Legendary Dishes | Icli Köfte (bulgur-crusted beef meatballs)


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.

500 ml / 2 cups + ⅔ fl oz / approx. 1 pint water, boiled
350 g / 11⅔ oz bulgur, fine ground
150 g / 5 oz semolina, fine ground
30 g / 1 oz walnuts, fine ground
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp 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.

CORE (filling)
250 g / 8⅓ oz beef, double minced
200 g / 6⅔ oz onions, chopped
100 g / 3⅓ oz walnuts, coarse chopped / fine ground
4 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped (optional)
4 tbsp parsley, finely chopped (optional)
30 ml / 1 fl oz olive oil
30 ml / 1 fl oz pomegranate molasses
15 g / ½ oz red pepper (paprika) flakes
45 g / 1½ oz red pepper paste / tomato paste (quantity optional)
1 tsp 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. Using thumb and forefinger make a cavity with thin sides in the bulgar dough. Place two teaspoons of filling inside the cavity, push down and fold dough over the filling, seal and shape into a ball. deep fr y in sunflower oil at 190ºC until golden or shallow fry in a large frying pan or bake in a 200ºC oven or boil in salted water.

Note: The pastes can be bought in jars but they are easy to make if good fresh red peppers and tomatoes, preferably Turkish, are available. for a colourful description on how to make red pepper paste go to http://www.deliciousistanbul.com/blog/2013/08/29/incredible-oven-roasted-red-bell-pepper-paste/.

Note: 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 def ine 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.