We first came across çiğ köfte while traveling in Lubeck, Germany earlier this year. We found a small vegan shop called Vegana and figured we might as well check it out. Without a common language to speak, we pointed to a picture on the wall, not knowing what we had ordered. We then found ourselves with a massive platter of a spicy reddish bulgar mixture molded into small patties. The bulgar mixture was served alongside fresh mint, parsley, slices of lemon, sliced cucumber and tomato, lettuce, a tangy brown sauce, and paper-thin flat bread.
We proceeded to construct our own wraps, carefully layering all of the above ingredients. It was a perfect combination of flavors. The spicy bulgar complemented the bitter parsley and mint, the tangy lemon, and the sweet dipping sauce. I was instantly a huge fan, though I didn’t have the slightest idea of what was in the bulgar mixture.
Fast forward a few months to our arrival in Istanbul. We literally stumbled upon Çiğköftemutfagi and quickly recognized the unique bulgar mixture and all the fixings as we had seen in Lubeck. It’s difficult to find the exact address online, but I have marked the location here on Google Maps.
It turns out that çiğ köfte has a rather interesting history. It’s traditionally made from raw meat and is served as an appetizer. Some say that it’s comparable to beef tartare. Not so vegan, huh?! This raw meat concoction consists of ground meat (beef or lamb) mixed with bulgur, herbs and spices. Depending on the preference of the chef, other ingredients, such as tomato sauce, mild onions, scallions, parsley, mint, and green pepper are sometimes added. When made with raw meat, some claim that the spices will help to “cure” the meat. I can’t say I’m so convinced!
Thanks to food safety regulations, the raw meat version of çiğ köfte is not sold in Turkey. Instead, a vegan version of çiğ köfte has become the most common alternative in Turkey’s çiğ köfte fast food restaurants. In place of meat, shops will use ground walnuts to mimic the consistency of raw meat. I love the texture and nutty flavor that results from the ground walnuts; it matches perfectly with the spiciness of the mixture which comes from isot, a dark, almost blackish paprika.
I haven’t been able to locate a recipe for vegan çiğ köfte, but I look forward to experimenting as soon as I’m back in my own kitchen. It seems like a perfect concoction that would work really well in sandwiches, salads, veggies burgers, and noodle dishes. The possibilities are endless. I just need to figure out the right ratios of ingredients to achieve that delicious, spicy and nutty çiğ köfte that we enjoyed in Lubeck and Istanbul.
Oh, and if you’re a fan of fresh pomegranate juice, Çiğköftemutfagi has a juicing stand set up outside of the restaurant. The juice is made to order using an old fashioned manual juice press.