How to make the perfect Turkish kofte

Patience and lengthy kneading are the key to the texture of these succulent lamb meatballs.

By Fatih Tutak
Published 12 Apr 2022, 14:02 BST
Lamb koftes are delicious when wrapped in lavash, a wood-fired Turkish bread. Serve them up with ...

Lamb koftes are delicious when wrapped in lavash, a wood-fired Turkish bread. Serve them up with some homemade fries or rice pilaf, tomatoes, green peppers and some sliced onion with sumac. 

Photograph by GETTY Images

1. Start kneading

Preparing Turkish kofte takes strength and patience, as it’s best to mix all the ingredients by hand. Kneading the meat for around 30 minutes will improve the texture and taste. The mixture (lamb meat, lamb fat, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and baking soda) should end up feeling like dough.

2. Get shaping

The kofte can be round, long, square — it’s up to you. I usually make them round or elliptic. Each kofte should weigh about 40-60g and be shaped by hand. Once you’ve shaped them, it’s traditional to stitch them onto a metal skewer before putting them on the charcoal grill.

3. Remember to ferment

Never cook the mix straight after you’ve made it. When preparing kofte ‘dough’, it needs to be stored for at least 48 hours in the fridge — this gives the mixture the chance to ferment. This fermentation and resting of the dough ensures the creation of unique umami flavours.

4. Plan the meal

There are many ways to eat kofte. You can have them in a sandwich with pide, tomato, sliced onion and salad. They’re delicious wrapped in lavash, a wood-fired Turkish bread. I like to serve them with homemade fries, rice pilaf, tomatoes, green peppers and some sliced onion with sumac. 

5. Try grilling

The original Turkish way is to grill the kofte over charcoal. Alternatively, you can deep fry them or cook them in a pan or a wood-fired oven. If using a charcoal grill, you can add wood chips to give them another smoky dimension, but we tend to keep it natural.

6. Serve with sides

Traditionally, the side dish to serve with kofte is piyaz, a haricot bean salad. We soak the beans overnight, boil them, then serve them with tomato, onions and olive oil. Alternatively, you could also serve the kofte on a plate with yoghurt and a sauce made from tomato paste.

RECIPE: Turkish lamb koftes

Makes: 4 patties
Takes: 1hr plus 48hrs fermenting time

1.25kg lamb meat, skirt and ribs trimmed
225g lamb fat (from your butcher)
100g sourdough bread, for breadcrumbs
20g salt
5g pepper
2g baking soda

1. Mince the lamb meat and fat together using a cleaver. Set to one side.
2. Remove any crusts from the sourdough bread, then tear the bread and whiz in a blender until breadcrumb-sized.
3. Knead all the ingredients by hand for around 30 mins until the mixture is dough-like in texture.
4. Leave to ferment for two days in the fridge.
5. Divide into four patties and stitch onto the skewers.
6. Cook directly on a medium hot charcoal grill for around 4-5 mins per skewer.

Fatih Tutak is chef and owner of Istanbul restaurant Turk Fatih Tutak.

Published in Issue 15 (spring 2022) of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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