Izmir Kofte (Smyrna Meatballs) is a traditional dish from the Izmir region of Turkey and is widely popular around the country. This delicious kofte dish is made with oblong-shaped meatballs and vegetables lightly fried in vegetable oil, then baked in tomato sauce. And my favourite way to serve it is with Turkish Rice Pilaf or Bulgur Pilaf and a bowl of Greek Salad.
There are many different kofte recipes in Turkey and some of them has been named after the city they were invented. Izmir Kofte and Inegol Kofte are probably the most popular Turkish meatball recipes and they both are my favourite!
It is a great dish to cook throughout the year but even better during the summer when juicy & red tomatoes and sweet & hot peppers are in season.
Why This Recipe Works?
- This meatball & vegetable dish is a great weeknight supper and can be prepared beforehand.
- The leftover is perfect for a packed lunch and tastes even better the day after.
- It is freezer friendly, when making the kofte mixture, I sometimes double the recipe up and freeze it for emergencies.
- It is a very easy recipe to follow with step-by-step pictures and instructions.
Ingredients and Substitutes
- Mince - The main ingredient for kofte is mince and its fat content is as important as the quality of the meat. The ideal mince should have %20 fat for soft and delicious koftes. Using lean mince will make them dry and tough. If you want to use lean mince, you should add some fat or oil to the mixture. I generally use half lamb and half beef mince to get the right balance of fat.
- Onion - It adds extra flavour and moisture to the meatballs. I prefer grating it into the mixture. You can finely chop and sauté them if you prefer. You can substitute it with two banana shallots.
- Egg - It helps to bind the meat, breadcrumbs, spices and herbs. For up to one kilo of meat, you usually won't need more than one egg.
- Garlic - It is another great flavouring for Kofte dishes. You can substitute the fresh garlic with the powdered version. You can turn garlic into a paste with a or grate using a before adding it to kofte.
- Parsley - Great tasting herb to add to the Kofte mixture. Use flat leaf or curley parsley leaves for the best results. You can substitute it with thyme or oregano.
- Bread crumbs - They absorb the juices from the meat as it cooks, trapping them within the meatball. Also, they give meatballs a nice and soft texture.
- Spices - Most recipes call for a blend of cumin, black pepper, paprika (or chilli) but you can also add coriander powder, cayenne pepper or a touch of cinnamon.
- Potatoes - They are a great accompaniment to Kofte dishes. Use any type of potatoes you like cooking. You can use half amount of potatoes and use other vegetables such as aubergines, courgettes or even carrots.
- Peppers - Turkish green peppers are very popular in Turkish recipes. They are usually mild but some of them can be quite hot. Always check the spiciness before using them as they can affect the spiciness of your dish. You can replace them with bell pepper or Spanish Padron peppers. Simply wash, dry and cut them in chunks before frying.
- Tomatoes - Red & juicy summer tomatoes are always the best option. Remove the eye of the tomatoes and chop them before adding to the sauce. Use one large tomato cut in wedges for garnishing.
- Stock - Both Basic Homemade Vegetable Stock and Easy Chicken Stock works great. I prefer using homemade stock but you can use stock cubes if you don't have any stock in hand. Make sure you don't add too much salt as ready-made stocks and stock cubes contain salt already.
- Thyme - It is a great flavouring herb for simple tomato sauce. You can substitute it with oregano or basil.
- Oil - Vegetable oil is the best oil for frying. You can also use canola oil, rapeseed oil or peanut oil.
How to Make Izmir Kofte?
Making this delicious kofta dish is very simple and straightforward. However, to achieve the best results you need to follow a few tips and simple steps:
- Prepare the mixture and shape - To prepare the kofte mixture, put all kofte ingredients in a large bowl and then mix well for at least 5 minutes or until it has a nice and soft texture slightly sticking to your hand. You can prepare the mixture up to 3 days ahead. Shape into 16 equally sized oblong meatballs using the palm of your hands. Wet your palm with a bit of water to avoid the meatballs sticking to your hand. Keep them aside on a plate to fry later.
- Prepare the vegetables - Preheat your oven to 180 °C and then start preparing the vegetables. Peel and cut potatoes into wedges, set aside. Remove the seeds and the core of the peppers if using capsicums, cut in 6-7 pieces lengthwise. If you are using thin Turkish green peppers, cut them into 2-3 small pieces. Cut the tomato into 6 to 8 wedges and keep them aside.
