A little more than a year ago, I honeymooned in Turkey. I walked through the ancient ruins of Ephesus and Hierapolis. I saw the ancient and yet modern cities of Istanbul (not Constantinople) and Izmir. I took a boat tour of the Bosporus and walked along the Aegean Sea. I was awoken daily by the morning adhan, which shook our hotel’s window when we stayed near the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. I learned a few key phrases of Turkish, such as “thank you” (teşekkür ederim), “please” (lütfen), and “I do not understand” (anlamadım). I tried local cuisine and fell in love with Turkish tea (Çay), which has the perfect jolt of caffeine without the jitters of coffee.
My favorite dinner was at a small restaurant in Kuşadası called Avlu, tucked away on a side street of the main bazaar (where you can find “genuine fake watches”). My husband and I headed to dinner around 7 and found the restaurant empty, as with many at this time (I never did figure out when locals eat). We were seated and brought delicious pide (Turkish flat bread). Since we appeared to be confused tourists (which we were), our host suggested getting a sampling of kofta and other grilled meats and vegetables. The meal was truly delightful and a wonderful introduction to kofta.
There is no way to replicate the delectable kofta I had at Avlu, but the smell and taste of this kofta instantly brought back the memories of the Aegean and the small seaside town of Kuşadası. If you can’t make it to Turkey to sample their incredible, bold favors (or can’t make it back), you can at least make this and pretend you’re watching the sunset over the Aegean.
Kofta and Grilled Zucchiniadapted from Smitten Kitchen Mint-yogurt sauce: 1 cup plain yogurt 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or 1 tablespoon dried mint 1 teaspoon minced garlic ¼ teaspoon salt Zucchini: 1 lemon, zested and juiced 1 teaspoon honey ¼ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon pepper 5 tablespoons olive oil 2-3 medium zucchini, sliced crosswise or lengthwise* Kefta: ¼ cup breadcrumbs 1 small onion, finely minced or grated ¼ cup freshly chopped parsley ¼ cup freshly chopped cilantro 1 teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon ground allspice ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon ¼ teaspoon cayenne ¼ teaspoon ground pepper 1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped 1lb ground beef or lamb
Stir together mint-yogurt sauce ingredients and chill.
Whisk together lemon zest, lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper. Drizzle in olive oil while whisking. Add zucchini slices to coat and let marinate 15-30 minutes. Skewer slices if using grill.
In a medium bowl, add breadcrumbs, onion, parsley, cilantro, salt, allspice, cinnamon, cayenne, pepper and walnuts. Using hands or a spoon, combine. Add in beef (or lamb) and mix together with hands until well combined. Form mixture into small balls** (tablespoon) if roasting in the oven or form into long oval patties around a soaked skewer.
To Broil***: Place meatballs onto baking sheet and place under broiler 4-6 minutes, rotating partway through.
To Grill (or grill pan): Place skewers on hot grill/grillpan and cook 4-6 minutes, rotating partway through.
Keep kefta warm (tented aluminum foil), while grilling (grill pan, grill or broiler) zucchini for 2-3 minutes per side until slightly charred.
Serve the kofta and zucchini warm with the mint-yogurt sauce. I like to have mine with pita chips and couscous.
*I like lengthwise because then I don’t have to turn as many pieces.
**In Turkey it was served as a long formed oval patty on a stick. If grilling I would recommend forming the meat onto the stick like this, because it is easier to manage that the meatballs.
***Kofta is typically grilled, but I didn’t feel like grilling them in the small batches my grill pan requires and getting out my charcoal grill at my apartment complex is always a pain. Therefore I settled for broiling them, saving the grill pan for the zucchini.