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Turkish meat balls with aubergine puree

January 24, 2011

Turkish meatballs with aubergine puree

Poor old Turkey.  Is there any more maligned food than the infamous doner kebab?  How did the diverse and eclectic range of food from this country become distilled into a questionable piece of meat that is often consumed in the early hours of the morning after a night out on the town (and more than a few to drink)?  Where we live, here in Dubai, shawarma places abound and they are usually absolutely delicious.  It’s the same concept but somehow the meat is tasty and succulent, the tahini gives an earthiness, the fresh salad balance and, on request, hot sauce a spicy kick.  A rose by any other name?

Compare this with the famous culinary export that it arguably knocked off pole position – Turkish Delight.  Legends abound about how it was invented, over 250 years ago, from the efforts of a Sultan to tempt his mistress to the rivalry of chefs in the royal court.  It gained favour in the West in the 19th century.  It appears in Charles Dicken’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood as ‘lumps of delight’.  It is the irresistible treat that Edmond succumbs to in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Pablo Picasso, consumed a fair amount, regarding it as an aide to his concentration while Winston Churchill and Napoleon gorged on pistachio-filled Turkish Delight.

Meatballs frying

Why would I like to visit Turkey?  To browse the souks and visit the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, to bathe in the dramatic thermal pools at Pamukkale, to marvel at the rock formations in the Goreme National Park and the stark beauty of Lake Van, for a combined trekking and sailing trip along the Mediterranean coast, to add Ephesus to my insatiable demand for incredible Middle Eastern Roman ruins, to visit the beautiful castle at Mamure Kalesi with its Roman, Crusader and Ottoman past and the Sumela monastery.  In a nutshell to see the history and influence of many cultures and enjoy the extremes of natural beauty that this diverse land has to offer.

And that just about sums up Turkish cuisine which combines the best produce of land and sea with cooking traditions that have roots in Central Asia, nomadic lifestyle, the Ottoman and Byzantines empires, Persia and Greece.

Claudia Roden is one of my cooking idols and a renowned historian of Middle East food. I found Turkish recipes in A New Book of Middle Eastern Food but also in Mediterranean Cookery.


Maybe one thing unites this country, culture and cuisine – the aubergine.  A staple of Turkish cooking it can be found stuffed as the legendary imam biyaldi (the Iman fainted), cooked simply in a tomato sauce or a complement to sumptuous meat dishes.

My daughter described these meatballs as ‘like moussaka but with the aubergine on the outside’.  The aubergine is blackened on (or under) the grill to make the flesh soft and smoky.  It’s then combined with soft, sweet onions and tomato to make quite a thick sauce.  The meatballs are Arabic-style, minced to a smooth paste with spices.  It is very filling and this recipe makes enough for 8 if served with rice.

There are many Turkish food writers who share fabulous recipes via their blogs including Almost Turkish recipes which I’m going to be visiting often.  I was going to mention Mrs Ergul Cooks but her site seems to have disappeared.  I made her delicious Turkish pide (bread) in June.  I also found a version of this meatball recipe on one of my favourite sites Foodbridge (after I had made Claudia’s version) – it’s worth bookmarking for Sarah’s intelligent food writing alone and she gives a good explanation of how to choose your aubergine (did you know they have a belly-button?!).

Binnur’s Turkish CookbookMy Turkish Kitchen, Hayriye’s Turkish Food and Recipes and Turkish Cuisine are also good sources.

I ‘visited’ Turkey as part of Foodalogues’ Culinary Tour around the world.  Joan has taken us to Panama, Alaska and next we are off to Japan. Visit Foodalogue for a round-up of other recipes inspired by this virtual visit to Turkey.

Turkish meat balls with an aubergine purée (adapted from a recipe by Claudia Roden)


4-6 aubergines (depending on size)
1 kg minced beef or lamb
2 eggs
3 tablespoons of dried white breadcrumbs
1 1/2 heaped teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 bunch of parsley, chopped

1 small chilli, chopped
salt and black pepper
About 3 tablespoons oil
1 large onion, sliced

2-3 tablespoons tomato concentrate

Grill the aubergines over a gas flame (line the cooker top with foil first), under a hot grill or over a barbecue.  The first way is quickest.  The skins should blacken and blister away from the flesh.  Leave to cool then strip the skin away removing all the blackened bits.  Squeeze  out the juices and leave to drain in a colander.  Mash with a fork or blitz in a processor.