- Fry the kofte and vegetables - Some recipes for Izmir Kofte doesn't require frying the meatballs and vegetables before roasting. I prefer frying them before baking in the oven as it helps to intensify the flavour (you can skip the frying part and nicely arrange your meatballs with vegetables in an ovenproof dish, then bake them in the oven until the potatoes are soft). Place a frying pan on medium heat and then add vegetable oil. When the oil is hot enough, fry the potatoes until browned on all sides and set aside. The potatoes will still be uncooked, we just need the caramelisation on the outside. Lightly fry the peppers for a few minutes and set them aside. And lastly, fry the meatballs in small batches until they are browned on all sides, set aside.
- Build your dish and bake - Arrange the potatoes and peppers in an oven dish (approximately 25 cm diameter). Nicely organise the meatballs on top of your vegetables. Scatter the tomato wedges in between the meatballs. To make the tomato sauce, discard the excess oil in the frying pan leaving about a tablespoon. Turn the heat down and add the garlic along with the chopped tomatoes. Cook for a few minutes before adding the tomato paste. Stir until nicely combined then add the thyme, salt and the chicken stock or water. Bring to a boil and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Pour the sauce on top of the koftes and the vegetables.
Cover the oven dish with a lid or tin foil and then put it in the preheated oven. Cook for 30 minutes, remove the lid and cook for another 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
For more delicious kofte recipes why not try:
You can freeze the Kofte mixture before cooking and keep it for 3 months. Alternatively, you can freeze the cooked dish and keep it in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
No, we just want some caramelisation on the meatballs to seal the flavour in. They will get cooked in tomato sauce along with the potatoes.
The best accompaniment dishes to Turkish Kofte are Bulgur Pilaf, Turkish Rice Pilaf or Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf (Mercimekli Bulgur Pilavi). You can also serve it with some crusty bread and a bowl of healthy salad such as Summer Chickpea Salad, Greek Cucumber Salad or Tabbouleh.
Top Tip From The Chef
Make sure your vegetables are totally dry before putting them in hot oil for frying to avoid splashes on your face or hands.
I hope you enjoy the process of making these delicious meatballs cooked in tomato sauce as much as you enjoy eating them! 🙂
Bon appétit! / Afiyet Olsun!
Izmir Kofte (Smyrna Meatballs)
For the Kofte (Makes 16 Kofte)
- 500 g mince meat (250g lamb and 250g beef)
- 1 egg
- 1 medium onion (grated)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 40 g panko breadcrumbs (or breadcrumbs made with 2 stale slices of bread without the crust)
- 2 tbsp parsley (finely chopped)
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon chilli flakes or paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
For the Vegetables
- 750 g potatoes (peeled and cut in wedges)
- 1 large tomato (cut in 8 wedges)
- 4 long green peppers (or 1 large capsicum) (seeds and core removed and cut into 2-3 pieces)
- 100 ml vegetable oil (for frying)
For the Tomato Sauce
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 3 large tomatoes (chopped)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste (add extra ½ tablespoon if the tomatoes are not in season)
- 4 sprigs thyme (only leaves chopped)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 250 ml chicken stock or vegetable stock
Making the Kofte
- Preheat your oven to 180 °C.
- Put all the ingredients for the kofte in a large bowl and mix them. Knead the mixture for about 5 minutes until nicely combined.
- Shape into 16 equally sized oblong meatballs using the palm of your hands. Wet your palm with a bit of water to avoid the meatballs sticking to your hand.
- Set them aside and start preparing your vegetables.
Preparing the Vegetables
- Peel and wedge your potatoes, pat dry with a paper towel to avoid splashing hot oil while frying.
- Prepare the peppers, take the seeds and the core out and cut in preferred size. Pat dry with a paper towel.
- Place a frying pan on medium heat and add the vegetable oil.
- When the oil is hot enough, fry the potatoes, making sure they are browned on all sides and set aside. The potatoes will still be uncooked. We need the caramelisation on the outside.
- Lightly fry the peppers and set them aside.
- Add the meatballs to the pan and fry them until all sides are brown. The meatballs will still be uncooked, we want to seal the meatballs to keep the juice and flavour in.
- Arrange the meatballs in the oven dish with the potatoes and peppers.
- Cut 1 large tomato into eight wedges and place them into the oven dish as well.
Preparing the Tomato Sauce
- Discard the excess vegetable oil from the pan, leaving only 1 tablespoon to make the sauce.
- Add the garlic and sauté quickly to make sure it doesn’t get burnt.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for a few minutes before adding the tomato paste.
- Give it a good stir and add the thyme, salt and the chicken or vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Simmer the sauce for 5 minutes.
- Pour the sauce into the oven dish and cover it with tin foil or a lid.
- Place the dish in the oven and cook for 30 minutes.
- Remove the tin foil or the lid and cook for another 30 minutes or until the potatoes are softened.
- Cook to a minimum temperature of 165 °F (74 °C)
- Don’t leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Use oils with high smoking point to avoid harmful compounds
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove
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