When Arab American’s talk of their experiences growing up in America, you often hear people talk about taking pita bread with cheese for school lunches instead of PB&J. I now realize that I have become that parent! Indeed, I sent my kids to school today with mini kafta‘s for snacktime instead of crackers and cheese. However, one beauty of living in the UAE is in the multi-cultural environment. My kids’ classroom is filled with students from Australia, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, and America. So I am sure their lunchboxes are filled with a variety of snacks – at least I hope so…
I must say that feeding children healthy foods and snacks in the Middle East is quite difficult. Although Americans are not known for healthy eating habits, I had access to so many different types of healthy and organic snacks for kids. Here, I find that you really have to scour the ingredients to find foods not filled with high fructose corn syrup and juice boxes that are 100% juice instead of 10% juice and 90% “stuff.” If I do find organic snacks, the cost is INSANE. A 4-pack of organic fruit and grain bars cost the equivalent of $8 USD. And if your kids are anything like mine, seeing them take 2 nibbles and pulverize the rest makes you cringe at the $2 going down the drain.
Thus, I have been trying to think of healthy snacks that I can make and pack for the kids. As you know, I can’t bake. My foray into making mini bread loaves stuffed with spinach & cheese turned out disastrous last week– let’s just say the kids discovered that they made great footballs that make a loud thump when they threw them against the wall. So for today’s lunchbox, I avoided baking and made mini kafta‘s (or mini kofta’s). I bought a book by Annabel Karmel, Top 100 Finger Foods. The book gives some great ideas, but my kids love flavors and spices, which I found many of these recipes lacked. Anyway, she had this great idea for making mini burger’s by putting them into a muffin pan to bake, and topped them off with a great sweet sauce. ENTER IDEA– make kafta in a muffin tin! I made these a couple of weeks ago and realized how quickly the kids (and husband) gobbled them up, so I doubled my recipe this time around. I think it is the sweet sauce on top that caramelizes that makes these all the more delicious! These are really simple to make, and you can save some in the fridge for dinner or for lunchboxes the next day.
Mini Kaftas (Mini Meatloaves)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Makes 12 mini kaftas
1/2 cup ketchup (buy the kind with NO high fructose corn syrup)
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 lb low fat ground beef
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chopped onion (approximately 1 onion)
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp spice blend (seven spice, your favorite meat blend, or Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
- Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the sauce. If the brown sugar doesn’t dissolve into the mixture, you can quickly heat the sauce in the microwave for 10 seconds. Set aside.
- In a small sauce pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil. Sauté the chopped onion and garlic together. Let cool.
- In a large bowl, add the ground beef, breadcrumbs, salt, and spice blend. Using your (clean) hands, mix them all together. Add more salt if you like (I usually do!).
- Add the cooled onion and garlic mixture, parsley and egg. Again, mix together with your hands until you have a slightly gooey mixture. You want it to be moist. If you feel the mixture is too dry, then you can add 1-2 tbsp of milk, although I have never had to.
- In a muffin tin, lightly grease each cup with olive oil. If you have spray oil, you can give them a quick squirt.
- Pack in about 1/4 cup of the beef mixture into each slot. You should have just enough for 12, give or take a bit.
8. Put 1 tsp of sauce on top of each kafta cup.
9. Place into the oven and cook for approximately 20-30 minutes. You should begin to see the sauce caramelizing, and the sides of the kafta turning a nice golden brown color. You can test one of them to make sure that it is cooked all the way through.
10. You can serve these warm or cold. Either way – enjoy!