Turkish meatballs


If you're late to the party, you need to know that I have a thing for Turkey (but rarely turkey).

When you hear "Turkish meatball," you might think, "Oh, Turkey made a version of the Italian one." But it goes the other way around. Turkey, Israel and Northern Africa all had a take on meatballs before Italy got ahold of the idea - imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In Turkey and Israel, the seasoned ground meat dish is called "kofta" or some variation of that.

Most of the time, Turkish meatballs contain half ground veal and half ground lamb, but I'm going with what's easiest to find here in the U.S. of A. A classic Near Eastern spice mix beefs up the meatballs along with pine nuts.

This simple tahini sauce is a go-to for meatballs, kabobs and kebaps of all kinds for me. It's simplistic, but that's okay when your meatballs have a clever blend of spices. I try to have tahini on-hand always for sauces, yes, but also because it's key to killer hummus and baba ganoush.

This recipe makes enough meatballs for 4 hungry people. As a warning – being that it's ground up sesame seeds – the tahini sauce is very filling. 

Try pairing these meatballs with these recipes for tomato-cucumber chopped salad, marinated feta or roasted eggplant.

What you need

1 egg

1 lb ground beef

1/2 cup plain bread crumbs

2 tbsp pine nuts

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

1 tsp chili flakes

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp all spice

3 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (optional)

Tahini sauce

1/2 cup Tahini paste

1/2 cup water

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 large lemon, zest reserved for garnish

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

Paprika, to garnish (optional)

How to do it

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. 

Whisk egg in a large mixing bowl, then add the rest of the meatball ingredients. 

Using your hands, combine all of the ingredients until well-mixed, with the pine nuts and spices evenly incorporated. 

Wash hands, and, using a tablespoon, scoop meatballs into a greased baking pan, keeping at least 1 inch between each meatball.

Bake for 20 minutes.

While the meatballs bake, begin the tahini sauce. 

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together tahini paste and olive oil. Once combined, slowly drizzle water into the tahini mix, whisking continuously. Finally, stir in garlic, lemon juice and salt.

Once the meatballs are cooked, serve immediately alongside the tahini sauce topped with lemon zest and paprika.

Store meatballs in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. Tahini sauce can be stored for up to 3 days, but is best the day it's made.