What is cig kofte?
The Turkish dish, cig kofte (Turkish spelling: çiğ köfte, pronounced: tʃiː cœfˈte) comes from Urfa, in the southeast of the country. It originally consisted of raw meatballs that look a bit like steak tartare. Very lean lamb or ground beef was kneaded with salca (tomato or red pepper paste), fine bulgur, onion, smoky urfa biber (isot pepper) and other spices and made into balls. However, cig kofte balls are oval rather than round and each bears the handprint of their maker.
Nowadays, as eating raw meat can be a bit risky in Turkey’s hot climate, people usually serve a vegetarian version. The Turkish Ministry of Health has even banned the sale of the traditional street food snack. However, most Turks think that this dish is perfectly safe – a good cig kofte is never left to spoil but is eaten as soon as the balls are freshly rolled and the bulgur has not yet swelled. That does not mean that you will only find an original cig kofte in people’s homes. The vegetarian version, which is now everywhere in Istanbul, has been nicknamed yalanci: liar.
In European restaurants, a vegetarian or vegan version is served as standard when you order a cig kofte. The raw meat tends to be replaced by walnuts or sometimes extra bulgur. However, if it is properly prepared, it is indistinguishable from “the real thing”.
Did you know?
The story goes that the prophet Mohamed himself invented the cig kofte. Or his mother. Or was it Abraham? It’s debated in Turkey. Unfortunately, little tangible evidence has been found.
How to make cig kofte
Soak raw, fine bulgur in a paste of blended tomato or onion and knead it in tomato salca (dried tomato paste) before it absorbs the moisture. Mix crushed walnuts with finely ground stale bread, garlic and onion and added to the softened bulgur, plus a whole host of flavours – smoky urfa biber (isot peppers), tomato and red pepper peppers and cumin. Give everything a blitz in a food processor and knead by hand before allowing to rest overnight.
The next morning, shape bite-sized pieces of the mixture into small ovals with your hands. Use your fingers to give them their typical scalloped shape. And voilà, they’re ready to be served.
You could also look in Turkish stores for a ready-made package. Just as you can buy kits for lasagne or fajitas, these packages contain everything you need for home-made cig kofte. You just have to add some onion, tomato and garlic.
How to eat cig kofte
Do as the Turks do and eat your cig kofte in a sheet of iceberg or romaine lettuce, with a generous splash of fresh lemon juice.
Transform your cig kofte from a snack to a light meal by serving them in one of two types of Turkish bread: lavas or durum.