There’s an incredible variety of köfte, meatballs, in Turkey. This is one of my favourites.
When I moved to Istanbul in summer 2015, the house restoration was supposed to be completed. But as anyone who has been through a major restoration work knows: things never go according to schedule. And so it was that my first two months in Istanbul, my partner and I stayed at his parents on the other side of Istanbul. (If you’re wondering what our house looks like, I put a picture on Instagram last week.)
Naturally, we often had dinner there. One of my favourites from that time is this: İzmir köfte. (Another: Runner beans in olive oil.) The dish is as simple as it is genius: Köfte, or Turkish meatballs if you like, with potatoes, peppers and a simple tomato sauce. All chucked into a roasting pan and left to its own in the oven while you go about any other business that needs attending to. Meanwhile, the most wonderful aromas filling the kitchen reminds you dinner is almost ready.
Turkish meatballs can be prepared in many different ways. Each region, even each chef, have their own special way of preparing it – and it may vary according to how the köftes are to be cooked and what will be served alongside. So feel free to vary the spicing according to your own tastes.
I’ve kept it simple and (with one exception) fairly traditional, using garlic, flat-leaf parsley, cumin and fresh chili to flavour the meatballs. Fresh chili isn’t commonly used in Turkey, but since I got hold of some at the market last week I’ve used it in place of the more traditional pul biber here. Pul biber are relatively mild and aromatic dried chili flakes, also knownas Aleppo pepper. Feel free to substitute a teaspoon or two of pul biber for the fresh chili, if you like. Shredded onion is also commonly added, but for this particular dish I prefer the köftes without. If you like, however, you can add 1/2 shredded onion.
But whatever you do with the flavouring, don’t skip the bread or egg. They serve two purposes here, and you want them for both. First, the keep the meatballs from crumbling. And most importantly: they keep the meatballs moist and juicy, even if they’re allowed to roast for a little longer than strictly necessary. You can use any bread, though I’d use one without lots of seeds or other dominating flavours if you can; the crumbs are there for the reasons mentioned and not for flavour. I use slightly stale bread, i.e. not the completely dried stuff such as shop-bought panko.
Izmir köfte is traditionally served with rice and perhaps a bowl of Greek yoghurt on the side, though you may also serve it as is, if you prefer. I usually also serve a simple salad on the side, such as some green leaves or shredded carrot and radish with a squeeze of lemons and a few dabs of extra virgin olive oil. Serves 2-4.
İzmir köfte (Turkish meatballs with potato and tomato sauce)
- 400 g minced beef
- 2 stale slices of bread, crust removed, whizzed or finely chopped until you have breadcrumbs (c. 40 g net weight)
- 1 egg
- 1 chili, seeds and core removed, finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and shredded or finely chopped
- 2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 500 g potato, peeled or well rinsed and cut into 4-5 mm thick slices
- 1 large carrot (c. 150 g), peeled or well rinsed and cut into 4-5 mm thick slices
- 1 pepper (any type), seeds and core removed, cut into large chunks (if using Turkish green peppers, use a handful)
- 1 x 400 g can of chopped tomato + 200 mk water or 300 ml passata + 300 ml water
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 180 C.
- Using your hands, mix the meatball ingredients until completely combined. Shape into 8-10 equally sized meatballs (any more and the meatballs will be too small and will get dry). I use a tablespoon, the palm of my hand and a little water for this. Flatten the meatballs slightly.
- Mix the potato, carrot and pepper in a suitable oven dish, making sure the potato slices don’t stick together. Put the meatballs on top. Mix tomato, water, olive oil and some salt and pepper. For a stronger tomato flavour, you may add a teaspoon or two of tomato paste and a pinch of sugar. If you have a stick blender, use it to mix the sauce to a homogenous mass – if not, mixing by hand and keeping the chunks is also fine. Pour the tomato sauce over the vegetables and meatballs, making sure everywhere is covered in the sauce.
- Roast in the middle of the oven until the potatoes are soft, around 40-45 minutes to an hour or more, depending on the thickness of your potato slices and the type of potato used. If your potatoes are still very hard after 40 minutes you may remove the meatballs while the potatoes finish cooking, returning them to the oven to reheat for five minutes when the potatoes are ready. Serve hot.
Izmir köfte elsewhere
The above is how I make Izmir köfte. Here are three other versions from Turkish food bloggers:
- Binnur’s Turkish Cookbook: Izmir Kofte (From the Aegean Region)
- Ozlem’s Turkish Table: Turkish meatballs and vegetables casserole; Izmir kofte, my way
- A Seasonal Cook in Turkey:Izmir Köfte – casserole of meatballs, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers