True bastions of Turkish cuisine: there’s a few of those. And köfte is most certainly one of them. It’s also a bastion of our own personal diet.
Whether we’re grabbing a quick street food snack, making a special effort to visit a specialist köfteci, dining in a restaurant or cooking at home, these Turkish meatballs are often on the menu.
The Köfte Experience
Köfte is ingrained into the Turkish psyche. Speak to any Turk and they’ll be able to tell you immediately where their favourite köfte place is.
Many people in Fethiye have grown up eating meatballs from Köfteci İmadettin but there are lots of other great places in which to delight in köfte, too.
Hundreds Of Köfte Recipes
Apparently, there are almost 300 different types of köfte depending on region of Turkey, the cut of meat, which fat is used for cooking, the shape of the meatball, the spices, whether there is a sauce or vegetables and other ingredients.
And within all these different types of köfte, the köfteci will have their own special recipe – usually kept secret of course. Our own classic Turkish meatball recipe isn’t secret – we’ve shared it with you below.
Not Necessarily Meatballs
When it comes to translations of köfte, it’s often described as Turkish meatballs. This is all well and good when it’s meatballs that are on the menu, as they are in our recipe.
However, köfte does not just mean ‘meatballs.’ The word derives from a Persian word, küfta, which means to beat or to grind.
Traditionally, çiğ köfte is made from raw meat but these days, it can usually be enjoyed by vegetarians and vegans, too, as bulgur wheat and spices take over the reins.
Back To Those Meatballs
But, let’s get back to those classic Turkish meatballs – and the best ways to enjoy them…
Where To Eat The Best Köfte
Oh, wow, if you’re a köfte enthusiast, or if you want to know what the fuss is all about, you need to find yourself a respected köfteci. There’s a lot to choose from, wherever you are in Turkey.
A köfteci is the person who makes and sells the meatballs – that secret recipe, of course. You’re usually going to find yourself in a tiny establishment – a köfte salonu – with possibly a few outdoor tables along the street as well as those inside.
Or it could be a street stand. Or a van. In these cases, you’ll get flimsy plastic stools or chairs to sit on, if you’re lucky.
Either way, there’ll be a large griddle and loaves of Turkish bread stacked high. And you go to any of these places primarily to eat tasty grilled Turkish meatballs.
You can pay a bit more and order a plate of izgara köfte. This will be a portion of griddled Turkish meatballs that usually come with charred peppers and tomatoes, a spicy sauce similar to Antep ezmesi and an option of piyaz. Not forgetting the basket of bread, too.
The Half Bread
Or you can go for the cheaper option and order a köfte ekmek. Ahhh, the joy of köfte ekmek. This is the best traditional burger! Okay, it’s a few little mini burgers on the best bread! The köfte yarım ekmek (half bread) is pure happiness.
No pretences, here. A whole loaf cut in half (yarım ekmek). The most basic salad of lettuce and tomato and maybe a bit of shredded onion. A few meatballs thrown in straight from the griddle followed by a sprinkling of paprika, chilli and thyme.
This process is often carried out while the bread is placed on the griddle, too. A warm and toasted texture. Perfection!
That Köfte Aroma
And, of course, it’s the aroma and the smoke caused by the griddled meatballs that drew you there in the first place! It’s never going to fail!
The photo above is from a Fethiyespor match. Many is the time we’ve sat in the stands and watched the smoke from the sizzling meatballs on the griddle drift across the pitch. If we weren’t tempted to order a köfte half bread before, we are now!
Fond Köfte Memories
The best köfte is about the memories that go with it. We’ve eaten at some of Turkey’s most famous köfte salons – Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi in Istanbul and, also, in Istanbul, Meşhur Filibe Köfteci. This place was once voted as one of Turkey’s top 10 köfteci, taking the number 1 spot.
Both places are good. But our absolute best memory of köfte is of stumbling into Durak Rumeli Köfte Salonu in Edirnekapı in Istanbul. We were en route to Kariye Museum. It was a cold wet day – one of those days where you start to wish you’d not bothered setting out!
We spotted the köfte salonu. Inside, it was a tiny box of a room, plastic bottles of water stacked to the ceiling, gaudy over-processed images of famous sights around Turkey and a makeshift table for two with patio chairs to sit on. The outdoor tables were not an option – we were wet and cold!
We had to squeeze past the water bottles to get to the table. There, we were served up the best köfte by a friendly köfteci who was wrapped up in an overcoat and woolly hat. Food presentation was clearly not his forte – but you don’t come to places like this for pretty-plated presentation.
The meatballs were served with a fiery tomato sauce that we’ve never managed to replicate to this day. And we left there feeling warm and satisfied and ready to take on the rest of our day.
So those are the best köfte moments: Stumbling into an unfamiliar neighbourhood köfte joint on a cold, wet day; sitting in the football stands with your half bread – a part of your matchday ritual; darting into a roadside joint in the Antalya province to enjoy your grilled meatballs with the area’s famous piyaz.
Köfte is about the experience!
Classic Köfte Recipe – Our Homemade Turkish Meatballs
Okay, let’s get to it and make a good old classic Turkish köfte meal. Because buying ready-made metablls from the shops will just never be the same again once you’ve started to make your own.
