Cutlets or Meatballs

Katles Kavab

Throughout the sphere of Persian Arab influence, including northern India, a kebab or kofta can be meat or fish, ground or in chunks, shaped, impaled or not, and either fried, stewed, or grilled. For Parsis, the Gujarati word kavab signifies a mixture of meat, fish, or vegetable shaped and then stewed, fried, or cooked on a griddle. In Bombay, the meat of choice is usually lean kid; my preference is for chicken or turkey. Supermarket ground lamb can be too fatty for Parsi tastes, but there’s no reason for an American cook not to use the leanest possible hamburger or, for that matter, ground pork.

In traditional Parsi everyday menu planning, there’s usually something in a category known as a sukki vani: a dry dish, usually ground meat, fried as a kavab or as a katles, pronounced “cut-lace,” a pan-Indian adaptation of British cutlets. Like a kavab, a katles can be a malleable mixture of anything. What distinguishes it is its shape, a flattened oval. This basic recipe can be easily adapted to make cutlets. It is enough for about a dozen small kavabs or six to eight katles. Cold or room-temperature cutlets make an excellent sandwich filling.

Shaped around skewers and brushed with oil, the kavabs can be roasted or grilled, in which case they are called sikh (stick or skewer, not to be confused with the religious community) kavabs.

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Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground chicken or turkey; or leanest lamb, pork, or beef
  • 1 to 2 boiled potatoes, roughly mashed
  • 1 medium-size red or yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 to 3 (or more) green chiles, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Ginger-Garlic Paste
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) stems and leaves
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg; plus 1 to 2 additional eggs, lightly beaten, if coating
  • 1 teaspoon Dhana Jiru (; optional—for kavabs only)
  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs (optional)
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

Method

  • For kavabs: Mix together the ground meat, potatoes, onion, chiles, paste, fresh coriander, turmeric, salt, and 1 egg. For a “correct”-tasting kavab, add the dhana jiru spice mixture. Using damp or oiled hands, shape the mixture into balls or flatten it into small, thick patties. For a predinner nibble, often known as a “cocktail kavab,” make them the size of a walnut; for dinner, they should be about 2 to 3 inches across. Some cooks dip kavabs in egg and bread crumbs before frying. I don’t.
  • Shallow-fry dinner kavabs or deep-fry smaller ones. A wok or karhai gives you greater depth of oil for the amount used. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking before adding the kavabs. It should take about 5 to 10 minutes for a thick dinner kavab to get cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes for the little ones. Sometimes small kavabs are given a quick pass through oil before being finished in a stew or curry.
  • For katles: With wet or oiled hands, shape the combined ingredients into 6 to 8 flattened palm-size ovals. Have a shallow bowl with the lightly beaten eggs and a plate with the dry bread crumbs at the ready. Dip each cutlet into the beaten egg, then the crumbs, and shallow-fry in 1 cup oil over medium-high heat until golden on both sides, 5 to 10 minutes. Alternatively, “dry-fry” the cutlets: Heat a heavy skillet or griddle and pour the merest film of oil on it. In this case, they will have a less unctuous character than if they were shallow-fried, but they will have attractive dark brown speckles. This is my preferred way.
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