Legendary Dishes | Icli Köfte (bulgur meatballs)

TURKEY LEVANT SYRIA

The Turks took these delightful Assyrian meatballs to their hearts (and stomachs) a very long time ago, and now produce numerous variations on the very old original recipe. In Istanbul the proliferation of Syrian restaurants has increased the competition to produce the best icli köfte among chefs.

Crust

  • 500 ml water, boiled
  • 350 g bulgur, fine ground
  • 150 g semolina, fine ground
  • 30 g walnuts, fine ground
  • 5 g cumin seeds
  • 5 g sweet paprika
  • 5 g salt
  • Semolina, coarse, for coating 

Soak bulgar and semolina in the hot water, leave to rest for 30 minutes, then add the walnuts and seasonings. Wet hands and knead into a soft dough.

Filling

  • 250 g beef / veal, double minced
  • 200 g onions, chopped
  • 100 g walnuts, coarse chopped
  • 4 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped (optional)
  • 4 tbsp parsley, finely chopped (optional)
  • 30 ml olive oil
  • 30 ml pomegranate molasses
  • 15 g red pepper (paprika) flakes
  • 15 g / 30 g red pepper paste
  • 5 g sumac, ground

Sauté onions in oil, about 15 minutes. Add the meat, break and fry for three minutes. Add paprika, sumac and walnuts. Increase heat, stir for three minutes until the walnuts release their oil. Stir in the molasses and paste, leave to cool. If desired work the herbs into the mixture. Divide dough into walnut-sized pieces, about 30 g. Using thumb and forefinger make a cavity with thin sides in the bulgar dough. Place 10 g of filling inside the cavity, push down and fold dough over the filling, seal and shape into a ball. Deep fry in sunflower oil at 190°C until golden or shallow fry in a large frying pan or bake in a 200ºC oven or boil in salted water.

*A note on the red pepper paste, it can be bought in jars but it is easy to make if good fresh red peppers, preferably Turkish, are available.

*The crust for icli köfte is not always made with bulgar. Semolina became a crust ingredient along with nuts aeons ago. Wheat grits have also played a part while in more recent centuries potatoes have been combined with eggs and flour. Some recipes call for double-ground meat to be added to the various flours that define the crust. The bulgar can be coarse ground and also fine ground, the latter producing a crispy crust. The cooking method is also variable.

*According to Sahrap Soysal, author of A Cookery Tale, fried icli köfte are called irok, while the boiled version is known as igdebet.

LEGENDARY DISHES