This falls under two categories that don’t usually go together: comfort food and health food.
This is a great summer dish; except that it requires the oven which heats up the house. Making this a great late summer dish, when the evenings are just starting to cool off but you still have a couple rounds of garden fresh tomatoes left and the first cold front hasn’t blown through yet. Where you live kind of dictates when this is. Up north it’s usually just after labor day. In the south, a week or so before Halloween.
While pretty simple to throw together, it does take a little bit of time between browning the kefta, sautéeing the onions, and then putting everything in the oven. It’s great for a Sunday dinner and yields enough for leftovers. It’s also great for gardeners, with the fresh mint and tomatoes. If you’re only growing cherry tomatoes, that’s fine. Just halve them and throw them in there. The main point is that the tangy roasted tomatoes go so well with the deep flavors of the tomato sauce in the bottom and the spiced meatballs.
While very comforting, I really wanted to lighten up this dish with something fresh and cool, so I threw some tzatziki sauce on there. You can buy some or make your own (plain yogurt + lemon + garlic + finely chopped cucumbers and stir). Throw together a quick, fresh salad and you’ve got yourself a lovely, summery, healthy meal. And if you have huge appetites, this recipe will double pretty easily, just make sure you have a pan (or two) big enough to accommodate the extra kefta.
This is something close to a traditional Lebanese dish called Kefta Bil Sayniyeh. Usually, the meat is seasoned with a spice blend called baharat. Since this spice blend can kind of vary by household, I just hashed together some spices from my cabinet. What makes this dish both comforting yet actually good for you is that the richness comes from the spices, not from copious amounts of fat, cream, or the like. This would be a good one if you want to try mixing venison with ground lamb.
Kefta with Tomato and Onion
For the kefta
- 2lb ground venison
- zest of one lemon
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger (minced/microplaned)
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley (finely chopped)
- 1 tablespoon fresh mint (finely chopped)
- 1/2 onion (grated)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Pan spray
For the skillet
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion (sliced into about 1/2 inch rings)
- 4 cloves garlic (sliced or roughly chopped)
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 3 canned whole tomatoes
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 3 vine ripe tomatoes (sliced into about 1/2 inch rings)
- juice of one lemon
- fresh parsely (for garnish)
For the skillet (Optional)
- tzaziki sauce (for serving)
|For the Kefta
|Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat an oven-safe pan over medium-high heat (at about a 6 out of 10) and spray copiously with pan spray. While all that is heating up, mix all of the ingredients "for the kefta" except for pan spray. Mix everything very well until all the ingredients are incorporated. Form little logs or patties with about 1/4 cup-ish worth of meat. Pan sear the kefta on all sides, working in batches if you need to. Set aside
|For the skillet
|Scrape any burned bits out of the pan and discard. Add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the onions and cook until they start to turn yellow and brown a little bit, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook until they start to turn golden, another 3-4 minutes. Add the tomato paste and crush each canned tomato with your hands into the skillet. Add the cinnamon sticks and stir everything well. Place the kefta on top of the onions and layer the sliced tomatoes on top with a little salt and pepper to taste.
|Cook for about 30-35 minutes in the oven, until the tomatoes have become wrinkly and started to dry out. Pull from the oven, add the juice of one lemon. Serve warm with tzatziki sauce, if desired.
Non-game substitution: Ground beef, ground lamb, or a combination of the two.