On my way to this years #EWBC, held in Izmir, Turkey I couldn’t resist making a pit stop in one of the world’s most exotic cities, Istanbul. I’d done a bit of foodie research, but, frankly I was in no way prepared for the kaleidoscope of color, tantalizing aromas and gracious welcome into the window of a completely foreign culture.
After a head turning ride from the airport I arrived at my little gem of a hotel, The Sultania, in Sultanamed. Check in here was a bit of a treat for this weary traveler. After ordering me up a sampling of Turkish delight (a sweet made from a gel of starch and sugar) and a petite cup of the infamously strong local coffee my informative host checked me into a fabulously posh suite and had me booked on a walking tour of the Spice Market later in the day. A quick drop at my room, another bite or two of more sweet delights left in a gleaming copper serving vessel and I headed out to explore the markets.
I’ve been to many markets, in every corner of the world, but none quite like the Spice Market in Istanbul. As I peered in a psychedelic spectrum of colors blurred my jet lagged eyes. Walking down the aisle jam-packed with small booths vendors beckoned me in with promises of the best seasoning blends, price and quality.
Mountains of cumin, sumac, saffron, chili, rubs and dried fruits tempted me with their odoriferous splendor. While sampling a few seasoning blends I wondered just how much room I had in my suitcase? Surely I could find a way to transport just a bit of this boatload of flavor back home? Admittedly I’ve been known to leave clothes behind just to make room for culinary treasures. I had a feeling this trip would set a new record in happy maids overjoyed with finds of little black dresses left in my various hotel rooms.
Settling on several different spices including a kofte blend for making what would be my favorite Turkish treat, a type of meatball dish, I happily stashed my culinary booty into my shopping bag dreaming of winter nights full of recipe research and experimentation. Walking through the stalls I wandered to the outside booths selling fish, meats and a variety of delicious Turkish cheeses including Tulum, Cecil and Kasar.
The friendly cheesemonger offered tastes to hungry shoppers passing by and I found the Tulum and Cecil my favorites. Tulum’s salted curds are aged in goat skins for 6 months to develop a unique aroma and texture. Pungent and flavorful it did not disappoint! Apparently there are many different versions depending on which region it is produced in but this one was dry and flaky with a salty savory finish. The Cecil is a type of string cheese but unlike the funky, dense sticks sold in the US it pulls apart in delicate, airy strings that are addictively snackable! Remembering the list of Turkish wines I spied at Sultania’s rooftop lounge I bought a bit of each planning a bit of late night pairing.
Walking back to the hotel for a much-needed rest before dinner I found myself tempted by food vendors selling crazy street foods including wet burgers, grilled corn, circles of sesame coated bread and kofte. Choosing some kofte with roasted tomato I experienced my first taste of Turkish meatball heaven, I was hooked. A Cheshire cat grin beamed on my face as I devoured the spicy spheres of meaty goodness, my first meal in this country full of mystical moments. While pondering what was is store for the rest of my trip I wondered if I could duplicate this delicious but simple meal at home?
Different shapes, sauces, spices and cooking methods of kofte seem to be endless. Depending on chopped or grated onion, fat content of meat and regional differences there is thought to be around 290 different versions of kofte in Turkey. Throughout my visit I tasted many different versions but found the ones I liked the most included cumin and a bit of fresh mint. After a bit of trial and error I’ve come up with a recipe I love. I hope you enjoy it also!
This is just a brief snippet of my journey into the world of Turkish food, wine and culture. Many more posts on the grapes, regional specialties and history of the culture are on the horizon. Stay tuned for updates!
Kofte with yogurt sauce
- 1/2 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground veal
- 1 small red bell pepper, minced
- 1 medium yellow onion, grated coarsely
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 egg
- 1 cup plain breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 & 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoons ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons sumac, can be found in any middle eastern store or online at this site full of Turkish specialty items, Best Turkish food
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
In large bowl mix meat with eggs, breadcrumbs, onion, garlic and red pepper. Add all spices and blend well to incorporate. Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hrs or overnight. Shape meat mixture into large cigar shapes. Heat olive oil in frying pan over medium heat. Add the meatballs and fry till browned flipping so not to get to dark, around 5 minutes on each side in total. I like to serve these with sautéed tomato, yogurt sauce and veggies but fries or pita bread would also be a good complement.
For yogurt sauce-
- 1 cup yogurt
- 1/4 cup chopped red onion
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
- 1 teaspoon sumac
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- pinch of kosher salt and white pepper, or to taste
Blend all ingredients and chill for at least one hour. Serve with meatballs and enjoy.