Turkish Meatballs stuffed with Apricots: Köfte Dolmasi

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.

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