Spicy çiğ köfte

Spicy çiğ köfte

Lisa Cohen and William Meppem

Raw köfte are popular around the Middle East, where they are known as kifta nayee, or kibbeh nayee when made with bulgur wheat. They are most often made with lamb, combined with finely chopped onion, spices and herbs, to make what is, in essence, an Eastern steak tartare. In Turkey, çigˇ köfte are a specialty of the south-east and we ate a wonderful spicy version in Gaziantep, which is famous for the use of hot red chillies and peppers in its cooking.

It’s essential to get really top-quality fresh meat for this dish. It is also important to chill the meat prior to use for the best results. Chopping it by hand will give a better texture, but it’s laborious. Please use a mincer not a food processor, as the latter will produce a gluggy paste. Alternatively, an accommodating butcher may mince your chosen lamb for you.

Serve the köfte with triangles of flat bread. I also like to add a dollop of strained yoghurt, although it’s not very Turkish to do so.


Quantity Ingredient
350g chilled lean lamb or beef, (from a prime cut such as the leg or rump)
4 long red chillies
2 shallots, very finely diced
2 tablespoons mint leaves, shredded
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves, shredded
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon smoky paprika
sea salt
freshly ground white pepper
2 ice cubes
4 butter lettuce leaves, washed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
lemon wedges, to serve


  1. Trim the meat of all fat, sinew and connective tissue. Roughly dice the meat and chop it by hand, or put it through a mincer twice, to achieve a smooth paste.
  2. Roast the chillies over the naked flame of your stove, or under a griller, until charred, then slip into a plastic bag to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel away the blackened skin. Split the chillies lengthwise, then scrape out the seeds and chop the flesh finely.
  3. Tip the meat into a large bowl and add the chillies, shallots, herbs and spices, then season with salt and pepper. Add the ice cubes to the bowl and mix well with clean hands. (As the ice melts it will bind everything into a very smooth, sticky paste.) Divide the paste into four and shape into balls, then refrigerate until ready to eat.
  4. To serve, arrange the lettuce leaves on four plates. Place a köfte on each and use your thumb to make an indentation on the surface. Drizzle in a scant teaspoon of the oil and serve with lemon wedges.
Middle Eastern
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