Etli İçli Köfte (Stuffed Bulgur Shells with Beef)

İçli köfte is also known as “oruk” in Turkey and in the Hatay/Antakya (Antioch) region where I am from, it is called “kibbeh” a word that comes from Arabic. İçli köfte is very popular in the Middle East and each country may have a different version of it. Even within Turkey or within Hatay, there are many different versions. This recipe is the içli köfte that I grew up with which my mother makes. I have posted another recipe “Stuffed Bulgur Shells” in the past however the shells had boiled potatoes instead of meat.

Since this version includes meat in the shell, it can be boiled instead of fried. I did both this time as I like both boiled and fried but if I had to choose, I would choose the fried ones. 

As this is a very time consuming meal, it is not made often. I think it has been several years since I have made it, although the last time I ate it was 1.5 years ago when my mother was visiting for the birth of my twins. She made it for us several times and the day before she left she made quite a bit for the freezer. Although, I rarely had time to even cook the ones in the freezer after the babies, they stayed in the freezer a few months. If using a stand mixer, the time to make this decreases dramatically. My 17 month old kids loved it so much that a couple days later, I decided to make it again. I prepared two batches of the shell and the stuffing and froze them. When I want to stuff the shells, I will just remove them from the freezer one day before and just make enough for dinner.

This particular time, I prepared the stuffing and the shell one day and stuffed them another day and cooked them the day after. Preparing ahead of time will save a lot of time. Although I am a big advocate of fresh foods and not fond of freezing at all, sometimes it is inevitable due to time constraints, especially with these types of foods.

The illustrated pictures show how the shape is given; however just for fun I did a different (easier) shape for the last four köftes. I also had a little bit shell dough left over so I shaped this into small balls and boiled them and poured some of the olive oil/red pepper paste/garlic sauce to make bulgur balls. See my previous post for “Bulgur Balls with Spinach and Garlic (Sarımsaklı ve Ispanaklı Bulgur Köftesi) ”. This shell dough also can be used for this recipe.

As mentioned in my previous “Stuffed Bulgur Shells” post, an easier version of the stuffed shells can be by making it in a pan. You would spread a thin layer of the bulgur dough on a greased pan, add the stuffing and cover the top with another layer of the shell dough, drizzle with olive oil and bake it. See a couple pictures below from a while back.

I also once shaped the shells like a scoop and fried them. Then the stuffing was scooped with the shells. See a picture below from a while back. 

The other version I tried was making them in the shape of bulgur balls and fried them and added stuffing and mixed them together. Unfortunately, I do not have a picture for this but you can refer to my bulgur balls post.  So as you can see you can be creative to make these.

I would like to add that the ladies who are expert in making these, like some of the older ladies in my hometown, are able to make the shells very thin. Mine were thicker than I would like but I think I am getting better at it each time I make them.

Enjoy with "Cacık" (yogurt with garlic and cucumbers) and salad or any salad greens. As you can see in the pictures above, we had them with the onions, garlic, radishes and arugula from my little garden as well as a "Shepard Salad" and "Yogurt".
For the Shell Mixture:
3 cups red bulgur or white (fine grind)
1 lb ground beef (95% lean)
1/2 cup semolina
1/2 cup flour
2 tbsp red pepper paste
2 tsp salt
2 ½ cups cold water
2 cup oil for frying (or as much as it takes)
For the Stuffing:
1 lb ground beef (95% lean)
1 medium onion (chopped finely)
2 cloves garlic (chopped finely)
¾ cup parsley (chopped finely)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 ½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black ground pepper
For Boiled Köfte Sauce:
2 fresh stems garlic (or dried if fresh not available)
1 tbsp red pepper paste
½ cup olive oil
To Prepare the Stuffing:
Heat the oil in a pan. Add the ground beef and cook until the beef is no longer pink and releases its water. Pour out the water and add the olive oil. Stir. Add the onions and sauté until onions are transparent. Add the garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and the black pepper. Saute for a couple of minutes and turn off heat. Add the chopped parsley and stir again. Let it cool. This can be prepared one day before and refrigerated.

To Prepare the Shell:
Using Stand Mixer:
Pulse the ground beef in a food processor several times. Set aside.

Slip the flat beater attachment to the beater shaft of the stand mixer while it is still unplugged (for safety reasons). Place the bulgur, semolina, flour, red pepper paste, salt and the beef in the stand mixer bowl.

Set the speed to stir and add water gradually. Once all the ingredients get wet, set the speed to 2. Let it mix good for 4-5 minutes and then set the speed to 4. Keep adding the water gradually as the stand mixer is running. Let it run for 10 minutes.
You may need to scrape the sides of the bowl in between. The bulgur dough should get soft enough to be workable (give a shape). Cover with plastic wrap or a damp cheese cloth.
Below is a picture of how the end result of the shell mixture should look like.
Add all the shell mixture ingredients including the pulsed ground beef and 1 cup of water and start kneading. Gradually add the rest of the water while kneading. Keep kneading for 30 minutes (longer if necessary) until all the ingredients are mixed well and the bulgur dough is soft enough to give a shape. The reason for this length of time is because the bulgur is not soaked ahead of time. To reduce the kneading time, soak the bulgur in hot water for about 10-15 minutes. See previous recipe for Stuffed Bulgur Shells (İçli Köfte) .
When the shell mixture is ready, follow the instructions below to create the köftes. Below is a picture that shows how the process works starting from number 1 on the left side:
  1. Take an egg sized piece and put it in your left palm (if you’re right handed; otherwise put in your right palm). Make sure your hand is dipped in water before starting to shape the shells.
  2. Wet your right index finger and stick it into the egg sized piece and make a hole in the shell.
  3. Make a half circular movement clockwise and counter clockwise with your index finger into the shell while it is still on your palm to create a thin shell (as thin as possible).
  4. Fill the shell with stuffing and close gently.
  5. Soak your hands in the water and gently pat the köfte to make sure it is smooth and any tears are patched.
  6. The final shell should look smooth and intact.

While you are working with the shells, keep the remaining mixture covered with a damp cloth. As the mixture tends to dry out, make sure you roll each ball in your hands (make sure your hands are dipped in water) before shaping the shells.

If for some reason the bulgur dough is too soft and cannot be shaped, add some flour and that should solve the problem.
For Frying:
Heat the oil in a large pan. When the oil is hot, add the stuffed shells and fry both sides until they take a brownish color as shown in the picture below. This should take only a few minutes.
For Boiling:
Boil half of a large pot of water. Once the water boils, gently add several köftes depending on the size of the pot. Let them boil for 5 minutes. Remove gently. Drain and place in a serving platter.
Sauce for Boiled Köfte:
Chop the garlic if using fresh stems. If using dried, crush them. Mix the garlic, red pepper paste and olive oil until all ingredients are integrated.

Drizzle over the köftes. Also serve the sauce with the köftes.  Drizzle the sauce over the stuffing in the köfte with a small spoon after each bite.


Labels: , ,