Our Turkish friends, Selçuki and Ali, are brilliant cooks and, knowing that I’m constantly looking to enhance my knowledge, they always put food at the centre of our plans when we’re in Istanbul (I love a plan which is somewhat of a challenge for them because Turks like to act spontaneously. This is a source of general hilarity between us). Anyway, whether it’s helping to cook a private Eid dinner for 60 people or checking out local spice stores so I can replenish my pantry, the variety of experiences they invite us to take part in is a source of constant inspiration to me. But by far the best thing is watching them cook in their own kitchen – usually with icy glasses of Yeni Raki in our hands – and experiencing first hand the dishes that are dear to their hearts. This recipe is based on the beautiful bulgar wheat and lentil patties – mercimekli bulgar kofte – that they made as part of a feast to mark our arrival last April. Here, I’ve replace the lentils with cumin-roasted sweet potatoes and I’ve baked them to give them even more texture. Served with a light tahini and lemon sauce they are sublime little treats for the mezze table.
1kg sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2cm pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 tsp cumin seeds
200g medium bulgar wheat
2 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
1 tsp Lebanese 7-spice mix (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, fenugreek, black pepper and cloves)
30g fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
To serve, a handful of rocket, mint leaves and pomegranate arils (optional)
For the sauce:
4 tbsp light tahini
1 lemon, juiced
How I make it
Heat an oven to 200C.
Place the sweet potato pieces onto a large baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with cumin seeds and sea salt. Roast for 35 minutes, remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, cover the bulgar wheat with warm water and leave to soak for 20 minutes. Drain in a sieve.
Mash the sweet potato and place in a large mixing bowl. Add all the other ingredients and mix carefully. Season to your taste.
Line the baking tray with parchment paper and, with wet hands, shape the sweet potato mix into kofta shapes (or you can make them into patties to make burgers if you like). Place them on the parchment and brush with olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn them over, brush again with olive oil and bake for 10 minutes. Then turn them over again and bake for a further five minutes so that they are crisp on top.
To make the sauce, simply mix the tahini with the lemon juice and add enough warm water to get it to your desired consistency.
If using, pile the rocket on a pretty plate and place the koftas on top. Drizzle with the tahini and lemon sauce, and garnish with mint leaves and pomegranate arils.