In mid-February, here in Cleveland, the temperature was 11 degrees. The wind-chill factor made it minus 11 degrees. A good time for comfort food. So I made Izmir kufta. Izmir, Turkey's third largest city, was known as Smyrna, the Ancient Greek city.
Mom's Izmir kufta was a childhood favorite. Served with pilaffe, either bouglur or rice, and green salad it is a great,affordable meal. In the early fifties in the Central Valley of California, only a few friends of my parents had swimming pools. (Now pools are everywhere.). Their friends, the Karyians, not only had a pool but a large beach house alongside. It was a favorite destination in those hot valley days of summer. Not only the pool lured but the excellent food Roxie Karyians prepared. She had actually lived in Izmir, so I looked forward to eating her kufta in the beach house. (A good summertime meal too.). I was a child who loved food, often the more exotic, the better. So when Roxie passed around the platter of her kufta, I took a large helping.
These must be wonderful I thought since they were made by a native from Izmir. One bite was a huge disappointment. It tasted way over spiced, nothing like mom's more subtle approach. Took another bite, then left the rest on my plate. No one noticed. Wish I could taste them today, probably would love them now.
I use ground turkey or chicken with a little fat instead of the ground lamb or beef that Armenians would have used in my childhood. I don't feel the change compromises the dish. I use as little red meat as possible, for health reasons.
Izmir Kufta (also called soutzoukakia in Greek)
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound ground turkey or chicken
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs (panko works well)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt(kosher preferred)
1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper, about 3/4 teaspoon
1 large egg
1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Two tablespoons olive oil
14.5 ounce can tomatoes,finely diced or crushed by hand
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup water
- Whisk egg lightly. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the olive oil.
- Mix well, I use my hands.
- Pat into ovals, shaped like tapered teardrops. The recipe should yield 25 to 30 little kuftas.
- Heat oil in large heavy skillet. Sauté half the kuftas at a time. 5 minutes on each side. I find them easier to turn over by taking the skillet off the heat for two or three minutes. Remove to plate and sauté second batch in the same way. Remove second batch to plate.
- Deglaze the pan. I usually use 1/4 cup water, but chicken broth or white wine works well too.
- Return all the kuftas to the pan. Mix all the tomato sauce ingredients together and add to skillet.
- Bring to slow simmer. Cover and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Check after 15 minutes to see if more water(1/4 to 1/2 cup needs to be added. Should be saucy, not dry.
Delicious with pilaffe, rice or bouglur,or with couscous. My favorite is my mom's simple bouglur pilaffe. It is whole grain wheat and very healthy.
Simple bouglur pilaffe: sauté one small finely chopped yellow onion or shallot in a tablespoon of olive oil in smallish saucepan. Add one teaspoon dried mint. Can use a tablespoon of finely chopped fresh mint,but still use a half teaspoon dried with the fresh for that certain flavor. Add 3/4 teaspoon salt, freshly ground pepper, and one cup bouglur,coarse or medium (not the fine tabouleh bouglur). Mix ingredients together over low heat a minute or so. Add two cups water, increase heat and bring to boil. Turn heat down to simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Fluff with fork and serve with the Izmir kuftas. I serve side by side, but kufta on top of pilaffe is an option.
Quick sauté of peppers
When small sweet peppers are on sale, they are a wonderful addition to the kufta
dinner. My sister-in-law Josette, an exceptional cook, makes the most wonderful peppers. She roasts small curly ones that she can find at California's farmer's markets. I can't find those peppers here in the east, so I have to rely on my local super market or Trader Joe's. I like spicy, so sometimes I throw in a few jalapeño or Fresno chilies. This is quick and easy and can go with so many meals.
One pound little peppers, red and yellow
A couple of hot peppers-optional
Two tablespoon olive oil (extra virgin works well)
Aleppo pepper, optional
1.Prepare peppers by washing,cut off tops, and take out seeds and white plup. A demitasse spoon works well. Dry off peppers on paper towel.
2.Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Add peppers carefully so you won't be splattered by the hot oil. Sauté ,stirring off an on, for about four minutes. Crispy
Is the desired result.
3.Line a platter with paper towels. Transfer the peppers to the platter,using a slotted spoon.sprinkle with sea salt. If you like a little heat add some Aleppo pepper. Discard the paper towels a serve,hot or room temperature.