Turkish meatballs or beef kofta: easy to make, always delicious, and perfect for any kind of gathering.
These Turkish meatballs or kofta are some of our favorite meatballs. Soft, juicy and spicy, rather crispy on the outside, they are the perfect comfort food.
What are koftas?
Koftas are basically meatballs, the kind you can find not only in the Turkish cuisine but also all over Eastern Europe, Middle Eastern, India or Central Asia.
They usually consist of ground meat, often beef in Turkey and the Middle East, frequently mixed with lamb, mutton or chicken. In the Balkans and Eastern Europe kofta are more often made with pork or a mixture of pork and beef.
There are also plenty of vegetarian versions of kofta, which in Orthodox countries (like Romania or Greece) are mostly eaten during the fasting times before Eastern or Christmas. These vegetarian versions of the koftas are often made with potatoes, rice, cabbage, mushrooms or other vegetable mixtures.
Koftas or meatballs are often served on their own, I grew up on meatballs with mashed potato and preserved vegetables. But often enough they are served in some kind of sauce, often meatballs in tomato sauce, in curries or other kinds of gravies.
According to Wikipedia the word kofta is Persian meaning “to grind” and referring to the ground meat used to make the koftas.
This word was adopted in many of the regions where kofta became popular. They are still called kofta or köfta in Turkey and many Middle Eastern countries, but kofta is called “chiftea” in Romania, keftedes in Greece, qofte in Albania or cufte in the former Yugoslav republics. All these name variations remind of the original kofta.
How to make?
Like all meatball recipes, this beef kofta recipe is very easy to make. Basically, gather all the needed ingredients, mix them with the ground meat, form, and cook the Turkish meatballs.
- I used only ground beef. You can use a mixture of ground beef and ground lamb, but as ground lamb is completely unavailable around here, I stick to beef.
- The ground beef is regular ground beef, not the lean sort. I think extra lean ground beef makes these beef koftas dry, so I prefer to use the regular ground beef, which has about 20-30% fat, depending on where you buy it.
- Garlic is absolutely essential, I cannot even think of any kind of Romanian or Turkish kofta which doesn't include lots of garlic.
- You will also need ground cumin, ground coriander, allspice, chopped parsley, and Turkish red pepper flakes.
- Turkish red pepper flakes are very common in Germany, but if you cannot find them where you live, you can replace them with regular red pepper flakes.
- And when it comes to red pepper or chili, I always recommend adding as much as you like to the dish, as much you can take.
- Onions, eggs, white bread, salt, and pepper.
- What is not so common is the baking soda. Baking soda is often used when making the Croatian cevapcici or the Romanian mici, which are the Romanian version of cevapcici. It helps the meatballs keep their shape and become nice and tender.
Fry or bake?
- You can either fry or bake them.
- I tried both versions, lots of times and they both work well. The fried kofta are slightly heartier and juicier due to the oil they are cooked in but, in the end, most people would probably not notice a lot of difference between the two versions.
- I go for baked meatballs when cooking larger amounts of koftas or meatballs for a party or potluck and for fried meatballs when I miss my grandmother's cooking or only make a small batch of meatballs.
- If you fry the meatballs, do so in a cast-iron skillet or a non-stick pan, this way you will not need lots of oil, about 2 tablespoons should be sufficient. Fry the meatballs on all sides and on medium heat for about 7-10 minutes or until cooked through.
- Fry the meatballs in batches, if necessary.
- Depending on their size the cooking time might differ, so check and don't overcook them.
- If you choose to bake the beef koftas give them on a baking tray lined with baking paper and cook them in the preheated oven for about 13-15 minutes. Again, check earlier, just to make sure you don't overcook them.
Can you make them in advance or freeze?
- Yes, you can.
- You can make a big batch of beef koftas, shape them into balls and freeze. To do so place them into airtight containers, layered between sheets of parchment paper. Freeze for up to two months and defrost slowly in the refrigerator, preferably overnight.
- You can also cook the Turkish meatballs in advance and serve them later at room temperature.
What to serve with?
I probably serve beef koftas or another kind of meatballs at any party I organize at home (except barbecue parties). Everybody loves them, they can be made in advance and are delicious at room temperature.
Otherwise, we often have them with mashed potatoes and salad, with a tahini or chili dip.
Serve leftovers meatballs on a slice of bread smeared with mustard, stuffed in some pita bread or tortillas. In this case, don't forget some kind of sauce, raw onions slices, some salad leaves, tomatoes, or thin bell pepper slices.
You can also make a simple tomato sauce and reheat the beef koftas in the sauce. Some mashed potatoes, rice or pasta on the side and you could not be happier.
More Turkish recipes
Turkish Meatballs - Beef Kofta Recipe
- 1 lb ground beef 450 g
- 1 onion about 75 g/ 2.6 oz
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 large egg
- 2 oz white bread 60 g, weighed after removing the crust (about 1-2 white bread slices, depending on size)
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- ¾ teaspoon Turkish red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon all spice
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Combine: Place the ground beef to a bowl. Grate the onion and the garlic cloves and add to the bowl together with the chopped parsley. Lightly beat the egg and crumble the crustless white bread with your hands or in a food processor. Add both to the bowl. Add the red pepper flakes, cumin, coriander, allspice, baking soda, salt, and pepper.
- Mix thoroughly with your hands, at least 3-4 minutes. You can cover and refrigerate the mixture now and cook the meatballs a few hours later.
- Form small meatballs, between 30 and 35 of them.
- Fry meatballs: Heat one tablespoon oil in a large non-stick or cast iron pan. Fry the meatballs on medium heat in two batches for about 8-10 minutes, turning every few minutes to prevent them from catching to the pan or becoming too dark. Turn the heat down slightly if you notice that the koftas are getting too dark before being cooked through.
- Check after 7-8 minutes by cutting one kofta in the middle.
- To fry the second batch of koftas, add the second tablespoon oil to the pan and repeat.
- To bake the meatballs, preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius/ 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the meatballs on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake for about 13-15 minutes until cooked through but not overcooked.