Cig kofte is one of the most popular and well-known Turkish dishes. They are small bulgur wheat "meatballs" (this recipe is vegan) that are traditionally served as an appetizer with lettuce leaves and lemon wedges. They are spicy, intensely flavored, and just perfect for anyone who loves Middle Eastern foods!
Cig kofte has always been one of my favorite appetizers. Whether it’s birthdays, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve, I always ask my mom to make her cig kofte as they are perfectly seasoned and intensely flavored while still being balanced and pleasing.
I actually tried many different cig kofte over the years in both Turkey and Germany. But honestly, my mom’s cig kofte is still the best I’ve ever had. So I had her make them for the blog so I can share the recipe with you.
Here’s what you can expect. Soft bulgur wheat „meatballs“ that are moderately spicy, slightly lemony, garlicky, and packed with light and fresh ingredients. Anyone who has ever tried them absolutely loved this cig kofte.
So if this sounds like something you’d enjoy, make sure to give this recipe a try! It’s really easy and the final result is absolutely delicious.
What is cig kofte?
Cig kofte (in Turkish Çiğ Köfte, pronounced chee köfte) is one of the most popular dishes in Turkey. It is a traditional dish that is either served with lettuce leaves as an appetizer or as part of a wrap for a quick meal.
There are two types of cig kofte, vegan cig kofte made with only bulgur wheat and cig kofte that are made with bulgur wheat and raw ground beef.
Back in the day, the cig kofte you’d find was mostly made with ground beef. But since health concerns with regards to the consumption of raw meat were rising, most places switched over to vegan cig kofte.
The cig kofte in this recipe is vegan. It’s the way my family has always prepared them and they truly never disappoint. You definitely won’t miss the ground beef!
To make Turkish cig kofte you’ll need the following ingredients:
- Fine bulgur wheat: There are different types of bulgur wheat, so it’s really important to pay attention to the package. You want to buy fine bulgur wheat (also called köftelik bulgur) to make cig kofte. The brand we use at home is called „Duru“. You should be able to find it in Middle Eastern grocery stores or online. Don’t try to substitute it with other types of bulgur like coarse bulgur.
- Turkish red pepper paste: Turkish red pepper paste (biber salcasi) is a must for any Turkish recipe! Please make sure to not substitute it with tomato paste. I know that there are people who use tomato paste as a substitute, but they have very different flavors. You can find Turkish red pepper paste in Middle Eastern grocery stores or online. The brand I use is called „Öncü“, but there are many great brands. Just make sure to buy „tatli“ (sweet) red pepper paste. „Aci“ (spicy) red pepper paste isn’t only spicier, it also has a different flavor.
- Turkish pul biber: Turkish pul biber is also called Aleppo pepper. You can find it in Middle Eastern grocery stores.
- Turkish isot biber: Turkish isot biber, also called Urfa biber, is a black-ish chili powder that has a very unique taste. It is commonly used in cig kofte. So I highly recommend buying some when you get your groceries. And please don’t be tempted to skip it or use other chili flakes instead. It’s super important for making the best cig kofte!
- Ground cumin: Ground cumin is another key ingredient. So definitely make sure you don’t forget to use it!
- Tomatoes: The juicier your tomatoes, the better your cig kofte will be. Just buy regular medium-sized tomatoes to make this recipe.
- Garlic: Another important ingredient is garlic! It adds a ton of flavor and is key to making flavorful cig kofte. Even my brothers who don’t like garlic at all love cig kofte the way we make them at home.
- Lemons: Lemons are a staple in Turkish cuisine. You’ll need lemon juice for some acidity and brightness. And it goes super well with the chili flakes!
- Green onion: Green onion is another important ingredient in this cig kofte recipe. Other recipes may call for regular onions. But trust me, green onions will taste amazing!
- Parsley: This dish is made with plenty of fresh parsley, so unfortunately there is no way around it. Just use regular fresh parsley to try this recipe.
How to make cig kofte
Preparing cig kofte is actually super easy! Just follow these steps and you’ll love the final result.
- Prepare the bulgur: First, add the bulgur wheat to a large mixing bowl. Pour hot water (not boiling water) over the bulgur and let it sit for 5 minutes.
