“It’s easy to see why kafta bil sanieh, a casserole, if you will, of sliced potatoes, rounds of tomatoes and flavorful kafta (seasoned meatballs or meat patties), is Lebanese comfort food. The ingredients are shingled into a baking dish and baked until the flavors meld and the textures become deliciously succulent and tender.”
This Milk Street rendition, based on a recipe from “The Palestinian Table” by Reem Kassis, starts with a simple no-cook tomato sauce in the bottom of the baking dish, where juices collect during baking and form a delicious sauce. To ensure the potatoes cook evenly and thoroughly, precook them by roasting them for about 10-15 minutes, enough time to begin making the kafta. If you are squeamish about lamb, use 80 percent lean ground beef instead. You can serve it with rice pilaf, but we did not.
I doubled the garlic, putting half of it in the meat mixture, the other half in the tomato sauce. To press the meat balls into 1/4″ thick discs, I used a flat-bottomed glass that was dipped into cool water between each smashing. Then I put the entire tray into the freezer for 10-15 minutes to firm up while the potatoes cooled. This made it easier for assembly.
Speaking of assembly, it helps to start with uniform sizes for the potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. In the end, there was not enough ingredients to make 3 full rows from front to back in the baking dish, but any left over slices of veggies were just positioned in the back. Unable to buy a small can of crushed tomatoes, we chose whole peeled tomatoes and crushed them with an immersion blender.
Lebanese Baked Kafta with Potatoes and Tomatoes
- 1 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, not peeled, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
- 2 Tbsp. plus ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 1 lb. ground lamb or 80 percent lean ground beef
- 1 medium yellow onion, halved and grated on the large holes of a box grater
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 14 ½ oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 4 medium garlic cloves, minced, divided
- 1 lb. plum tomatoes, cored and sliced into ¼-inch rounds
- 2 small green bell peppers or Anaheim chili, stemmed, seeded and sliced into thin rings
- Heat the oven to 450°F with a rack in the middle position.
- On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the potatoes with 1 tablespoon of oil and ¼ teaspoon salt. Distribute in a single layer and roast without stirring just until a skewer inserted into the potatoes meets no resistance, 10 to 13 minutes (ours took 16 min). Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly. Leave the oven on.
- While the potatoes cook, line a second baking sheet with kitchen parchment. In a medium bowl, combine the lamb, onion, half the minced garlic, parsley, allspice, cinnamon, ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Using your hands, mix gently until just combined; do not over-mix.
- Divide the mixture into about 20 golf ball-size portions (1½ to 1¾ inches in diameter) and place on the prepared baking sheet. Flatten each ball into a patty about 2½ inches wide and ¼ inch thick (it’s fine the patties are not perfectly round); set aside until ready to assemble.
- In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, combine the crushed tomatoes, garlic, the ¼ cup oil, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Stir well, then distribute in an even layer.
- Shingle the potatoes, tomato slices, green pepper rings and meat patties in 3 or 4 rows down the length of the baking dish, alternating the ingredients. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with pepper.
- Bake, uncovered, until the kafta and potatoes are browned and the juices are bubbling, 25 to 35 minutes. Cool for about 10 minutes before serving.
Adapted from a recipe by Courtney Hill for Milk Street