Put all the minced meat, eggs, breadcrumbs, parsley, chilli, cumin, allspice, salt and pepper into a food processor and whizz until fairly smooth (alternatively knead by hand to a very smooth mixture). Roll the mixture into little balls, toss in flour and fry in oil until they are browned all over and cooked through (a moderate heat).  Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

In the same oil, fry the onion until soft and golden, then add the aubergine puree and tomato paste, season to taste and cook for another 10 minutes.  Drop in the meat balls adding a little water if the mixture is very thick.  Simmer for another 10 minutes.  Serve with plain rice or bread and one or two salads.

I’d love to hear about your memories of Turkey or any must-try recipes from there.

  1. January 24, 2011 10:59 pm

    Wow…this sounds delicious and definitely something I want to try! There’s just enough uniqueness in the preparation and presentation of this dish to properly entice me into cooking it up soon. Thank you for continuing the journey and bringing your storytelling and experiences to our readers.

  2. January 24, 2011 11:03 pm

    Thanks Joan – our inspiring tour leader. Loved your imam bayildi.

  3. January 24, 2011 11:21 pm

    My parents were in Turkey last year and they brought me a huge bag with dates, spices and the best baklava I’ve ever tasted. Didn’t know that the turkish delight (lokum) is so popular.
    One of my favourite turkish blogs is
    I think you’ll like it.

    • January 25, 2011 9:52 am

      What a great blog find Silvia – thanks so much.

  4. January 25, 2011 1:45 am

    Turkey is a multi colour and culture country that keeps having a great appeal on greeks; we have so many things in common and among them is food of course! So, next time I suggest you try cooking “Hünkar Beğendi” (literally: admired by the sultan), which is a traditional dish prepared of crunchy lamb on a bed of mashed eggplants -just to keep the aubergines’ series!

    By the way, a very good turkish blog is

    • January 25, 2011 6:51 am

      I like the sound of the crunchy lamb Artemis. I agree with your recommendation about Almost Turkish – there’s a stuffed cabbage recipe that I must try this week.

  5. January 25, 2011 4:19 am

    Sounds delicious – I know what I’m cooking for dinner tonight. Inspiring writing and so much more than a food blog – you’ve taken us on a magical journey.
    Thank you.

    • January 25, 2011 6:52 am

      Thanks for a really nice comment. If you like garlic I might add some to the meatballs too. Let me know what you think of the recipe if you try it.

  6. January 25, 2011 9:23 am

    What a fabulous recipe. I love the idea of the aubergine puree with the meatballs – fabulous.
    🙂 Mandy

  7. January 25, 2011 9:48 am

    Sally, these look divine. I’ve only been in the Middle East about a week and am already completely enamored of the regional cuisine, especially anything with aubergine (we call them eggplants in the US, but aubergine is such a prettier word!). I just got a copy of Claudia Roden’s book, glad to hear you recommend it as well!

    • January 25, 2011 9:59 am

      That book was given to me 16 years ago by my Mother when I left for the Middle East – when Claudia was here a couple of years ago she signed it for me. Constant favourites are lentil soup, meatballs in tomato sauce and stuffed veg…but I could go on and on!

  8. January 25, 2011 9:48 am

    hi sally dont eat meat so cannot drool over turkish meatballs, but i love the cutlery 😀

    • January 25, 2011 10:00 am

      Shhh – don’t tell anyone…the cutlery is from Lebanon!

  9. January 25, 2011 9:48 am

    I was not very familiar with Turkish culture or food n cooking until a couple days back when I met a new friend who hails from Turkey and she told me so much about the country and culture. And today saw this post of yours! Will HAVE to try it now 🙂

    • January 25, 2011 10:01 am

      We tend to lump the Middle East together in terms of food (hummous and tabouleh!) but each country has so much to explore. I’m going to try more Turkish recipes too.

  10. January 25, 2011 10:41 am

    Utterly gorgeous Sally! Where did you get those lovely Turkish cutlery anyway?

