Turkish Meatballs stuffed with Apricots: Köfte Dolmasi

I learned these stuffed meatballs from Turkish chef friends while hanging out as “Guest Chef” at Café Istanbul when they were getting started in Decatur several decades ago. “Köfte” (kouff-TAY) means meatball in Turkish while “dolmasi” means stuffed.

Turks, as well as Kurds, Iraqis, Syrians, and others in the region stuff many kinds of foods, from phyllo pastry sheets, to onions, to cabbage, to eggplants, to peppers, to grape or cabbage leaves, to zucchini. They even stuff chicken breast and meatballs. The meatball stuffing can be dried fruit, feta or other cheese, chopped nuts, or a combination.

Meatballs are one of my favorite forms of food, as you might guess from checking some of the other recipes in this blog. Meatballs called kufta, kofta, kefta and köfte throughout the region along the ancient Silk Road have extraordinary variety, exotic yet delicate fragrances -- and occasional surprises. Lamb is the favored meat there, but beef, or even chicken can be used too.

The original version appears to go back to ancient Persia, as do many other classical meat, rice and yogurt dishes that now reach from Greece and the Balkans all the way east to India. In Persia they were named for “kuftan,” meaning chopped or pounded in a mortar,

Various sauces or condiments would traditionally accompany this type of meatball, the simplest being lemon to squeeze on. Other options include lightly salted garlic-scented yogurt, cucumber-yogurt sauce (cacik/tzatziki), lemon-tahini sauce, or lightly cinnamon-scented tomato sauce. The traditional accompaniment would either be a rice dish or flat bread.

The recipe will serve four people.

2 tablespoons finely minced onion
1 teaspoon olive oil for frying onion
1 pound ground lamb (or beef or a combination, including chicken), not too lean
2 tablespoons quick oatmeal (or mince old fashioned oatmeal on cutting board with chef’s knife)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
4 to 6 dried apricots (depending on size), finely chopped
Olive oil for glazing
Minced parsley for garnish

Mince then fry onions until softened. Transfer to mixing bowl.

Combine with remaining ingredients other than apricots, oil for glazing, and garnish. Knead ingredients together well.

Divide meat into 8 equal portions. Divide chopped apricots into 8 portions.

Form a portion of meat into a flat patty. Place one portion of apricots in middle. Fold meat over and gently seal together to keep apricots in middle. Shape back into round ball, rolling gently between your hands. Place on baking sheet, jointed side down.

Rub a little olive oil on top of meatballs. Roast in 375 degree oven about 12 minutes (a little longer if chicken is included among the meats).

Serve dusted with minced parsley. Accompany with lemon wedges to squeeze on, or see the sauce ideas in the background notes, above.


Neapolitan Spicy Cauliflower with Garlic and Lemon

I learned this deceptibly simple, savory dish from a cooking demonstration at Dekalb Farmers Market years ago. The woman who demonstrated it (using fresh hot pepper rather than dried, crushed pepper, which I use) told me it was the way her grandmother fixed cauliflower. Both her mother and grandmother were originally from Italy from near Naples.

The recipe serves six as a starter, side dish or lunch dish.

1 medium-large cauliflower
3-4 large cloves garlic
1 large Roma type tomato (optional)
1 tablespoon minced flat (“Italian”) parsley
Juice of 2 small, or 1 large, lemon, about 3 1/2 tablespoons
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed dry hot pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Prepare vegetables and keep them in separate piles: Cut cauliflower into 1-inch flowerets, keeping pieces of stem attached to the “flower” parts. Coarsely mince garlic. Quarter tomato, if used, and cut off tough stem area. With finger push out seeds and juice. Dice tomato flesh. Mince the parsley. Squeeze lemon(s) into a cup. Have these ingredients ready.

Heat a large, heavy STAINLESS STEEL or enamel (not aluminum) pot to medium hot. Add oil and garlic. Fry very briefly, but do not brown. Add tomato, if used, and fry, stirring frequently, until tomato softens. Add cauliflower and sprinkle with the salt, hot pepper and black pepper. Toss and fry briefly. Add a few tablespoons water, cover pot, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower becomes crisp-tender.

Taste a small piece of cauliflower to test for doneness, and add salt if needed.

Remove from heat, add lemon juice, and toss cauliflower. Keep covered, but stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Taste one last time and add salt and/or lemon juice if needed, and toss well.

Serve sprinkled with a little minced parsley.


Quiche, a Versatile Wonder

The original “quiche,” a savory custard pie, appears to be French. But there are somewhat similar pies in both English and Italian culinary traditions. Probably the best-known classical version is Quiche Lorraine, from that northeastern region of France. It contains ham and leeks in the custard, with cheese as a more recent addition.

