I was introduced to this dish, Dawud Pasha Kufta or David’s Meatballs, at a restaurant called Felfela in downtown Cairo, just a block or two away from Tahir Square. It’s a legendary eatery, with tables set among a spectacular interior of birds in cages, fish tanks with turtles, and decorative vines. The menu offers a range of traditional Egyptian dishes, and has changed little since it was founded in 1959 if one judges by a menu from 1975 that is proudly displayed on the wall. These meatballs in tomato sauce were my favorite among a range of delicious mezzes that we enjoyed for lunch. Hossam, the waiter, happily shared the recipe, although in quite rudimentary terms owing to my lack of Arabic. There were a couple of instructions he was quite particular about though, not least the inclusion of freshly ground black pepper as “essential.” Little wonder then, that felfela means black pepper corn in Arabic.
- 500 gram minced meat
- 50 ml crushed wheat
- A handful of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
- 1 dry bay leaf, crushed
- Half an onion
- 5 large tomatoes
- 2 cloves of garlic
- A pinch of ground cumin
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- A handful of fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped (optional)
Mix minced meat with crushed wheat, finely chopped mint leaves and crushed bay leaf, then leave to rest under lock.
Make a small cut with a sharp knife on the top of each tomato, then put tomatoes in a bowl and cover with boiling hot water. Set aside.
Finley chop or grate the onion and the garlic, and sauté over medium to low heat, beginning with the onion and adding the garlic only when the onion is nearly done. Add crushed black pepper and stir frequently. The onion mix is ready when softened through and almost browned.
As the onion mix is being sautéed, peel the tomatoes and puree in a mixer. Add to the onion mix when onion is cooked through. Add the cumin and turned down the heat to simmer. No lid.
Wash hands in cold water, and roll the minced meat dough into small balls, about the size of an apricot or slightly smaller.
Heat frying pan with butter/ghee, and fry the meat balls on fairly high heat until browned all around (about 5-7 minutes). You will get an even browning if you shake the pan now and then so that the meatballs roll around.
Once browned, add the tomato sauce and turn down to the heat. Season with salt and allow to simmer for another 5-10 minutes.
Sprinkle with another round of freshly ground black pepper, decorate with fresh flatleaf parsley and serve with rice or as a mezze with other dishes.
Enjoy! And if you happen to know who David was, please tell me.
Over the years, Felfela has grown into a network of restaurants. You can find out more on www.felfela.com