    • January 25, 2011 11:52 am

      Whoops – must confess it’s from Lebanon (given to me as a leaving gift in Saudi Arabia)

  11. January 25, 2011 11:23 am

    I was in Turkey recently and absolutely fell in love the cuisine. Though many of the things are similar to Middle Eastern cuisine ( I live in Kuwait!), but it has a distinct and special food. The baklava even though ample here, the best one I ever ate was in Turkey. Have you tried Manti? So will see manti being served every where in Turkey, its a very special, but delicious work of labor ! So glad to have found a blogger from Middle East – I often feel there aren’t enough 🙂

    Love this recipe!

    • January 25, 2011 11:56 am

      I share your love of Middle Eastern food Kulsum (your blog is so bright and vibrant by the way). We’re discovering so many food bloggers here in the UAE (I’ve been to Kuwait but didn’t eat local – shame).

  12. January 25, 2011 12:03 pm

    I love Turkish Food! This looks delicious. I found a great little Turkish restaurant in Barsha, on the same street as 800 Pizza. I can’t remember the name of the place…. You should try it some time!

    • January 25, 2011 12:09 pm

      So does my Hubs – thanks – I must take him there.

  13. January 25, 2011 12:40 pm

    Lovely post! Beautiful photos. Charming story written with much affection while giving a very informative lesson.

    Bon apetit!

  14. January 25, 2011 5:54 pm

    looks delicious! I’ll try it next weekend. lovely greetings

  15. January 25, 2011 7:57 pm

    Sally….I’m loving that first photo of yours…and as with everyone else, love the cutlery. So beautifully presented and such a welll thought out and written post. As always!

    • January 26, 2011 9:38 am

      Thanks Sukaina and Kari – your nice comments mean a lot.

  16. January 26, 2011 12:21 am

    This looks absolutely delicious! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  17. January 26, 2011 12:38 am

    how creative .. to add eggplant in meatballs.. sounds fantastic.. im going to try this one soon. have a great day:)

  18. January 26, 2011 1:49 am

    This is very much like a Greek dish. I love all these flavors and are of course familiar. Greece and Turkey are neighbors after all. It seems like you enjoyed your culinary tour to Turkey. Your meatballs look amazing!

  19. January 26, 2011 7:06 am

    I went to Greece for a month last year and totally loved it, and a visit to Turkey has always been on my bucket list. If this amazing dish is anything to go by, that visit just got bumped a couple of places higher up on the list. This looks absolutely wonderful, and thank you also for including so many other wonderful and interesting links in your post as well.
    P.S. I’m so thrilled that you get our honey there in Dubai.
    Sue 🙂

    • January 26, 2011 9:36 am

      @couscous and consciousness and @My Little Expat Kitchen – it’s been interesting to see the similarities and also the differences between the Greek and Turkish cuisines.
      Lovely honey!

  20. January 26, 2011 12:41 pm

    These meatballs look yum.Me n my husband love to eat at mediterranean rest all the time..guess its time to kick off cooking at home.Thanks for the step by step recipe.We went to Istanbul for our honeymoon so I love all Turkush things:)

  21. January 26, 2011 8:38 pm

    I loves the way you explain your receipe…so simple and inviting…Is also interesting how you grilled the aubergines, in Italy we say “al cartoccio”. Gorgeous recipe!

    • January 27, 2011 6:49 am

      Some people say you must pierce the aubergines or they explode! Thanks for sharing some of la bella lingua – wish I could speak more of it.

  22. January 26, 2011 8:42 pm

    …and sorry for my..bad English!

  23. January 27, 2011 2:48 am

    I am a veggie, but I think this aubergine purée is a very good basis for all kinds of vegetarian phantasies 🙂 I can imagine falafals or just plain pita bread would be lovely with it.
    Thanks for this interesting post and yes, your Libanese cutlery is divine 🙂

  24. January 27, 2011 9:17 am

    That smoked aubergine sounds awesome. I received a beautiful turkish cookbook for Christmas, but I still haven’t cooked from it. Everything looks so delicious! Thanks for the recipe.

  25. January 27, 2011 10:49 am

    This is a very unique dish will all the diverse Turkish flavours rolled into one little ball.

  26. marc helliwell permalink
    January 27, 2011 1:57 pm

    …. looks yummy!! I’m definetely going to give it a go! (& tell Stavros at Marmaris on Pulteney Bridge!!) Keep it up SAl… (your photography??)

  27. February 24, 2011 3:10 pm

    A great read + a delicious sounding dish………Thanks!


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