A Taste Like Nothing Else: Meatballs

Boasting a taste with which the world’s most expensive dishes can’t possibly compete, kofta, aka meatballs, are entirely a product of the anonymous folk culture.

Atrue Turkish culinary phenomenon, kofta (Turkish köfte) heads the list of the country’s best-loved and most frequently consumed dishes. All their lives, people in Turkey never stop searching for the perfect meatball. There is nothing they won’t do to discover the secret of a meatball they particularly like, and new types of meatballs continue to be invented all the time in Turkish cuisine. As in the case of many other dishes, the history of the invention of kofta is unknown. But we can get some idea at least about where it arose by looking at the origin of the word.

Kofta is made by mixing minced or pounded meat with various spices and other additives, kneading it to the right consistency, then shaping it into balls and cooking it by any one of a number of different methods. A look back at the origin of kofta shows that it is not even made exclusively of meat as a main ingredient. Kofta can be made from anything edible, and the ‘kofta’ we define as food is actually the name of a technique used in cooking. The word ‘köfte’ is derived from the Persian ‘kuftan’ which means the beating or crushing of some foodstuff, and meatballs are known as ‘kufteh’ in the Persian-speaking lands today.

Since the kofta technique in cooking refers to foodstuffs prepared by being crushed, a large number of different and varied dishes have been generated, ranging from the simple to the complex. In Turkish cuisine especially, numerous categories of kofta dishes have come about. Grilled kofta, boiled kofta, baked kofta, stuffed kofta, soups with tiny kofta, seafood kofta, vegetable kofta, and kofta fried in oil in a shallow pot. Not only that but kofta can also be classified by the additives it contains and whether it is eaten hot or cold. Despite all that, the first kind of kofta that immediate pops to mind at the mere mention of the word in Turkey is ‘izgara köfte’ or grilled meatballs. But which izgara köfte?  For there are close to fifty different varieties of grilled meatballs alone!

Boasting a taste with which even the world’s most expensive dishes cannot possibly compete, meatballs are entirely a product of the anonymous folk culture. To stretch the amount of meat, rice, semolina, bulgur or bread crumbs are added as filler to minced or pounded meat (in some parts of Turkey meat for köfte is pounded since pounded meat is believed to be more flavorful). These additives capture the succulent juices of the meat and fat during the cooking process. Deniz Gürsoy’s book about Turkey’s köfte culture, “Tok Karnına Dokuz Topak Köfte’ (Nine Round Meatballs On An Empty Stomach), relates some extraordinary details on the subject. We are grateful to him for his work.

1 kg blue fish, 3 eggs, 2 slices of stale bread, crusts removed, 3 boiled potatoes, 4 green onions, chopped fine, 1/4 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine, 1/4 bunch fresh dill, chopped fine, 1/2 tsp granulated sugar, 2 tbsp pine nuts, 2 tbsp currants, soaked and drained, 1/2 tsp allspice,1/4 tsp ground red pepper (Cayenne), 4 tbsp flour,1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 2 tbsp olive oil.

Bone the fish, clean and rinse well. Divide into large pieces and place in a pot. Add water to cover.
Add the bay leaf, lemon, peppercorns and parsley stalk and let simmer over low heat. Skim off the foam. After 20-25 minutes, remove the fish with a slotted spoon and let cool.
When cool, separate the white flesh of the fish and place in a mixing bowl. Heat the olive oil in a skillet and sauté the pine nuts with the green onion, parsley and dill for 3 minutes. Then cool.
When cool, add the fish and mix well. Grate the boiled potatoes and moisten the stale bread and add to the mixture along with the eggs. Then add the sugar, salt, spices and currants. Add 3 tbsp of flour and knead well. When the kofta mixture is ready, divide it into small portions and shape into balls in your hands.
Dip each ball in flour, then fry in hot oil. May be served hot or cold with lemon or terator sauce as desired.

500 veal, 125 lamb, 1 onion, 2 green peppers, chopped fine, 4 cloves of garlic, chopped fine, 1 tsp oregano, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine

Chop the veal and lamb together with a cleaver until minced. Add the onion, salt, pepper, oregano, green pepper, garlic and parsley and mix well. Chop again with the cleaver until finely minced. When the mixture is the same throughout, flatten it into a square on a flat surface. Then place it inside a wire mesh grille and grill it over a charcoal fire. May be served with grilled tomatoes, onions and peppers.

1 cup fine bulgur (for kofta), 1 onion, 2 tbsp red lentils, 1/2 cup tahina, 3 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp ground white pepper.

Rinse the bulgur, drain and empty into a pot. Add 1/2 cup boiling water and wait until the bulgur has absorbed the water.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet and saute the chopped onion until it begins to color. Boil the red lentils in 1/2 cup of water for 20 minutes and drain.
Mix the sauteed onion, lentils and bulgur well with the salt and white pepper and let cool. Then add the tahina and mix again.
Shape into flat meatballs and serve cold. May be served with curly lettuce or parsley, or with lemon to taste.

500 gr ground veal (not too lean), 200 gr ground lamb, 1 tsp fenugreek, 1/2 tsp allspice, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 4 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp salt, 1.2 tsp black pepper.

Mix the ground meats and crushed garlic together in a mixing bowl. Add all the spices and knead together well. Shape into walnut-sized balls and press lightly between your palms to flatten. May be fried or grilled over charcoal as desired. Serve hot.