heat oil in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers (You want the oil to be at least 325 degrees) Fry kofte in batches, turning once until golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
(I kept kofte in a 250-degree oven to keep warm while frying the rest of the batch)

Makes four kofte and sauce servings; makes about six or seven pilaf servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 22, 2008; 8:07 AM ET Meatless Monday , Vegetarian/Vegan
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I make something similar, Malai Kofta, after having enjoyed the dish at an Indian restaurant in Boston's Back Bay. These are based on rice and cottage cheese, so no need for a pilaf. It's a particularly good way to use left-over sushi rice as it's nice and sticky and keeps the balls together. Here's my adaptation:

Malai Kofta

For the Koftas
150g ricotta (or cottage) cheese, drained
1.5 – 2 cups of cooked rice
2 tablespoons cashew nuts, crushed
1-2 teaspoons of dried cranberries, chopped
1-2 teaspoons of dried coconut
dash of salt

Combine rice with cottage cheese, coconut, dried cranberries, a little salt and 2 tablespoons of cashew nuts, broken or lightly chopped. Use your hands to form the kofta mix into 1” diameter balls. Roll in flour and put in refrigerator.

For the sauce

3 cloves, 2 cardamoms, a piece of cinnamon bark
1 teaspoon of whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns

1 small onion or 1/2 large onion
2 cups of yoghurt
1 cup of crushed tomatoes
1 cup of water
1/4 cup of cashew nuts, crushed
1 teaspoon each of ginger and garlic paste
1/4 teaspoon of chili powder

Dry roast the whole spices and grind them with a pestle and mortar. [You could substitute the equivalent ground spices or even some curry powder]. Add the chopped garlic, ginger and cashews and pound to a paste. Chop the onion finely and fry in oil for a few minutes before adding the spice paste. After another few minutes of frying, add the chopped tomato then a few minutes later, the yoghurt, water, and chili powder.

Heat a little oil in a large pan and brown the koftas. Add to the sauce. Use a spoon to pour some of the sauce over the koftas then turn the heat down very low and cover the pan. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.


Posted by: Fairlington Blade | September 22, 2008 10:00 AM

Kim, do you think one could make the kofte with spinach instead of zucchini?

Posted by: Reine de Saba | September 22, 2008 12:51 PM

Sounds great! I don't know if I can get my carnivore husband to accept them as meatballs, but they'll make good lunches for me anyway.

One question: I'm trying to cut down on calories. Do you think these'll work well faux-fried in the oven? Probably won't be as tasty-crispy, but maybe still tasty?

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | September 22, 2008 2:40 PM

Reine: You might find that spinach doesn't have enough "bulk" -- water content is probably too high. If you mixed it with zucchini -- or used in place of some of the herbs, that might work, but I'm not so sure.
DC Cubefarm: I think they would be tasty in the oven but without the crispy coating. You could broil them perhaps for a quick minute...

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | September 22, 2008 2:53 PM

I'm glad you're doing this, Kim. It is so important to incorporate more meatless meals into our diets. But I just wanted to let you know that there's already a Meatless Monday initiative going on. Check out They provide several different meatless (although some have fish and seafood)recipes each week and also articles on healthy eating. You can sign up for weekly e-mails from them, too.

Posted by: Upstate NY | September 22, 2008 3:03 PM

Hey Upstate: Yes, the people at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in conjunction with the Meatless Monday Campaign are doing really good work. I won't be attempting to duplicate their efforts, just doing it MA style -- and in this space, I won't be including seafood as they do. Thanks for sharing the link to their site. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | September 22, 2008 3:12 PM

These sound seriously seriously good - but as soon as I saw the title, I thought of spaghetti and meatballs - I bet if I swapped out the cilantro, cumin and coriander for some basil and oregano, these could be just right...

Posted by: m.e. | September 22, 2008 3:33 PM

Ooh, these kofte do sound good. I might play around with the recipe just a bit more, to see if it's possible to make an even lower fat version.

PS, I work for and we are simply delighted to see the interest in your Meatless Monday initiative! As our readers know, taking even a small step - like enjoying meatless meals one day a week - can have significant health benefits.

Posted by: Barbara | September 22, 2008 5:18 PM

Barbara, thanks so much for the luv from! Keep us posted your tweaks to the recipe and share in the comments area, pretty please -- and stay in touch!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | September 22, 2008 5:52 PM

Jeek - go away. Any chance of spiking this post?

Posted by: Fairlington blade | September 22, 2008 11:13 PM

Hey us carnivores demand equal time. How's about a mega meat Thursday! We want our own chat like vegans!

Come on those of us who are doing our best to defeat tyranny of the Green Nazis deserve equal time.

I have convinced most of friends who raise livestock to change their diets like I have so our herds fart and contribute more methane gas. A happy prey animal is one who farts a lot.

Lets explore how to dress and butcher your own meat in our chat next Wed. Hey Kim we have videos to post of Flossie the steer and Serta the lamb being butchered.

And we can discuss the proper confinement and feeding for baby veal to ensure the most tender veal and best price.

Meat eaters rule because our diets give us the energy to hunt down vegans!

Posted by: Meateater | September 23, 2008 7:14 AM


Posted by: Anonymous | September 23, 2008 1:50 PM

Again with the "green nazis" comments. Enough already. What this guy doesn't seem to get is that this is a cooking and food blog so folks are interested in all kinds of different types of eating. I personally think a day to talk about dressing meat, or buying meat from farmers or butchers, would be a great topic. But to ask for that while simultaneously provoking people who are trying to eat on the other end of the food spectrum is not helpful, or in the community spirit of this blog.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | September 23, 2008 2:59 PM

Thanks for this new feature, Kim. Our dear, departed (from the Post that is, not in life!) Sally Squires used to have a Meatless Monday feature in her weekly Health e-newsletter. Nice to have someone pick that ball up and run.

Posted by: Rebecca | September 24, 2008 1:17 PM

I think this is a great idea. Although not vegetarians, my partner and I have made a decision to only purchase meat and dairy products from sources that practice humane farming. Along with this decision, we decided to eat more vegetarian meals and only eat meat occasionally (once a week or less). The upside is that we have a lot more energy and we have both lost weight without even really "trying". I'll definitely come back here for great ideas.

Posted by: CAC in Takoma Park | September 24, 2008 1:20 PM

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