Oh, the delicious, easy, and good-for-you delights of cig kofte! This is a traditional Turkish dish that's been enjoyed for centuries. This dish is made with a blend of aromatic spices, vibrant herbs, and hearty bulgur that come together to create an irresistible flavor and a versatile, meaty texture. In this post I am going to help you make it perfectly on your first try. You will not find a better recipe!
At first glance, you may mistake it for a meat-based dish, but this version is entirely vegan. It's a perfect option for those looking to enjoy a plant-based meal without compromising on taste. Each bite of this flavorful dish is a journey to the bustling streets of Istanbul, where Çiğ Köfte is a beloved staple. You can serve it as an appetizer or snack with some acili ezme salad, or use it instead of kofta inside some hot, freshly baked pita bread and served with tahini sauce. It’s like an easier, quicker version of my recipe for vegan kofta, but with all the traditional Turkish flavors!
This recipe's star ingredient is bulgur, a type of whole wheat that's been boiled and dried before being cracked into small pieces. Mixed with fresh parsley, green onions, and spicy red pepper paste, it creates a rich and hearty base that's both filling and satisfying.
So if you're ready to embark on a very quick and satisfying culinary adventure that will make you fall deeply in love with bulgur, then let's get started on this bangin’ vegan recipe for Çiğ Köfte!
🥰Why you are going to adore the ever-loving heck outta this recipe
Cig Kofte (pronounced as "chee kofteh") is a traditional Turkish dish which is believed to have originated in the southeastern region of Turkey, specifically in the city of Urfa.
Historically, Çiğ Köfte (A.K.A. chi kofte, cif köfte, and chee kufta) was made with raw ground meat, typically beef or lamb, mixed with spices, herbs, and bulgur. However, in the 20th century, due to health concerns and a growing interest in vegetarianism and veganism, a plant-based version of the dish emerged. It’s actually one of the great vegan success stories because now the raw meat version has become pretty rare (no pun intended).
✊Vegan AF: The vegan version of Çiğ Köfte that we know and love today is made with the same blend of spices and herbs but replaces the ground beef flavor with tomato paste and red pepper paste. This plant-based version of the dish, which is also completely halal, has become increasingly popular not just in Turkey but all around the world.
🌶️Ingredients for making Cif Kofte
Turkish pepper paste
The pepper paste used in making Çiğ Köfte is referred to as "biber salçası" in Turkish. It's made by grinding red peppers into a paste, which is then mixed with salt and other spices before being sun-dried. The paste can be either hot or mild, depending on the type of pepper used, and it is an essential ingredient in many Turkish dishes like Lahana Sarma and Barbunya Pilaki.
Figure out if you like or hate spicy food, and then pick the pepper paste that you will love!
The mild version of pepper paste, "tatlı biber salçası", is typically made from a variety of sweet red peppers, such as bell peppers, that are milder in heat and sweeter in taste.
The spicy version of pepper paste, "acı biber salçası", is made from a variety of hot red peppers, such as Aleppo peppers, Urfa peppers, or Maras peppers, that are hotter and more pungent in flavor than sweet red peppers. You can make this recipe with either paste, and therefore have some control over the heat level of the finished dish.
Crushed red pepper flakes
This recipe also has a small amount of crushed red pepper flakes, because I love the flavor and texture they add. If you want to make these milder tasting, you can simply leave the pepper flakes out. It’s ok. I will not be mad at you. ❤️
Fine grade bulgur
Fine bulgur is a key ingredient in both Çiğ Köfte, Fellah Köftesi and Mercimek Kofte. It's what gives the dish its distinctive chewy texture. Bulgur is a type of cracked wheat that's been parboiled, dried, and then ground into various-sized grains. DO NOT. I repeat DO NOT use coarse bulgur for this recipe (save that for making bulgur pilavi), as it will not become tender enough from the traditional preparation method outlined here. But if you already have coarse bulgur, you can get away with using it by running it through a blender or food processor until it has the appearance of coarse grains of sand.
Similar to the tanginess of sumac, pomegranate molasses adds a sweet and tangy flavor that perfectly complements the bold spices and herbs, while adding to the meaty undertone of the finished koftas. It moistens the bulgur and binds the ingredients together, creating a rich and hearty texture. If you can't find pomegranate molasses, I am going to walk you through a simple method for making some at home.
Pomegranate molasses is made by simmering pomegranate juice with sugar and lemon juice until it reduces into a thick, syrupy consistency. Here's a simple recipe to make it at home:
- 4 cups pomegranate juice
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- In a large pot, combine the pomegranate juice, sugar, and lemon juice.
- Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the mixture simmer for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced by about two-thirds and has a thick, syrupy consistency.
- Remove from heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature.
- Pour the pomegranate molasses into a jar or bottle and store it in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
Once you've made your pomegranate molasses, you can use it in a variety of recipes, including salad dressings, marinades, and of course, in Çiğ Köfte!
