Kofte – A personal matter of love and hate…

Kofte, also known as Turkish meatballs around here, always makes it to the top ten list of every Turkish person, when they are asked to list typical dishes from our cuisine. For me though, that decision is revisited time to time. Depending on how well kofte is treating me.

My first bad memory with it was when I got sick really bad one time and it happened to be after I ate kofte. In my 5 year old mind, I blamed kofte and stayed away from it for a looong time… until my little brother arrived, grew up old enough to ask for kofte and french fries for every meal and as a working mother, my mother had no time for fusses and long debates over dinner, she just cooked them for the picky little eater. (I am sure, all she wanted was a quiet evening after dealing with fifty-sixty students in a classroom all day long) So, kofte entered my life again…

Until… one summer afternoon, my mom told me to make it for a spontaneous family cook-out. It was fine that she asked me…what was not fine was that she told me how to make it! To a stubborn, know-it-all 15 year old! And that 15 year old screwed up the simple dish so bad that most of them crumbled and fell through the grates of the grill… That, dear reader, was the end of my sympathy for kofte.

When I came to the US though, I had to make peace with it. It turned out to be one of the simplest things I could cook in my student kitchen. Everybody had their versions here and each person tried to (again!) tell me how to make it… I, on the other hand,  try something different when I feel like it. Any recipe is just limited to your imagination and your liking. It can be adjusted, adapted,  and changed. Feel free to adjust the herbs, spices and the amounts and make your own.  Because there are only a couple of things you need to pay attention to, if you get those right, you are a golden!

– Onions : grate them or use the food processor if you would like to keep your eyesight and don’t like tears in your meatball. More onions mean softer, juicier texture…too much of it though might make you feel like that 15 year old while cooking.

– Eggs: Add one egg to roughly 2 lbs ground meat. Egg keeps everything together. Again lack of it might cause the occasional falling pieces when combined with other mishaps.

– Breadcrumbs: Don’t overdo it. Mix everything together first, except the bread crumbs. See how it holds together and add the crumbs gradually. Start with 1/3 of a cup and stop when you can roll the mixture easily in the bowl.

There have been several things we tried, such as soaking the bread crumbs in milk, adding cinnamon, squeezing the onions to get rid of juice so you can get away with less bread crumbs (I guess that would be a good gluten-free alternative if you want to try), adding tomato paste in the mixture… Each had a different taste but similar texture. Here is the basic recipe I came up with (keep in mind, I am a cumin-thyme type of a girl, hope you like those two herbs) :

  • 2-2.5 lbs ground meat (beef, lamb or a mixture of it)
  • 2 medium onions , grated
  • 4 cloves of garlic (medium to large size, crushed)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup firmly packed Italian parsley (finely chopped)
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 -1/2 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme (you can substitute oregano if you like)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup breadcrumbs

1. Mix everything except the bread crumbs.

2. Add breadcrumbs gradually until you can easily roll a half a fist of size meatball between your palms and can shape it easily.

3. Make the balls by rolling between your palms and patting them down a bit.

4. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until the inner temperature of meatball reaches 165 degrees. Or grill and give yourself a big pat on the back when it holds itself on the grill and does not crumble.

5. Never tell your 15-year old kid how to do things in a direct manner if it relates to your dinner pleasure even remotely.

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