THE FOODIE FILES: Taste the Wild Side

By on June 21, 2016

When storied meats meet the Middle East.

Left: Get your wild game out of the freezer and onto the grill with these Middle Eastern spiced kofte kebabs. Right: Clockwise from the top—sumac onions, fresh mint, cucumber yogurt sauce, muhummara, and baba ganoush are all perfect accompaniments. (Photo: Annie Fenn, MD)

Left: Get your wild game out of the freezer and onto the grill with these Middle Eastern spiced kofte kebabs. Middle: Clockwise from the top—sumac onions, fresh mint, cucumber yogurt sauce, muhummara, and baba ganoush are all perfect accompaniments. Right: A delicious aroma rises from the grill as these kebabs cook, commanding everyone to the table. (Photo: Annie Fenn, MD)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Most locals I know have a chest freezer out in the garage full of food that has been lovingly hunted, fished and foraged.

When I open the lid to my family’s freezer I also find that it is filled with stories. The neatly wrapped packages of ground antelope remind me of the day my 15-year-old son and his best friend each shot their first big game animals. I remember the looks on their faces, humble and proud, as they recounted the story of the hunt.

There’s half a lamb sourced from a woman in Bondurant who treats the Dorper lamb she raises like children. Not only does she raise lamb and steer, she watches my dogs when I’m out of town, so they get to help do farm chores amongst the animals that sometimes end up in my freezer.

All year there was a bison roast perched between the piles of Hungarian partridge and sharptail grouse, some breasted and others frozen whole, feathers and all. This bison was the last animal harvested by my friend Stephen, a passionate and dedicated hunter. Stephen has been gone a whole year now, and it took me a long time to finally defrost my small piece of his bison. I liked seeing it there in the freezer, even though it always made me feel sad, but with time it made me smile more and more to think of him. Finally, the time came to turn it into something wonderful for supper—a bison porcini pot roast served over creamy polenta. I think Stephen would have approved.

And this year we have venison, lots and lots of venison. My husband hunts mule deer every fall but only rarely takes a shot; last October all the elements of the hunt lined up perfectly and now we are cooking up venison every which way.

If there’s wild game in your freezer, whether it is moose, elk, venison, or antelope, chances are you are grilling lots of burgers. Once you are ready to try something new, mix up that ground wild meat with some Middle Eastern spices and make my kofte kebabs. I first created this recipe to cook up a moose that took up most of my freezer last summer. (There is a story behind the harvest of that moose, but I’ll have to relay it another time.)

Kofte is the Turkish name for the Persian ground meatballs, kofta, found all over the Middle East. Ground meat is mixed with garlic and spices, rolled into meatballs, skewered and grilled. I haven’t traveled in the Middle East but I have read that every street vendor has his own version of kofte, and regional variations abound.

Spiced with cumin, cinnamon, Aleppo pepper, and garlic, these are like spicy little lamb burgers. You will want to serve them tucked into pita bread, drizzled with a yogurt cucumber sauce, and alongside an easy eggplant dip like baba ganoush or muhummara. Or, if you are an eggplant lover like me, make them both.

My kofte are part of a menu that can be made entirely in advance—perfect for having friends over in the summer. The kebabs can be mixed and formed up to a day ahead and actually improve with time as spices infuse the meat with flavor.

Don’t be put off if you don’t have a chest freezer full of wild game and great stories. Most ground lamb, beef, or even turkey would make really good kofte. But surely you know a hunter who doesn’t mind trading his or her wild game meat for something you can offer in return. Just be sure to get the story behind the hunt. How lucky we are to live in a place where we can eat so close to the land.

Wild game kofte kebabs

Za’atar is a spice blend that can be purchased or made at home. Sumac is a paprika-like brick red powder with a lemony aftertaste. And Aleppo pepper is the milder cousin of the red pepper flake, yet adds great color and flavor to everything. All can be sourced online and have dozens of uses in your cooking. (Try these spices on avocado toast.)

2 pounds ground wild game meat

1 cup yellow onion, finely chopped

1 cup Italian parsley or cilantro, chopped

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons cumin seed, toasted and ground, or cumin powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon Aleppo or paprika

2 teaspoons Kosher salt

Handful of fresh mint, slivered, for serving.

In a large bowl, combine meat, onion, parsley, olive oil, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, Aleppo pepper and salt. This is best done using your hands, being careful not to overmix the ingredients.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or wax paper. To make the kofte, scoop up ¼-cup of the meat mixture and form into a 3-inch oval meatball. Place on the baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the meat.

Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to one day.

Heat the grill to medium, clean the grates well, and brush with oil. Thread the kofte onto skewers and place on the grill. Each skewer will take about five minutes on each side. Once the meat is nicely charred on all sides and grill lines are visible, transfer the kebabs to a tray and cover with foil until ready to serve.

Serve with warm pitas, dipping sauces, and fresh mint.

Yogurt cucumber sauce with za’atar

2 cups full fat, plain Greek yogurt

2 cucumbers, peeled, halved, and removed of seeds, and chopped

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 teaspoon Za’atar

(To make your own za’atar: Toast 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds in a pan until golden and fragrant. Grind in small batches in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, being careful not to totally pulverize. Combine with 1½ teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled between your fingers, and 2 tablespoons sumac.)

Place yogurt, cucumbers and salt in a blender and puree until smooth. Just before serving, sprinkle with Za’atar.

Eggplant muhummara

1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into ¾-inch cubes

1 cup piquillo peppers (find these in jars at the grocery store)

1 cup toasted walnuts

1 jalapeño, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped

5 tablespoons olive oil

4 teaspoons pomegranate syrup (or substitute honey)

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

¾ teaspoon cumin seed, toasted and ground

½ teaspoon Kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once simmering, add the eggplant cubes and sauté until softened and browned. Set aside on paper towels.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the eggplant, peppers, walnuts, jalapeño, 3 more tablespoons of olive oil, pomegranate syrup, cilantro, parsley, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, salt, and chili flakes. Process until smooth. Taste; add more salt or lemon juice if needed.

When serving, if the muhummara seems dry, stir in a bit more olive oil. Serve at room temperature with warmed pita as an appetizer, or alongside kefte kebabs.

Fab foodie events

Wine tasting at the top of the gondola? Meeting celebrity chefs and sampling their latest groovy dishes? Yes, please. The Jackson Hole Wine Auction, a three-day fundraiser to benefit the Grand Teton Music Festival is not to be missed by foodies who love wine. I’ll be helping out at the Taste of Jackson Hole on Thursday, June 23, and the auction and gala dinner on Saturday, June 25. Come out and say hello! Tickets at

Happy Birthday Rendezvous Bistro!  Raise your hand if you remember which restaurant Rendezvous Bistro replaced when it took over its Broadway location back in 2001? A: Denny’s. The date: July 17, 2001. Which means it’s time for the Bistro to throw a 15th birthday bash with a week full of special foodie events starting July 12 leading up to a FREE party at the Bistro on Sunday, July 17.

I’m bookmarking my calendar to get tickets for the food and wine pairing dinners with visiting chefs and wineries. Top on my list: July 12 at the Bistro—a special dinner with James Beard Award winning Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, paired with Scarpetta wines. Never been to Frasca? Now’s your chance. PJH

Caption 3: A delicious aroma rises from the grill as these kebabs cook, commanding everyone to the table. (Photo: Annie Fenn, MD)

About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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