- Season the bulgur: Next, add the red pepper paste, pul biber, isot biber, ground cumin, salt, and pepper. Then knead until everything is combined.
- Add the tomatoes, garlic, and lemon juice: Now add the tomatoes (including the juice), garlic, and lemon juice. Then knead until there are no tomato chunks left and everything is combined.
- Add the green onions, parsley, and oil: Next, add the green onions, parsley, and sunflower oil. Then knead again until everything is combined and the bulgur mixture is soft and can be shaped.
- Shape: Now take some of the bulgur mixture in your hand and make a fist several times until you have a small sausage-like cig kofte. Place them on a large plate.
- Serve: Serve the cig kofte with lettuce (usually you’d use iceberg lettuce) and lemon wedges. Wrap your cig kofte in a lettuce leaf and enjoy!
Unfortunately, I couldn't capture every step since my mom is super fast in the kitchen. But the pictures are hopefully still useful. 😄
Tips & Notes
Here are a few quick notes to check out before you try this recipe to make sure that your cig kofte turns out perfectly.
- Don’t skip any of the ingredients. I know that you need quite a few ingredients that you may not find in traditional grocery stores. But every single ingredient is important to make the cig kofte taste delicious, so I highly recommend getting everything from a Middle Eastern grocery store or online. The ingredients are staples in Turkish cuisine so you should be able to find them.
- Don’t worry if the bulgur is still hard in the beginning. It’s very normal that the bulgur isn’t soft after you let it soak in the water. As you add more liquids and knead as you go, the bulgur will soften. So don’t worry about it, just stick to the recipe and everything will turn out delicious!
- Knead thoroughly to soften the bulgur wheat. Especially after adding the tomatoes, you want to take your time to knead your bulgur mixture. Everything needs to be combined very well and kneaded thoroughly to make the cig kofte taste great and soft so it is enjoyable!
- Make a big batch and store the rest in your refrigerator. Since making cig kofte requires a decent amount of manual labor, I like to make a big batch so I have some in the refrigerator for the rest of the week. I then enjoy them in wraps, as part of a big lunch salad, or as part of a mezze platter.
How to serve cig kofte
I already mentioned that cig kofte is traditionally served with lettuce leaves that you wrap your cig kofte in. But there are other ways to serve this dish. Here is a list that you can choose from when you try this recipe at home.
- Lettuce leaves: This is how cig kofte is usually served at restaurants and when you are hosting dinner at home. We usually serve cig kofte after dinner with lettuce leaves and cay. But you can also enjoy them as a snack or before dinner with other sides. My family loves to use iceberg lettuce but you can use other types of lettuce, too.
- Lemon wedges: I also recommend serving lemon wedges with your cig kofte. Since everyone has different preferences when it comes to the right amount of lemon juice and acidity, they make for a great addition! That way you can place your cig kofte in a lettuce leave, drizzle some lemon juice over it, and enjoy it.
- Pomegranate molasses: Pomegranate molasses can be served as a replacement for lemon wedges and enjoyed in the same way. I personally prefer lemon, but you can try cig kofte with pomegranate molasses.
- Turkish cay: If you’re looking for a drink that you can serve, I recommend Turkish cay! If you like black tea, then it’s the perfect drink for you.
- Ayran: Another delicious drink is ayran. You can easily make it at home by mixing plain yogurt with water and some salt. It’s one of my favorite Turkish drinks and super easy to make at home!
- Raki: I’ve actually never tried raki and cig kofte. But according to my dad, it’s a fantastic combination. So if you want an alcoholic beverage, pick up a bottle of raki and enjoy it with your cig kofte.
- Lavas: Lavas is a Turkish flatbread that looks similar to wraps. There are many stores in Turkey (and Germany) that sell cig kofte in lavas or wraps with other vegetables as a type of street food. So if you’re looking for a quick meal idea, this might be great for you!
- Mezze platter: Another idea is enjoying cig kofte as part of a mezze platter. Hummus, bread, olives, vegetables, feta dip, crackers, and grapes are great additions to make a quick and delicious platter.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, it is! Depending on the region in Turkey, cig kofte is prepared differently. This is how my family that comes from the East makes them.