Making your own köfte is all about experimentation. No two meatball recipes are the same so you can decide which spices you prefer and how much to use. You can also choose your own texture. Do you want to use onions, eggs and breadcrumbs?
Actually, we don’t use breadcrumbs. We opt instead for chia seeds. This is because they have a high nutritional content and they’re also pretty good at absorption so they make a good substitute. You can’t taste them and they soften so, by the time your köfte is ready to eat, you won’t even know they’re there.
Making your own köfte is all about not being afraid to get your hands in there to knead your meat and spices together. And then, of course, you need to create your little meatballs.
It doesn’t need to be an exact science. Just try to get your meatballs roughly the same size by rolling a golf ball size amount of mixture between your hands and then patting it down to create a circular patty.
We like to leave our homemade köfte to chill in the fridge for an hour or so. This makes them more firm so they stay together easier when cooking.
Classic Köfte Recipe - Homemade Turkish Meatballs
- 500 g minced beef or lamb
- 1 onion peeled & grated
- 1 clove garlic peeled & grated
- 1 egg beaten
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 2 tsp baharat
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp chilli optional
- salt & pepper to season
- Place all of your meatball ingredients into a bowl or onto a large plate.
- Now use your hands to mix and knead the mixture.
- Knead the köfte mix for a few minutes.
- Now take a golf ball size of the mixture and roll into a ball in your hands.
- Pat it down to form a flat, circular köfte.
- Keep doing this until you have used all the meat mixture.
- You should end up with roughly 20 köfte meatballs.
- If you have time refrigerate the meatballs for at least 30 minutes to firm them up.
- When you're ready to cook your köfte, heat a non-stick frying pan on a medium to high heat.
- Fry your köfte in batches for around 5 minutes on each side until brown.
- Rest your köfte on kitchen paper for a couple of minutes before serving.
- We use chia seeds in our köfte because of their nutritional content but you can substitute them with breadcrumbs if you like.
- There is no one true classic köfte recipe so feel free to adjust spices and seasoning to your own taste.
- We have said this köfte recipe serves 5 people. This is assuming each person has one serving of 4 köfte each and an accompaniment.
- To make köfte, lamb or beef can be used. Some butchers will mix the two for you.
As with all of our recipes, the calories are meant as a rough guide only. In Turkey, you can buy your minced beef with different levels of fat content.
- If youı are using lean minced beef or lamb, add a small amount of sunflower oil to your pan before adding the köfte.
- If you are barbecuing your köfte and you are using standard minced beef or lamb, wait until your barbecue has just passed its highest heat level before placing the köfte onto the grill. The fat in the köfte can cause them to set alight.
When you are ready to cook your Turkish meatballs, how will you do it? Grill (ızgara köfte)? Barbecue? Turkey loves to barbecue and simple köfte is, more often than not, on the menu. Or fry?
If we’re not barbecuing, we like to get a shallow frying pan quite hot and then cook our meatballs for a few minutes on each side.
On this particular occasion when we did our homemade köfte recipe, it was a hot and sunny spring day.
New potatoes and semizotu (purslane) were in abundance at the local markets so as an accompaniment to our köfte, we made a mix of two salad recipes: A classic potato salad and a summery semizotu salatası. The two went together perfectly.
Other common accompaniments to these classic Turkish meatballs are piyaz – we love Antalya-style piyaz – a hot and spicy ezme, a cooling cacık or a refreshing choban salad (shepherd’s salad). For a more substantial meal, you could opt for a serving of the famous Turkish rice or a tomato bulgur pilaf.
However you choose to enjoy your homemade köfte, we’re sure you’re going to love it!
Other Types Of Köfte Around Turkey
Almost 300 types of köfte around Turkey. That’s what we said at the beginning of this article. 291, to be precise. Wonder if anyone could list all of those? We certainly couldn’t!
On reading this stat, we did a quick brainstorm of the different köfte recipes we’re aware of. The storm of brain quickly petered out at a not-very-grand total of 24.
Still, it’s not bad…especially as some of the subsequent research suggestions we’ve seen could be considered a tad flimsy: Hamburger köfte, for instance.
A burger is a köfte. And there are no shortages of eateries in Fethiye for a great burger – we’re talking those of the local butchers’ like Çarıklı Et as opposed to those of the international fast food joints!
Anyway, we have some of those other types of köfte and köfte recipes on the blog. As well as our base of homemade Turkish meatballs above, let’s start with another famous köfte recipe; Izmir Köfte. This is a dish Barry makes regularly.
Other köfte recipes on the blog are kadın budu – a dish where the rice makes the meatball almost velvety on the inside whilst the egg coating gives a crisp exterior. And, of course, Tekirdağ Köftesi. Another famous regional variety.
Misket köfte is shaped into little rounded golf balls and served plain or in sauces. We love it served as ekşili köfte in some of our favourite local lokantas.
Whether we will ever get to sample all of Turkey’s different meatball recipes, we don’t know. We think we’ve tried over 20 types of köfte so far. We’re more than happy to try even more!