Köfte – Turkish Meatballs

One of the real favourites in traditional Turkish cuisine is köfte. Simple but extremely tasty meatballs. They’re one of the absolute staples served up in eateries ranging from the smallest, most primitive hole in the walls, to the most sophisticated centres of gastronomy. Along the roadsides in Turkey, you’ll find restaurants that sell only köfte. There is a fabulous one very near the ancient city of Sardis, where I always make a point of stopping. Portions of these mouth-watering meatballs come flying out of the kitchen, cooked fresh to order, with hot chillies, raw onions and a few salad leaves for garnish, alongside scrumptious squidgy Turkish bread.

Turkish kofte come in all shapes, sizes, and degrees of spiciness – from kadin budu (literally “ladies thighs”), coated in egg then fried, to Adana kofte, fiery morsels from the south east of Turkey. You can have them extra saucy in a lip-smacking casserole, by the name of Izmir kofte, or eat them totally raw, made with the finest lean beef, mixed with bulgur wheat and spices.

Here, we’re focusing on the basic and many would say best – pure, straightforward meatballs. They’re great on the grill, beautiful on the barbie, but for pure ease, here they are fried.

Ingredients (serves 6)

750 grams minced meat (lamb/mutton or beef, a mixture works well)
2 small onions, finely chopped or grated
2 slices of dry bread (without the crust)
1 whole egg
1 bunch of parsley
1 teaspoon cumin
3 teaspoons sea salt

Preparation

Fat for cooking (we recommend butter/ghee (not margarine), mixed with olive oil). Needless to say butter helps bring out the flavour. They don’t need to be deep fat fried, but do make sure there is plenty in the pan to allow the meatballs to sizzle!

Soak the slices of bread in water, until they’re properly sopping. Squeeze out excess water, and crumble the bread over the meat in a big bowl. (The bread can be omitted if you wish to avoid it). Then add in all the other ingredients, and knead well.

Scoop up egg sized pieces of the mixture, and roll them in your hand to shape them into short stubby fingers. Fry on a medium heat until nicely brown.

Serve hot with fresh bread, raw onions, salad and chillies. Rice goes down well as an accompaniment. Chilli sauce adds a touch of pazzazz, or tomato ketchup if you want to add a western touch. A blob of yoghurt on the side makes for an extra cool, refreshing dimension, or you could take this a step further and wash the meatballs down with ayran, the traditional Turkish drink, made of yoghurt, water, and salt (not unlike the Indian lassi)

Köfte are still scrummy gobbled up cold the next day, and so make perfect picnic fare.