Іçli köfte literally means ‘a meatball with something inside’. The word içli is also poetic language for ‘deeply felt’, and I’ve seen this translated on Turkish tourist menus as ‘sentimental meatballs’.
Tarsus is a historic city in south-central Turkey, in the middle of the wheat and cotton belt. It was where Cleopatra met Mark Antony. Biblical scholars know it as the home of Saul who became Saint Paul. No doubt he ate these dumplings, which are known as kibbeh on the Arab peninsula.
Tarsus has many citizens of Arab descent, who moved to the area in the nineteenth century and introduced this dish, using the wheat of the area. Their version is different from the standard form because it is boiled instead of fried, so it’s healthier.
First make the filling. Finely chop the onions. Crush the garlic. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until translucent, then add the garlic and fry for 2 minutes more. Add the mince and fry for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the capsicum paste, salt, pepper, chilli flakes, cinnamon and allspice, and fry for a further 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool. Put the walnuts in a blender and coarsely chop. Transfer the filling mixture into a bowl, add the walnuts and mix together, then refrigerate for 2 hours.
Now make the wrapping. Put the bulgur in a heatproof bowl and cover with
Mix the mince, cornflour, salt, capsicum paste and butter into the bulgur. Break the egg into the mixture and knead for 10 minutes, to make a smooth paste.
Mix the yoğurt and tahini together in a small bowl.
Place the icli köfte on a serving plate. Spoon a tablespoon of the yoğurt and tahini topping over each dumpling, decorate with a pinch of sumac, and serve.
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