See the recipe card at the bottom of this page for the complete list of ingredients and their quantities.
🤯HOLY $#!t, you can make gluten-free cig kofte?!?
The traditional recipe for cig kofte uses fine bulgur, a wheat product that contains gluten. However, you can use some gluten-free alternatives in case you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity.
One option is to use gluten-free rolled oats instead of the fine bulgur. Simply pulse the oats in a food processor until they are finely ground and have a texture similar to fine bulgur. Then, follow the rest of the recipe as usual, using the ground oats instead of the fine bulgur.
Another option is to use quinoa instead of fine bulgur. Rinse the quinoa well and cook it according to package instructions. Once cooked, let it cool and then pulse it in a food processor until it has a texture similar to fine bulgur. Use the quinoa in place of the fine bulgur in the recipe. I like to make it using red quinoa, which doesn’t taste any different but looks more similar to the bulgur version of the dish.
A great side to serve with 'em is Turkish-style runner beans.
📖How to make perfect cif kofte:
You wanna see how these yummy little nuggets get made? I gotcha. Follow this step-by-step photo guide, or just use the easy-to-print recipe card towards the bottom of this page.
Place the extra fine bulgur in a bowl and pour boiling water over it. Cover the bowl with a lid or plate and let the bulgur steam and hydrate for 15 minutes. This will ensure that the bulgur is soft and pliable for kneading.
Cover the bowl with a lid or plate and let the bulgur steam and hydrate for 15 minutes. This will ensure that the bulgur is soft and pliable for kneading.
Next, add the parsley, onions, scallions, crushed red pepper flakes, tomato paste, pepper paste, salt, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, and lemon juice.
Knead the mixture by hand for eight minutes or use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed for six minutes. This will help to fully combine all of the ingredients and create a smooth, pliable dough, because it takes some time for the onions and herbs to release their juices into the dough, and for the gluten to become activated.
Take about two tablespoons of dough at a time and press the bulgur in your fist to create the traditional Çiğ Köfte shape. Alternatively, you can round the dough between lightly oiled palms to form small oval shapes similar to kofta. I sorta like it that way, as you don't see the finger marks that some people find less attractive.
Serve the dish wrapped in lettuce leaves with lemon juice, or in a freshly grilled pita bread with shatta sauce or Turkish lentil soup. To add an extra burst of flavor, try serving with a homemade tahini or tzatziki sauce. Remember to get creative and make it your own!
I love serving cif köfte as an appetizer to a well-rounded Middle Eastern feast. Some other dishes that go really well for the rest of the meal include my Şakşuka, Moroccan Loubia, Turkish olive oil braised kereviz, yalya corbasi, or baharat roasted oyster mushroom shawarma.
Cig kofte can be spicy depending on the amount of pepper paste and crushed red pepper flakes used in the recipe. However, the level of spiciness can be adjusted to personal preference, and it is even possible to make it completely not spicy at all.
Being made out of bulgur, which is a par-cooked, cracked form of wheat, cig kofte is not gluten-free. However, it can be made gluten-free if made with cooked quinoa or pulsed gluten-free oats in place of the bulgur. The texture isn’t exactly the same, but it is still delicious.
To store the Cig kofte, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days. The koftes can be served cold or at room temperature, but if you prefer them warm, you can briefly reheat them in the microwave or oven.
It is best to store the koftes already formed, as the dough may become too soft and sticky if left for too long. If you have any leftover dough, you can store it separately in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days. Before using the leftover dough, allow it to come to room temperature and knead it briefly to restore its pliability.
❤️ my favey dishes to serve with cig kofte:
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Cig kofte (effortless Turkish çiğ köfte)
- 1 ¼ cups fine-grade bulgur
- ¾ cup boiled water
- ½ cup minced flat-leaf parsley
- ⅓ cup finely chopped onion
- 1 scallion minced
- ¾ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 4 teaspoons tatli biber salcasi
- ¾ teaspoon salt or to taste
- 4 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- Boston lettuce or bib lettuce leaves
- Lemon wedges
- Optional- freshly grilled kuboos
- Place the extra fine bulgur wheat in a bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Place a lid or plate over the bowl and allow the burger to steam and hydrate for 15 minutes.
- Add the parsley, onions, scallions crushed red pepper flakes, tomato paste, pepper paste, salt, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, and lemon juice.
- Knead the bulgur mixture for 8 minutes by hand, or 6 minutes on medium speed in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment until the bulgur forms a pliable and smooth dough.
- Working with about 2 tablespoons of dough at a time, press the burger in your fist to make the typical Çiğ Köfte form. Or round it between lightly oiled palms to form smooth small oval shapes similar to kofta, if you prefer that shape.
- Serve the traditional way wrapped in lettuce leaves with lemon juice, or in a freshly grilled pita bread with veggies and sauces of your choice. Check out my killer tahini sauce recipe or serve it with the tzatziki sauce from my kofta recipe if you like!