The recipe for these delicious spicy Turkish meatballs comes from Aylin Oney Tan's book, A Taste of Sun & Fire, which is an excellent introduction to the ancient cuisine of Gaziantep in south-west Turkey, a city I visited earlier this year.
"Don't be put off by the word ‘raw’, " she says.
"Without being told, you would never guess that these meat and bulgur balls were not cooked. They taste good, and that’s what matters! In the past çiğköfte was only lightly seasoned, but nowadays people often add a special blend containing up to seven or eight different spices, including cumin, cinnamon and allspice.
In spring adding a handful of fresh tarragon and in summer mixing in chopped fresh red pepper and ripe tomato will create subtle variations of flavour.
It's very important to keep the ingredients cool whilst kneading çiğköfte, and a few ice cubes can be added to the bulgur and minced meat mixture if necessary."
- lean minced meat (beef or lamb) - 400g
- fine bulgur - 2 1/2 cups
- ripe tomato - 1
- onion - 1 large
- spring onions - 4 - 5
- fresh spring garlic - 4 -5 sprigs, or use 2 garlic cloves
- fresh flat leaf parsley - 2 bunches
- red pepper flakes - 1/2 cup, finely crushed
- red pepper paste - 1 tablespoon
- tomato paste - 1 tablespoon
- salt - 2 teaspoons
- freshly ground black pepper - 1 teaspoon
- To serve:
- Cos lettuce leaves
- flat leaf parsley
Finely chop the spring onions, garlic and parsley. Finely chop the onion separately. Place the chopped onion, red pepper flakes and fine bulgur in a large round baking tray with 4-5 cm high sides. Knead well for 4-5 minutes, alternately folding the mixture over and pressing down with the base of the palm.
Add the minced meat, tomato and pepper pastes, black pepper and salt. Continue to knead for 15-20 minutes until the bulgur has softened. Add the chopped spring onion, fresh garlic and parsley. Knead for 5-6 minutes more. In summer grated tomato can be added. A few ice cubes help to chill the mixture and add some extra moisture.
The mixture is ready when it has become a smooth paste with a slightly stretchy texture. Dip your hands in cold water, break off a walnut-sized lump of the mixture and squeeze it in your palms to form the special çiğköfte shape: oblong, with deep flutes on top made by the imprint of your fingers.
Lay the çiğköfte on Cos lettuce leaves, sprinkle with finely crushed red pepper flakes and decorate with sprigs of parsley. To eat, wrap the çiğköfte in pieces of lettuce leaf.
Note: Red pepper flakes are the most common use of hot peppers in Turkey. They are semi-hot. The peppers are first dried, threaded and hung in the sun. They are then seeded and crushed without the seeds which means they are milder than our chilli flakes, so be careful which ones you use. Best to buy them from a Middle Eastern store.