The “t” in Mr. T stands for many things: trendy (he loves urban lifestyle sneakers), tea (he drinks a lot), terrific (he is). But it also stands for Turkish, and he is half. He even spent his early childhood in Ankara. His English half, what with the gin and the bon mot, gets a lot more play and while I’ve worked on English food items like the Victoria Sponge, I’ve not really done anything Turkish. So, when he mentioned köfte and brought a pound of ground lamb back from Whole Foods, it was clear I was due for a little project.
“Köfte”, writ large, are meatballs: minced meat–usually either beef or lamb–mixed with breadcrumbs or bulgur, and herbs and spices. There are myriad variations of the köfte themselves as well as how they’re served–in soup, with yogurt, on a stick, in a pita… And, as Mr. T’s desire for köfte was fairly unspecific–”simple ones”–I had my work cut out for me. Having done just enough research to grasp the enormity of the köfte universe and give myself a headache, I decided to piece something together on my own.
So, the below is a very tasty little recipe for Turkish lamb meatballs, redolent of cumin, pepper, lamb, grated onion, and parsley. The ingredients themselves are all quite authentic, but I suspect the combination may be slightly suspect, if not downright heretic. I’ll really need to check in with Mrs. T and my Turkish co-worker to find out. That said, these are very much tasty enough, and fulfilled Mr. T’s köfte jones perfectly. And that is really all that matters.
Turkish-ish Lamb Köfte
Yield: ~16 köfte
1/4 c fine bulgur wheat*
2 medium onions
1 lb ground lamb
1/4 c fine bulgur wheat
1/3 c minced fresh parsley
1 tbs minced fresh mint
2 tsp Aleppo pepper* (or 1/2 tsp cayenne)
1 tsp cumin
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 tbs vegetable oil
Using a box grater or mandolin, grate the onions. (Large holes are fine, and if using a mandolin, use the guard for lord’s sake.) Collect the grated onion in a double layer of paper towels and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
In a large bowl, combine grated onion with remaining ingredients and, with clean hands, work together until smoothly combined and very homogenous–no need to worry about overmixing, this is a different school of meatball-making. Gather the mixture into your hand and thwack it forcefully back into the bowl. This knocks out the air and helps keep everything stuck together. Do this several times (say, 6). Pull off about 2 tbs of the mixture and form into flattened oblongs about 1″x 2″. Repeat until the mixture is used up.
Heat oil in a large fry pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add about half of the köfte–don’t crowd them–and cook undisturbed until the bottoms are browned–no more than 2 min. Flip them over and cook until the opposite side is browned, again about a minute or so. Stand them on their side and cook for another generous minute, and–you guessed it–flip them one more time to brown the final side. Total cooking should be about 8-10 min depending on your heat.
Remove to paper towel-lined plate and cook remaining köfte as above. Serve hot or room temperature with pita, yogurt, and a chopped salad of cucumber, tomato and red onion dressed with lemon, oil, parsley, sumac, salt & pepper.
Notes & Variations:
In a pinch, you can substitute fine breadcrumbs for the bulgur. The Aleppo pepper adds a very authentic whiff of heat to these, and while they will still be delicious if you substitute some other hot pepper, I do recommend getting yourself some. It’s a unique flavor that really comes into its own during the summer grill & barbeque season.