Basil, feta, sun-dried tomato and mushroom quiche
Nowadays, almost any meats, fish, vegetables, specialty cheeses, herbs, and even almonds or walnuts can go into quiche. Restaurants, unapologetically including ours, Donderos’ Kitchen in Athens, GA, vary the ingredients so as to feature a “different” specialty quiche each time.

Here’s my basic recipe, which was influenced by my culinary hero Craig Claiborne, the long-time food editor of the New York Times when I was younger. His recipe appeared in the book, “Craig Claiborne’s Herb and Spice Cookbook,” in the chapter on green onions.

The recipe makes several quiches, depending on size. Leftovers keep well and reheat easily in a toaster oven or oven (microwave makes the crust rubbery).

Pastry for 2 (9-inch) or 3 (8-inch) pies (homemade or purchased refrigerated)
6 medium-large scallions (green onions)
*1/2 pound thick sliced smoked turkey (or turkey salami, ham, pastrami, smoked salmon, or mixed meats, including a little thinly sliced pepperoni) and/or blanched, steamed, or lightly microwaved vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower) or thawed, squeezed out (but not further cooked) frozen spinach
2 cups coarsely grated Swiss cheese, or cheddar
6 eggs
2 1/4 cup whole milk (or part cream)
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon salt (3/4 teaspoon if using a salty ingredient like feta, salami, etc)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
A pinch of cayenne
2 teaspoons Dijon or whole grain mustard for painting inside of pie crusts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roll crusts lightly and line pie pans. Paint inside the bottom and sides of crusts with mustard.

Slice scallions into 1/8-inch lengths. Distribute them over the bottoms of the crust. Cut the meat(s) or salmon into small pieces, and distribute it over the scallions. Or if using vegetables, add them with or without meats over the scallions. Spread the Swiss and/or cheddar over these ingredients.In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a whisk. Add the milk, grated Romano, horseradish, salt, nutmeg, pepper and cayenne, and whisk briefly to combine. Pour it into the piecrusts. If using disposable aluminum pie pans, place them on cookie pans for security.

Bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down to 310 and continue baking until the center doesn’t wiggle and a sharp knife inserted an inch from the center comes out clean (25 to 35 minutes). Serve warm or at room temperature.

A salad accompanies quiche well for a lunch or supper.

*Other possible quiche ingredients: bacon (fried and crumbled) plus blue cheese (along with the regular cheese); chopped canned artichoke hearts with chopped walnuts on top; sliced black olives, green olives, moistened and heated sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, baked chicken; chorizo out of casing and pre-fried, jalapeño, and roasted red pepper; Italian sausage, out of casing and fried, roasted peppers plus olives.


Artichokes with Easy Dipping Sauce

With the COVID-19 disruptions I have been less active with the food blog, and busier cooking for delivery dinners from our restaurant, Donderos’ Kitchen, in Athens. No home entertaining or cooking classes during this time has reduced the opportunities for posting recipes on line. But I explored and learned a lot while trying to create the dinners we sell and that I expect will start showing up on this blog when I can scale the recipes down to my target of six servings.

Meanwhile, however, I do some cooking at home, even if just for Christina and me. Here’s an appetizer I made today. When I occasionally see large, plump fresh artichokes available at a price more modest than what has been typical in recent years, I tend to get some for appetizers at home.

Boiled until tender such that the leaves (technically petals, since the artichokes are huge thistle flower buds) pull off easily, the individual leaves are then dipped lightly into a savory sauce and with the teeth the soft flesh on the upper end of each leaf is pulled off and the fibrous leaf discarded – ultimately at my house to the compost heap. When all the edible leaves are removed, pull off the fine remaining leaves and with a spoon, scoop out the fine fibrous “choke.” Cut the remaining tender “heart” into four pieces. Dip them in the sauce and enjoy possibly the best treat of the artichoke.

The recipe is for two large artichokes, which will serve as an appetizer for four to six people. Increasing the quantities is, obviously, easy.

3 tablespoons cider or wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
2 plump fresh artichokes

Bring plenty of water to boil in a large pot. Add the vinegar and salt.

Cut off all but about one inch of the stem of each artichoke and drop the artichokes into the boiling water. Cover the pot, and turn the artichokes from time to time as they cook. Simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until a lower leaf can be pulled off fairly easily (use tongs).

Remove to a plate to cool. Artichokes can be eaten slightly warm to room temperature or if stored in the refrigerator warmed up a little from cold. Place on a platter with a shallow bowl of the dip (see below) nearby, and another bowl for discarding the leaves into after eating the soft part on the upper part of the leaves.

1 small clove of garlic
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon cider or wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Peel then partially crush the garlic clove and rub the inner surface of a small mixing bowl well with the garlic flesh. Discard the remnants of the garlic.

In the garlic-rubbed bowl, place the sour cream, mayonnaise, vinegar, salt and pepper. Mix well until smooth. Taste, and add a little salt if desired. Transfer sauce to a small shallow bowl for dipping the artichoke leaves.

Follow Us @donderoskitchen