Koofteh Tabrizi is a super meatball stuffed with dried fruits and berries, also a variety of nuts. There are some other interesting fillings for this very traditional Azeri dish that are worth mentioning. One very common item is a peeled hard boiled egg that is placed inside the koofteh along with nuts and dried fruit. The yellow cooked yolk surrounded by a ring of white makes a pretty presentation when you cut into the koofteh, so you might give this a try if you like. I personally prefer not to, simply because I think it takes up the space that I can fill with my favorite dried fruits and nuts that are more flavorful.
Ground beef, pieces of onion and cooked split peas are processed by a meat grinder attachment or a food processor until uniform and paste like. The rice and bulgur are cooked in water with some salt, turmeric and butter until most of the liquid is cooked off and the grains are tender but firm inside. In a large bowl the meat mixture, cooked rice mixture, eggs and spices are mixed until blended. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
Peel and slice 2 large yellow onions. Fry the onions in butter until golden brown. You will be dividing these fried onions and use them in the sauces (for cooking the koofteh and for the Tilit sauce), for filling, and for the garnish. Prepare the sauce (according to the recipe) in a large 12-inch stockpot or divide the recipe and make it in two 10-inch stockpots. Bring it to a slow boil, then turn off the heat and set it aside until all the Koofteh(s) are stuffed.
Add herbs and salt to the refrigerated ingredients. Knead the Koofteh mixture with your hands several times to blend well. Then comes the part that name Koofteh (to be beaten) comes from: Pick up handfuls of the ingredients, raise it above the level of the bowl and throw it back in the bowl (as you can see I had a pair of helping hands for this part!) Repeat this with the rest of the batter. This picking and throwing down will be done several times until you have a smooth paste that easily sticks together and will not fall apart when you pick it up in your hand.
Use a 10-ounce bowl to divide the paste into 6 equal meatballs. Divide one of the meatballs in two
Have the fillings ready for 6 koofteh. Have a small bowl of water near your work station. Add 1/2 tablespoon water to the same 10-ounce bowl that you have used for making the meatballs. Add one half of the meatball in the bowl and use your fingers to spread it in the bottom and all the way up the sides of the bowl.
Add a handful of the filling to the bowl. Cover the top with the other half of the ball. Press the top with the palm of your hand so the ingredients in the bowl stick together.
Invert the bowl and tap it a few times on the palm of your hand to release the meatball. Pass the meatball from hand to hand 5-6 times until there is no visible seam. Repeat this with all of the meat balls. Bring the prepared sauce to a low boil over medium low heat, or a little higher to maintain a low boil.
Gently slip the stuffed Koofteh one by one into the sauce that is gently boiling. Do Not move or turn the koofteh at any point after you put them in the sauce. The sauce should be boiling gently so the koofteh starts cooking and setting, as soon as it is placed in the sauce. Add the rest of the koofteh(s), there will be almost no space between them and it is okay. While maintaining a low boil cook the koofteh without covering it for 30 minutes. By the end of this time the koofteh will start changing color and the top will feel firmer to touch. Baste the tops with some of the broth, lower the heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer for the koofteh for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Baste the tops a few times during this cooking time. At the end of this time the sauce will have a clear layer of oil rising to the top. This is called “be roghan oftadan” or “ja oftadan,” and it means your long awaited Koofteh Tabrizi is cooked. Turn off the heat and let koofteh sit in the pot for about 15 minutes. Most of the liquid in the pot will be absorbed by the koofteh(s) and there will be some thick sauce left in the bottom of the pot. You will be removing all the koofteh plus the thick sauce out of the pot. Next, a thin sauce is made and mixed with half or all of the thick sauce, depending on how many koofteh(s) you decide to serve . You have the option to either serve all 6 Koofteh or serve 3 and freeze the rest.