Bulgur Balls with Spinach and Garlic (Sarımsaklı ve Ispanaklı Bulgur Köftesi)

One of my favorite snacks/appetizers is the bulgur balls with spinach and garlic. These bulgur balls have numerous names. The funny thing is that I did not know the name until I started to write the recipe and begin to think about its name. I grew up with this food, no question about it, but I had no idea what it was called. In my internet search, I found out that it can be called ‘Fellah Köftesi’, ‘Sarımsaklı Köfte’ and some other names. I have to emphasize the spinach and garlic in it, hence I am calling it ‘Sarımsaklı ve Ispanaklı Bulgur Köftesi’ meaning ‘Bulgur Balls with Spinach and Garlic’. To me, that is the most reasonable way of describing it. This dish is mainly known in Southern provinces of Turkey such as Hatay, Adana and Mersin. I would not be surprised if it is also known in Gaziantep and other Southeastern provinces where a very rich variety of food exists.

Instead of spinach, you may also use green beans with red pepper paste sauce. Bulgur balls with tomato sauce and garlic are also very popular. I will start with this as it is my favorite one and will continue with other versions of this recipe at later dates.

In Turkey, generally, this recipe is made in get-togethers and ladies tea parties. Usually, one person does not sit and make the whole thing; it’s a collaborative effort where a few friends or neighbors get together to make it. As you may imagine, rolling every single of these balls can be pretty time consuming if you are making them in large amounts. Having help does allow these bulgur balls to be rolled in no time. Back home in Turkey, these are made in large quantities and shared with neighbors and friends.

The last time I ate this at home was two years ago as a result of my request. Every year when I visit home, my mother would ask for my wish list. What would I like to eat? She certainly prepares my favorite foods first, such as İçli Köfte (Stuffed Bulgur Balls) just before I arrive and just before I leave. My mom never allows me to cook or even help her while I am on vacation as she sees it more like work rather than enjoyment (I am sure most moms are the same). Only if she knew... :) Even though I have shared my blog with her, she probably still does not believe I am able to cook all this food as I had no culinary interests when I was living at home. I guess since I have no access to my mom’s food, I kind of had to learn myself. Although, I never have time to cook there anyway as a result of travel, the beach, catching up with family, friends and relatives.

Before I get off the subject, one day during my vacation, my mother in law was visiting. My mother had asked me what I wanted to eat earlier. I had mentioned that I was craving bulgur balls with spinach and garlic. She was surprised as she thought I came all the way from America and I want to eat bulgur balls with spinach and garlic? She was making every effort to prepare the fanciest, the best food she could think of during my short visits. My mother in law is also one that makes every effort to make the best meal possible and almost forces me to eat more and more. She either thinks I need to gain some weight or that I should be crazy not to stuff myself with all this food that I cannot find in the States. No wonder why after we finish our meal and slow down, they (women in the area I grew up) start complaining about their weight and half of the conversation goes about how to lose weight ... Then, they try to figure out why they gain weight; most of the time the conclusion amazingly would be that their weight gain occurs due to ‘water’ or/and ‘air’! ‘Water’, because they drink too much water and ‘air’ because they swallow air which “causes” them to look inflated than they actually are! Eventually, reality sinks in and they realize that it is really not ‘air’ or ‘water’ that causes the weight gain but the amount of food they eat. :)

Of course, their intention with insisting on eating lots of food is certainly a good one since in Turkish culture, food is a big part of hospitality. With an enormous pleasure, they will cook a feast for their guests and would probably get offended if you do not eat. I think it would be very difficult to stay very slim in Turkey as guests come and go daily and when there are guests, many types of snacks/foods are served. The guests are joined by the host in eating; otherwise it would be impolite.

I know I am going off track here… Back to the bulgur balls... My mother in law and my mom started to make the bulgur balls together. Half of the mixture was made with spinach and the other half with green beans. They finished quickly and we had it for lunch that day.

I decided to try to make it here by myself, since I do not cook in large quantities unless I have company. This is the result of my recipe and both my husband and I were pleased with the result.

For the Bulgur Balls:

2 cups bulgur (fine grind)
1 cup flour
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp red pepper paste
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 cup hot water

For the Spinach Mixture:

2 bunches fresh spinach
3 garlic cloves (chopped)
½ cup olive oil
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt (adjust to your taste)

Ttriple wash the spinach. Let the spinach soak in a big pot or bowl filled with cold water. Wash each leaf of spinach individually if you do not like to have any kind of dirt on them. I wash them individually and then soak them in cold water and drain them three times.

Put the spinach leaves in a large pot full of boiling water. If you have a pot that comes with colander (usually used for cooking pasta), that will make boiling the spinach easier. Cook for two minutes and remove the colander from the pot. If you use a regular pot, just pour the contents of the pot into a colander. Place the colander under cold water so the spinach stops cooking. Let them drain.

In the mean time, prepare the bulgur balls. Place the bulgur in a large shallow bowl. Pour the hot water and mix to make sure all the bulgur is soaked. Cover with a plate or plastic wrap and let sit for 20 minutes until the bulgur is soft.

Add all the other ingredients to make the bulgur balls. Knead for 10 minutes. You will need to dip your hand in water while kneading so have a bowl full of water ready. The bulgur balls will dry easily and that is why soaking the hand is necessary when kneading.

You may also use a stand mixer to mix the ingredients for the bulgur balls. Combine all the bulgur ball ingredients in the bowl of the stand mixer and using the flat beater attachment, mix the ingredients for the bulgur for a few minutes on speeds 2 and 4 respectively. Do not add any of the ingredients for the spinach mixture.

Once the bulgur is soft enough and ready to be shaped, dip your hands in the water, pull a small amount of the bulgur in the size of a quarter, roll it and give it a gentle punch with your finger. See picture.

Fill half of a large pot with water and boil. Add the bulgur balls and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. Cool the bulgur balls.

Since the bulgur balls are ready, now it is time to prepare the spinach mixture. Squeeze the spinach to let out the water it holds. I usually create large balls of spinach and squeeze them until all the water is drained. Give the spinach a coarse chop. Place the spinach in a large bowl and add all the ingredients listed above for the spinach mixture. Mix well so that the salt and the seasonings are evenly distributed.

Add this mixture to the cooled bulgur balls and mix again so that the spinach mixture and the bulgur balls are married together.

Serve at room temperature along with cold yogurt.

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