Embrace kofta, India's favorite street food

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Hollywood's biggest night also is one of the best excuses to get your friends together and get glamorous in the kitchen. But glamorous doesn't have to be onerous. The best party food is something that will get your guests talking, something that is a crowd pleaser, something that can be eaten as a finger food but — vitally — also is really easy to assemble.

I nominate this lamb kofta to win in all those categories. The kofta is one of India's most famous street foods, popular with everyone from office workers to Bollywood actors. Kofta are similar to meatballs; they're made using ground lamb and mixed with spices such as cinnamon, chili and cumin. All those warm flavors then are charred over coals before being dunked into an eye-opening chutney and eaten with either flatbread or a salad.

In this recipe, I've mixed the lamb with dates to give it a touch of rich sweetness, then teamed it with a classic Indian relish called kachumbar, which is made using cucumber and onion with mango chutney and lime dressing. Everything can be made in advance, served hot, warm or even cold. Serve the kofta in tender lettuce leaves so your guests can eat them without getting their hands greasy.

Altogether, it's a stellar line up and if, by chance, you have leftovers, you can make a kofta curry with them the next day, or even freeze them. From Bollywood to Hollywood, with love.

Lamb and date kofta with lettuce cups

Start to finish: 45 minutes

Makes 20 kofta

For the sauce:

1/2 large English cucumber (about 7 ounces)

1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

2 1/2 teaspoons mango chutney

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

Pinch of kosher salt

For the kofta:

2 ounces soft pitted dates (about 10), finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1-inch chunk fresh ginger, grated

2 serrano chilies, finely chopped

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 pound ground lamb

1 tablespoon canola oil, plus extra

20 baby gem, Boston or other tender lettuce leaves

To make the sauce, peel the cucumber. Cut it in half lengthwise, then use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Finely dice the cucumber, then in a small bowl combine it with the onion, mango chutney, lemon juice, cilantro and salt. Set aside.

To make the kofta, in a medium bowl combine the dates, garlic, ginger, chilies, salt, cinnamon and cumin. Mix together, then add the lamb and mix well. Using your hands, shape the mixture into 20 oblongs (football-shaped).

In a large skillet over medium, heat the oil. Add 6 to 8 kofta at a time. Cook, turning frequently, for 8 minutes, or until cooked through. Set aside on a plate, then repeat with the remaining kofta, adding oil as needed.

Kofta can be served hot, room temperature or cold. Serve with lettuce leaves and kachumber sauce.

Nutrition information per kofta: 70 calories; 35 calories from fat (50 percent of total calories); 4 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 15 mg cholesterol; 105 mg sodium; 3 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 5 g protein.

Meera Sodha is an Indian foods expert and author of "Made in India: Recipes from an Indian family kitchen."


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