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Myriad Flavours of Meatballs
2002 / FEBRUARY

The three most diverse and sophisticated cuisines in the world are said to be the Turkish, French and Chinese. All three are characterised by a fusion of their own strong culinary traditions with influences and borrowings from other cultures with which they have come in contact over the centuries. At the same time, like all cuisines they are shaped equally by the tastes of society and by the available variety of foodstuffs. Chinese cuisine simultaneously brings together a mixture of flavours - peppery, sweet, sour and savoury - which delight the palate. Almost everything is cooked and placed on the table at the same time. French cuisine, on the other hand, is ceremonious, and preparation of some main dishes is measured not by the clock but by the calendar, requiring days of work. But for sheer diversity, in my view, the Turkish cuisine takes first place.

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Myriad Flavours of Meatballs
2002 / FEBRUARY

Do not dismiss this claim as cheap chauvinism. Let us consider the aubergine, which takes pride of place in many widely different forms: hot and cold, with meat and without, as a salad, fried, pickled, and even as jam. Then there are the innumerable rice dishes, puddings, soups and stuffed dishes; far too many to even touch upon here. What I am leading up to is the subject of kofte or meatballs, which illustrate just what I mean by culinary diversity. The word is derived from the Persian word küfte meaning 'ground'. Although kofte made of ground meat are the first which come to mind, they can be made without any meat at all, as in the case of lentil or potato kofte .
kofte are an unpretentious and economical dish, yet always delicious. Grilled kofte cooked on a barbecue are a mainstay of picnics and outdoor meals cooked in the garden or on the balcony, and by restaurants and street vendors.

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Myriad Flavours of Meatballs
2002 / FEBRUARY
At the mention of a barbecue, the first thought is to prepare kofte . When travelling and in need of a light but satisfying lunch, we head first for a kofte restaurant. Many places in Turkey have a nationwide reputation for their kofte , such as Edirne, Inegöl, Tekirdag, Sultanahmet in Istanbul, Adapazari, Sanliurfa, Akçaabat and Adana (other places I have not enumerated will I hope forgive me for the omission), and you are sure to find a kofte shop at every step. That marvellous appetising flavour draws you in the right direction like a magnet. Fried kofte are also unforgettable. As the plates of kofte with golden fried potatoes arrive at the table, every eye, nose and fork is turned in their direction. Cold kofte cooked the previous day are associated with school outings, excursions with friends, and family picnics, with the classical accompaniments of hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, stuffed vine leaves, savoury boreks and fruit.
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Myriad Flavours of Meatballs
2002 / FEBRUARY

If kofte are lightly fried, arranged in a baking dish with sliced potatoes and aubergines, a sauce of grated tomato cooked briefly in butter poured over, and baked in the oven, you have sahan kofte . If you mix your minced meat with rice instead of breadcrumbs, form the mixture into small balls, stew them in tomato sauce, and finally thicken the sauce with a liaison of a little flour and perhaps some lemon juice, you have eksili kofte , sulu kofte or Izmir kofte . For Sis kofte Gaziantep, Adana, Urfa or Aleppo style, threaded onto flat or angular skewers and grilled, the meat is not ground in a mincing machine but very finely chopped with a special knife, and then mixed with the particular combination of onion and seasoning used in each region. Whether mild or peppery, they go perfectly with a glass of tangy turnip juic.

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Myriad Flavours of Meatballs
2002 / FEBRUARY
In southern and southeastern Turkey, bulgur wheat is an essential ingredient of many varieties of meatball, above all the stuffed meatballs known as içli kofte with an outer shell of bulgur and minced meat and a filling of walnuts and spicy minced meat.
Raw kofte are a speciality that requires top-quality meat without a trace of fat. This is then minced and kneaded with bulgur and the purplish hot pepper of the region, a task that requires skill, strength and patience to achieve perfect result.
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Myriad Flavours of Meatballs
2002 / FEBRUARY

After eating four or five of these exquisitely flavoured kofte you will be smouldering internally from the pepper, and the heat of the sun will seem mild in comparison! A quite different type of kofte has a name that is as memorable as its taste. Kadinbudu, or ladies' thighs kofte are prepared from a mixture of fried and raw minced meat with boiled rice, dipped in beaten egg and fried.

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Myriad Flavours of Meatballs
2002 / FEBRUARY

The subject of kofte could fill books and still leave corners unexplored. There are a multitude of local variations as well as those known all over the country. But the most important aspect of kofte is simply that everyone enjoys eating them, as proved beyond doubt by the ubiquitous hamburger, cousin of the kofte , sold by our plant'sg best-known fast food chain in a bun with sliced onions, tomato ketchup, and fried potatoes. Not for gourmets, perhaps, but they can find plenty of alternatives in any Turkish cookbook.

* Tunca Varis is a freelance writer.
* Tunca Varis, yazar.

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