Tarsus Lamb and Beef Dumplings

Іçlı Köfte


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.


Lamb Filling

  • 4 onions
  • 80 ml ( fl oz/ cup) vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) lamb mince
  • 2 tablespoons capsicum (pepper) paste (see)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chilli flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 150 g ( oz) walnuts

Bulgur Shells

  • 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) fine bulgur
  • 200 g (7 oz) lean ground (minced) beef
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons capsicum (pepper) paste (see)
  • 50 g ( oz) butter
  • 1 egg
  • 80 ml ( fl oz/ cup) vegetable oil

Yoğurt And Tahini Topping

  • 200 g (7 oz) plain yoğurt
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • pinch of sumac


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 750 ml (26 fl oz/3 cups) of boiling water. Leave to soak for 30 minutes, then drain.

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 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) of water with the vegetable oil. Wet your palm with the oily water, and place a ping-pong-ball-sized lump of the beef mixture in your palm. Press it into a pattie the size of your palm. Partly close your fist to turn the pattie into a cup, and put a heaped tablespoon of the lamb mixture in the middle. Fold the wrapping around the mixture to make a ball. Transfer the ball onto a tray. Repeat to make twelve balls and then refrigerate for 2 hours.

Bring about 3 litres (105 fl oz/12 cups) of water to the boil in a saucepan over high heat. Carefully add the dumplings, six at a time, and cook for 5 minutes until the skin is firm and crusty. Remove each batch of dumplings from the pan with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel.

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.