Stuffed Bulgur Shells (İçli Köfte)

I cannot describe how much I love içli köfte. It is just out of this world! Yes, it is time consuming, but it is well worth it. In Turkey, ladies get together to make it so that it doesn't take long to make. If you have friends or neighbors who also enjoy cooking, it can be a fun activity together.

If you do not feel like making the shells or if you find the shells are being stubborn and not working with you, there is a quick and easy option. You can spread half of the shell mixture on a greased pyrex dish, spread the stuffing on top and cover with the other half of the mixture pressing it with your hands. Drizzle some olive oil on top and bake at 350º until golden brown. Cut in pieces and serve warm. Most of the time, I choose the easy way to make the içli köfte, however, the stuffed shells look pleasing to the eye and more fun to eat.

For the Shell Mixture:

3 cups bulgur (finely grounded)
2 medium boiled potatoes
1 cup semolina
4 tbsp flour
2 tbsp red pepper paste
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp salt

1 cup oil for frying (or as much as it takes)

For the Stuffing:

1 lb ground beef (96% lean)
1 large onion (chopped finely)
3-4 cloves garlic
¾ cup parsley (chopped finely)
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp cumin
½ tsp black ground pepper

To Prepare the Stuffing:

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the ground beef and cook until the beef is no longer pink. Add the onions and garlic and sautee until onions are transparent. Add the salt, cumin, black pepper and the chopped parsley and mix well. Remove from heat and set aside. You can always prepare the stuffing ahead of time.

To Prepare the Shell:

Soak the bulgur in warm water in a large bowl and cover. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Mash the boiled potatoes in a separate bowl. Add all the shell mixture ingredients including the potatoes and start kneading. Have a small bowl of water handy, because you will need to dip your hands in the water while kneading. Keep kneading for 15-20 minutes (longer if necessary) until all the ingredients are mixed well and the shell mixture is soft enough to give a shape.

Below is a picture of how the end result of the shell mixture should look like.

When the shell mixture is ready, follow the instructions below to create the köftes. Below is a picture of how each step should look like:

1. Take an egg sized piece and put it in your left 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 left palm to create a thin shell (as thin as possible).

4. Fill the shell with stuffing and close gently.

5. The final shell should look smooth and intact. Make sure to wet your hands so that you can smooth the shell from the outside after you close it.

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.

Heat the oil in a large pan. When the oil is ready, add the stuffed shells and fry both sides until they take a brownish color as shown in the picture below.

Another version of these shells are boiled in water instead of being fried. However, that is only done with shell mixture that contains ground meat instead of potatoes. If you try to boil shells that are made with potatoes, the shells will dissolve in the water and you will have a soup instead of stuffed shells! The boiled shells are then served with olive oil, crushed garlic and red pepper paste mixture. You can dip the stuffed shells in the mixture and enjoy with Mediterranean salad, plain yogurt or cacık.

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