I’d say that anyone who likes moderately spicy foods will love this recipe. If you are unsure, you can use less pul biber and isot biber and add more in the end if you want. Since cig kofte is supposed to be spicy, this recipe has some heat. But you can adjust the amount to your preferences.
If you want to make non-vegan cig kofte with ground beef, you definitely can use this recipe. Substitute half the amount of bulgur wheat with ground beef. It’s best to add the ground beef with the tomatoes, garlic, and lemon juice. Proceed with the recipe as described in the recipe box.
Unfortunately, no. If you want to make cig kofte, I’d highly recommend sticking to the recipe. The cig kofte is seriously delicious and getting the ingredients is absolutely worth it! So check out your local Middle Eastern grocery store or an online store. They probably have all the ingredients you’ll need.
Cig kofte can be stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator for several days. I actually recommend making a big batch and having leftovers in your refrigerator. They taste just as delicious (and maybe even better) the next day. They make for a great snack or can be enjoyed as part of your lunch.
More simple and delicious Turkish recipes
If you love Turkish foods, I recommend checking out the following recipes. They are all super delicious and very easy to make.
- 6 cups köftelik/fine bulgur wheat
- 2 cups hot water not boiling water
- 1 cup Turkish "tatli" red pepper paste
- 1 tablespoon Turkish pul biber/Aleppo pepper
- 3 teaspoons Turkish Isot/Urfa biber
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 6 tomatoes finely diced, including the tomato juice
- 6 garlic cloves minced
- ¾ cup fresh lemon juice
- 8 green onions finely sliced
- 2 ¾ cup chopped parsley
- ¼ cup sunflower oil or any other neutral oil
- (iceberg) lettuce, lemon wedges for serving
- Add the fine bulgur wheat to a very large mixing bowl. Pour the hot water over the bulgur and let it soak for 5 minutes. Don't worry if the bulgur isn't soft at this point, it will be perfect in the end.
- Next, add the red pepper paste, pul biber, isot biber, ground cumin, salt, and pepper. Knead with your hands until everything is combined.
- Now add the tomatoes (including the tomato juice/water), garlic, and lemon juice. Knead again until everything is combined and there are no tomato chunks left.
- Add the green onions, parsley, and sunflower oil. Knead one last time until everything is combined and the bulgur mixture is soft.
- Now take some of the cig kofte bulgur mixture and shape it into cig kofte with your hands. It's usually done by having some of the bulgur in your hand and making a fist several times until you have a small sausage-like cig kofte.
- Place the cig kofte on a large plate. Serve them with lettuce and lemon wedges. Wrap your cig kofte in a lettuce leaf and enjoy!
- It is important to knead the bulgur mixture until it softens. It starts hard in the beginning and becomes soft and shapeable after it is kneaded long enough.
- For more tips and information, I recommend checking out the post.
I absolutely loved this appetizer when I visited Istanbul. I was always looking for a recipe to make it after I left Turkey
Hope you enjoy it! It really is one of the best appetizers. ❤️
Can you substitute bulgur with quinoa?
Unfortunately, it's not possible. But you should be able to find the right kind of bulgur in any Middle Eastern grocery store or online. Hope that helps! 😊
I have eaten similar ones in Turkey, both home made and at restaurants. Now wanted to try make them at home. Unfortunately this recipe did not work out for me. The mixture did shape it into anything, just fell apart. We ended up eating it as a salad instead. The bulgur grains still had some hard parts, which wasn’t too pleasant. Not sure where it went wrong, the only apparent “change” was I left out a few of the dry spices, as I didn’t have access to them. That should not have resulted in hard grains and dry mixture.
I misspelled. Wanted to say that the mixture did not shape into anything, it just fell apart.
Hi Maria, thank you for your comment! I just checked the post again and updated the instructions to reflect your feedback. It sounds like the bulgur mixture wasn't kneaded long enough which is why it didn't become soft. Cig kofte is traditionally prepared by kneading with your hands long enough until it becomes soft (doesn't take too much time though). Nowadys, some people prefer to use a stand mixer with a dough hook to make things easier (I have never tried it, so I'm not sure how it would turn out). I'm very sorry that the recipe didn't turn out as you had hoped. It's my mistake for not being clear enough in the post, hence the update. I hope you give it another try if you liked the flavor! 😊