I could see from the body language of my Turkish hosts that this meal was something special – içli köfte. Clearly, hours had been spent in the kitchen preparing this mountain of meatballs ready for my visit. I was proudly lead into the kitchen by my hosts to witness the final preparations. A boiling cauldron sat on the cooktop, ready to receive and complete the final stage of the içli köfte culinary marathon.
“Very difficult” I was told. “Only the Turkish can do it” I was warned. The challenge was set! At that moment I knew that one day I would be happily cooking içli köfte, even with an Australian accent.
Having enjoyed stuffing my face with delicious köfte many times in recent years, it was surprising, and somewhat embarrassing, that I’d never heard the term içli köfte before. Clearly, this dish was as much of a Turkish culinary legend as the famous yaprak sarma.
A quick search of the internet failed to clarify which, if any, region of Turkey this dish originated from. The Turkish “içli köfte” translates as “filled meatballs” in English. It’s very similar in appearance and taste to varieties of the Arabic kibbeh served across most of the Middle East.
Basically, içli köfte is a spicy meatball encased in an outer shell of fine bulgur (köftelik bulgur). The ingredients and degree of spiciness varies between recipes and there are two different methods of cooking the köfte – boiling in water or deep-frying. Sometimes the köfte is boiled first to cook, then lightly fried for that crisper golden finish.
Although I’ve since discovered that Turkish friends from all over the country know, love, cook and eat içli köfte, I understand that it is particularly popular in the south-eastern areas. The preferred method of cooking in that region is to boil the köfte. This is the method I’ve always seen in my travels.
So, back to the challenge. Today, after several hours of blood and sweat in the kitchen, I produced my very first batch of içli köfte. The results? Well, I will leave that to the “taste test” by the expert palates of Turkish friends. I used the boiling method and recipe guidance from an internet video.
The greatest challenge lies in the wrapping of the meatballs with the bulgur-based outer shell. Using disposable kitchen gloves, and keeping them moist with water really helps. It’s so important to make sure there are no cracks in the outer shell which might open up during boiling or frying. Don’t boil your köfte too long, or the outer shell might start to break up. Timing is important, and practice, lots of practice.
Afiyet olsun! 🙂