Beef köfte with pitta and tomato sauce

Beef köfte with pitta and tomato sauce

Etli köfte

Steven Joyce

On one of our Istanbul trips, we stayed in the Marti Hotel, a posh new spot north of buzzing Taksim Square. While devouring a bowl of these meatballs in the hotel restaurant, served with butter-fried chunks of bread, yoghurt and a fresh tomato sauce, we took in the panoramic views of the city. It’s tempting to use lean minced beef, but you need fat to hold them together. Cook shop-bought minced beef all the way through.

Tomato sauce


Quantity Ingredient
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, very finely chopped
1 small carrot, very finely diced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tablespoon turkish tomato paste or tomato puree
400ml passata


Quantity Ingredient
25g butter
1/2 pitta bread per person, cut into 2.5 cm squares
flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Garlic yoghurt

Quantity Ingredient
200ml plain turkish or greek-style yoghurt
1 garlic clove, crushed


Quantity Ingredient
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
500g minced beef
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 onion, grated
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
vegetable oil, for frying


  1. For the meatballs, lightly toast the whole spices in a dry pan just until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then grind in a pestle and mortar. Combine all the ingredients (except the oil) together with your hands. Mix only until just blended. Set aside until needed.
  2. For the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a pan and add the onion and carrot. Soften gently, without colouring, for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and tomato paste. Cook for 3–4 minutes, stirring, then add the passata. Simmer for 10–15 minutes until rich and thick, stirring frequently. Taste to check the seasoning and keep warm until ready to serve.
  3. Meanwhile, finish the meatballs. Heat a large wide frying pan and add 1–2 tablespoons oil. Take a tiny piece of the meatball mix and fry until cooked through. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.
  4. Roll the meat mix into 16 small balls. Sauté the meatballs gently in the pan for 5–8 minutes, turning them often, until they are deep brown all over. Break one open to check they are cooked through.
  5. In another pan, melt the butter and when foaming add the pitta bread pieces. Fry the bread until light golden on both sides. Mix the garlic yoghurt together. To serve, scatter a handful of hot pitta pieces in the bottom of each serving bowl. Drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of garlic yoghurt and some tomato sauce. Top with the meatballs and some fresh parsley. Serve straight away.
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