Köfte is a staple of Turkish cuisine and beloved by almost everyone. If you ask a kid what they want to eat, it is usually köfte and some fries. If kids love it, who are we to deny them?
What is Kofta (Köfte)?
Köfte is the Turkish variant of meatballs made from minced meat, breadcrumbs, eggs, onions and a variety of spices. Of course, each establishment and even each family has their own take, but the main ingredients usually don’t differ greatly.Jump to Recipe
One of the oldest cookbooks, dating to around the year 1200, lists a wide variety of köfte, with some variations calling for meatballs as small as hazelnuts. The closest version to the modern köfte was referred to as “ahrash.” This recipe calls for the tender meat of either a lamb or a calf to be ground finely and seasoned with oil, pepper, cinnamon and coriander. A little bit of flour is added to hold the mixture together, and it is then formed into a flat loaf. (1)
Other sources say that köfte was influenced by Iranian dishes of the early 13th century, a time when Turkish dynasties – such as the Ghaznavids, Seljuks and Khwarazmians – ruled over the region. (2)
In Persian, the literal name of the dish refers to the method of preparing the ingredients rather than the food itself. The Persian word “küfte” or “köfte” means finely chopped meat. Köfte is said to have become popular as means of using up spare pieces of meat and ultimately became one of the Ottoman Empire’s most famous dishes. In the 15th century, a particular variety of köfte became very popular in the kitchens of Topkapı palace, perhaps due to a 14th dietary guide that claimed köfte was “a useful dish that gives vitality.” (3)
On a more humorous note, the famous Swedish meatballs are sometimes said to have a Turkish origin, and in 2018 the official Twitter account of Sweden proclaimed just that. (4) The reaction was rather harsh, leading the government to respond by saying that the nation’s culinary history is complex, and that Swedish cuisine has been influenced by many foreign cultures.
The preparation of the köfte in Ottoman palace kitchens and throughout the empire varied, as meat prices were cheaper than they eventually became in the 19th century. In the 18th century, for example, the meat was chopped finely but instead of bread, bulgur or rice were sometimes added. With the meat grinder finding its way into kitchens around the world and with the price of meat increasing, the already myriad variations of the dish expanded even further. Scrap meat became more popular as it was cheaper than whole pieces of premium cuts and the preparation time became shorter. Also in the 18th century, various versions of the dish, as İçli köfte or Kadınbudu Köfte, found their way from the kitchens of southeastern provinces of Turkey into those of Istanbul. (3)
As mentioned before the word köfte comes from the Persian “küfte” or “köfte” meaning finely chopped meat.
Köfte and the words closely related to it can mean different things in different countries. The “kibbeh” found in the Middle East – a mixture of minced lamb and bulgur – is close to the Turkish İçli Köfte, but the Lebanese “kefta” or “kafta” is minced lamb, prepared by either shaping them into balls or wrapping them around a skewer. Preparing the meat in this manner is referred to as a “kebab” in Syria, however. “Keftes” in Greek are equivalent to the Turkish köfte, but the word is also used for all kinds of vegetable fritters. (5)
Köfte: minced meat in its most delicious form
- 500 gr mincedbeef, lamb or other meat
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp bread crumbs
- 1-2 onions
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 1 bundle of parsley, optional
- 1 tsp thyme
- redpepper flakes, black pepper, salt, to taste
- oil, for frying
- Chop or finely grate the onions. Crush or finely chop the garlic with a bit of salt. The parsley should be cleaned and chopped finely as well. Add all ingredients to a bowl and knead until the mixture can hold its shape. Take out a spoonful and form into flat patties or any other shape you like (Patties are easier to fry) and fry them in a pan with a little oil on both sides. The köfte can be baked as well.
Bibliography(1) “Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook-The Book of Cooking in Maghreb and Andalus in the era of Almohads”, contributed by Charles Perry, Candida Martinelli and David Friedman
(2) Priscilla Mary Işın, “Bountiful Empire: A History of Ottoman Cuisine”, 2018
(3) Marianna Yerasimos, “500 Yıllık Osmanlı Mutfağı”, 2002
(5) Aglaia Kremenzi and Anissa Helou, “What’s in the Name of a Dish? The Words Mean what the People of the Mediterranean Want them to Mean…” in “Food and Language: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking 2009” edited by Richard Hosking