Çiğ köfte, pronounced chee kofte, is one of the most popular and well-known Turkish dishes. Traditionally they are made with meat, but most Turkish establishments serve the vegan version which is made from fine bulgur. These vegan meatballs are packed with tons of flavour and will make the perfect addition to your mezze platter.
Cig kofte has always been one of my favourite mezzes and it’s a dish I make at least once a month. It’s made with wholesome ingredients and it’s ideal for keeping in the fridge for when you want a little something to snack on. It’s delicious inside tortilla wraps, so it also makes a lovely lunch or light dinner.
I’ve tried many variations of vegan Cig Kofte over the years and what I’ve noticed is that each recipe has a unique flavour to it. Traditionally it is made to be quite spicy, but the beauty of this recipe is that you can taste it as you’re kneading the bulgur and you can make adjustments to the level of spiciness if you prefer milder flavours.
What is Cig Kofte?
Cig kofte, pronounced chee kofte, is one of the most loved dishes in Turkiye and it originates from Urfa, in the southeast of the country. This ancient dish is either served with lettuce leaves as an appetizer or inside wrap bread for a quick meal. There are two types of Cig Kofte: One variety is made with raw meat, and the other is made with fine bulgur, and you’ll find this vegan version labelled ‘Etsiz Cig Kofte’, which translates as meatless Cig Kofte. The traditional version uses the finest quality raw meat which does sound rather daunting, but the meat essentially gets "cooked" when it is kneaded with the salt and spices. The vegan version is made with fine bulgur wheat, onion, garlic, tomato paste, pepper paste and the traditional combination of spices. Back in the day, it was more common to find Cig Kofte with raw meat, but due to rising health concerns with regards to the consumption of raw meat, most places have switched over to the vegan version.
How Does Cig Kofte taste?
Here’s what you can expect: soft bulgur wheat meatballs that are deliciously spicy, slightly tangy and delicately sweet from the pomegranate molasses. They’re packed with delicious earthy flavours from the onion, garlic and spice combination. If you love intensely savoury and spicy flavours, you’ll love this Cig Kofte recipe!
How to Serve Cig Kofte
Cig Kofte is traditionally served chilled as a mezze or appetizer inside lettuce leaves with a drizzle of lemon juice or pomegranate molasses. They can also be served inside freshly grilled pita bread or as part of a wrap.
This recipe calls for Turkish Isot, also known as Urfa Biber, a pepper with moderate heat and an intense and unusual flavour. It has a unique taste that is earthy and spicy while being slightly sweet and smoky at the same time. If you can't find Isot Biber, you can substitute it with Mexican chipotle. You’ll also need fine brown fine bulgur. It is different in colour and taste to regular fine bulgur and its texture is softer. The colour of this bulgur is darker due to the type of wheat used as a raw material. Brown fine bulgur is preferred when preparing Cig Kofte due to its elasticity compared to yellow bulgur. If you’re unable to find brown fine bulgur, you can use regular fine bulgur, but you may have to knead the Cig Kofte for a little longer. Both ingredients can be found at any Turkish supermarket or speciality food store.
Ingredients for Cig Kofte & Substitutes
To make Turkish Cig Kofte you’ll need the following ingredients:
Fine bulgur wheat: There are different types of bulgur wheat, so it’s really important to pay attention to which one you use. You want to buy brown fine bulgur wheat (also called 'Esmer Çiğ köftelik ince bulgur) to make Cig Kofte. You’ll be able to find this variety of bulgur in most Turkish and Middle Eastern supermarkets or online. Don’t substitute it with other types of bulgur like coarse bulgur as it will not work.
Turkish red pepper paste: Turkish red pepper paste (biber salcasi) is stable in most Turkish households. You can find Turkish red pepper paste at any Turkish or Middle Eastern supermarket. There are two types or red pepper paste: ‘Acili biber salcasi’, which translates as hot pepper paste, and ‘tatli biber salcasi’, which translates as sweet red pepper paste. If you’re unable to get hold of this pepper paste, you can just substitute it with additional tomato paste, though I must warm you, the recipe will not taste as good.
Tomato puree and fresh tomatoes: I've used a combination of fresh tomatoes for added texture and tomato paste to give an intense tomato flavour.
