Koftes (Turkish Meatballs) Mezze

May 22, 2014

in Cook What You Like, Little Bites, Salads and Vegetables, Sides and Ends

Koftes - Turkish Meat Balls

Warm weather shifts socialization into high gear and that means more parties, happy hours, and impromptu invites of “just come on over!”

Need tasty nibbles in short order?

Sure, you can run to the store for the container of guacamole or hummus and bag of something crunchy.  Or you can walk in with something that can help ensure that you’ll be invited back.  That something can be these Turkish meatballs, koftes.  Juicy and  flavorful – the meatball mixture can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 36 hours or the cooked meatballs can be frozen and later gently reheated.

Making tender meatballs that stand alone, without swimming in a sauce, has much to do with the meats and binders used.  This recipe chooses 80% lean/20% fat ground beef, and ground lamb.  You can decrease the lamb for a less assertive lamb flavor – maintain at least 25% lamb to help retain the juiciness.  Binding with bread and egg helps keep the koftes light; onion and parsley provide texture and aromatics.

Accompanied with olives and flatbread, koftes make a fun mezze plate.  Jazz up black or green olives with diced yellow onion, chopped flat leaf parsley, diced tomato (seeded), then drizzle on a fruity olive oil and tart-sweet pomegranate molasses or balsamic vinegar, finishing with salt and ground pepper.  In a pinch, substitute flour tortillas for Turkish flatbread.

Expand tasty offerings with a bean salad: drain and rinse a can of cannellini beans; add thinly sliced red onion, chopped flat leaf parsley, chopped tomatoes; and season with 2 parts olive oil to 1 part fresh squeezed lemon juice, a sprinkle of red chili flakes, and salt and pepper to taste.

Trot the mezze to comfortable spot, and complement the nibbles with wine, conversation and a starlit evening.

Adapted from Ozlem’s Turkish Table.

Koftes Mezze

Recipe: Koftes (Turkish Meatballs)

Koftes may be frozen and gently rewarmed in a skillet or in a microwave oven.


  • 3-4 slices stale bread (equivalent to 1 cup fresh bread squeezed into a cup measure)
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion
  • handful of Italian flat parsley
  • 8 ounces ground beef (80/20)
  • 8 ounces ground lamb
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 1-2 Tablespoons olive oil


  1. Make koftes:  tear stale bread into small pieces into a small bowl and add tepid water to reconstitute the bread.  While bread is soaking, dice onion and chop parsley; combine both into a medium-large bowl.  Squeeze the water out of the bread with one of your hands; add to onion and parsley and mix well.  Crumble in ground meats, add egg and season with salt and pepper.  Using your hands, combine ingredients together well for 1-2 minutes.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let mixture rest at room temperature for 30 minutes or immediately refrigerate for up to 36 hours.  Let refrigerated mixture rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow for even cooking.  The mixture can also be well-wrapped and  frozen; defrost completely before proceeding to next step.
  2. Pan fry meatballs:  when ready to cook, heat a skillet on the stove top on medium high, add a thin layer of vegetable oil.  Roll a test meatball about the size of a large golf ball and flatten slightly.  When oil shimmers, place meatball in skillet and let cook uncovered until bottom is brown, about 1-2 minutes depending on heat. Flip over meatball and continue to cook for another minute.  Remove from pan and test for doneness. If you’re planning to freeze the koftes, cook until barely done since they will be reheated again.  Taste koftes for seasoning and adjust – you’re aiming for a well-seasoned meatball.
  3. Pan fry remaining meatballs in batches, wiping out skillet with a paper towel as needed between batches.  Place cooked meatballs on a paper towel lined plate to absorb oils.
  4. Serve:  serve warm, accompanied with sour cream or yogurt seasoned with chopped flat parsley or mint, and a squeeze of lemon juice, if desired.

Makes about 18 koftes.


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