Turkish pul biber: Turkish pul biber is also called Aleppo pepper. The Aleppo chilli flakes add a slow-building heat and a delicious earthy, fruity taste to the Cig Kofte. You could use different types of chilli flakes, but bear in mind that different types of chilli will have different levels of heat, so make sure to add it accordingly. You can find it at all Turkish supermarkets.
Turkish isot biber: Turkish isot biber, also called Urfa biber, is a black-ish chili flake that has a very unique taste. It is commonly used in Cig Kofte. This pepper has moderate heat and an intense and unusual flavour. It has a unique taste that is earthy and spicy while being slightly sweet and smoky at the same time. If you can't find isot biber, you can substitute Mexican chipotle.
Ground cumin: the ground cumin adds a delicious earthy flavour, so make sure not to skip it.
Sumac: The sumac will add a pleasant tangy taste to the Cig Kofte. The ingredient is optional, but if you like extra tangy flavours, then adding sumac will make the Cig Kofte even more delicious. Sumac can be found in the spice section of all major supermarkets.
Paprika: There are a few varieties of paprika, for this recipe you will need to use sweet paprika.
Olive oil: any type of olive oil will do, but I prefer to use extra virgin olive oil to intensify the flavour of Cig Kofte.
Garlic and onion: Another important ingredient is garlic and onion! Do not skip these two are they play a major part in creating delicious Cig Kofte.
Pomegranate molasses: the pomegranate molasses adds an intense sweet-and-sour flavour. If you don’t have any pomegranate molasses at hand, you can substitute it with lemon juice.
Salt & black pepper: You’ll need some salt and pepper to season the Cig Kofte.
How to Make Cig Kofte
Begin by finely grating the tomatoes or put them through the food processor. Grate the onions using a coarse grater. Strain the grated onions to remove as much of its liquid as possible. Mince the garlic cloves.
Add the fine bulgur wheat to a very large mixing bowl with deep edges and a large surface area for kneading. Pour the hot water over the bulgur, cover the top with cling film and let it soak for 5 minutes. At this point, the bulgur should be a soft but crumbly texture.
To the bowl with the soaked bulgur, add the grated onion, grated tomatoes, minced garlic, red pepper paste, tomato puree, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, Pul biber, isot biber, sumac, paprika, ground cumin, salt, and pepper. Knead with your hands for anywhere from 30 minutes -1 hour until everything is very well combined and very soft. The time the Cig Kofte takes to knead will depend on the force used and how much elbow grease you’re willing to put in.
Take a small piece of the Cig Kofte mixture and taste it to make any adjustments to the spices or seasoning. Once you’re pleased with the taste, begin shaping them by taking a two-tablespoon portion into your palm, leave some space between your fingers, and make your hand into a fist. This shape will be a lot easier to achieve when wearing food-safe gloves or lubricating your hands with some oil.
Let the prepared Cig Kofte chill in the fridge for 1 hour, then arrange the Cig Kofte on a large serving platter. Serve them with lettuce, lemon wedges and pomegranate molasses, or add them into your favourite Wrap bread. Enjoy!
How to Store Cig Kofte
Cig Kofte can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.
Can Cig Kofte be frozen?
I wouldn’t recommend storing Cig Kofte in the freezer as it will cause it to have excess water. Cig kofte is best served fresh, so if you’re worried about it going to waste, I’d suggest halving the ingredients for this recipe to make a smaller quantity.
Notes and Tips
Cig Kofte tastes even better the next day as the flavours are left to marinate, so it’s great dish for preparing in advance.
You can adjust this recipe to suit your taste by adding different herbs and spices to the Cig kofte.
Traditional Cig Kofte can be quite spicy, so if you’re not a fan of heat, I’d suggest adding the Isot pepper 1 teaspoon at a time as you knead the Cig Kofte. You can taste it between kneading to see how much more of the pepper flakes you’d like to add.
If the mixture feels dry, add 2 ice cubes to the mixture (for gradual water release) and more olive oil.
To make is easier to shape the Cig Kofte, wear food-safe gloves or lubricate your hands with some oil prior to shaping the kofte.
This recipe calls for Turkish isot, also known as Urfa biber, a pepper with moderate heat and an intense and unusual flavor. It has a unique taste that is earthy and spicy while being slightly sweet and smoky at the same time. If you can't find isot biber, you can substitute it with Mexican chipotle.