You’re in for a treat with Turkish Meatball Sliders topped with either a red pepper sauce or tzatziki. Serve them up at your next cookout or game day party for an exotic change of pace.
Turkish Meatballs, or köfte, are typically made from lamb, but can be made of any type of ground meat you like. There are vegetarian versions made with eggplant, grains and even legumes. The inspiration for turning them into sliders happened when I found the rolls for sale in the local bakery. For this recipe, I formed the köfte into little burgers sized to fit the slider rolls but they are commonly formed into an oblong shape.
The two sauces complement the bold flavors of the sliders. The first, tzatziki, is one you’re probably familiar with. It has a yogurt base which is very cooling. The second is called muhammara sauce and it’s made with red peppers and walnuts. Minimal effort is required to make either sauce.
The spice blend (and the muhammara) was inspired by this article on Epicurious. It gives the Turkish meatballs an incredible garlic-y, smoky flavor. You can adjust the amounts or omit/change the blend to suit your taste. I added cinnamon as it’s used frequently in Middle Eastern cuisine. I like the little hint of sweetness it adds. It’s best to mix the spice blend first. This ensures you don’t omit anything and it’s easier to evenly distribute into the meat.
In general, we’re advised to handle ground meat as little as possible, but for Turkish Meatball Sliders you’ll want to almost knead everything together. This distributes the spices and breaks down the meat and makes the resulting köfte incredibly tender.
This recipe calls for fresh bread crumbs which adds moisture to the mix. Of course, you could use panko or whatever type of bread crumbs you have on hand. You could always add a few tablespoons of water or milk if the mix seems a little dry to you. It seems like we always have a piece of day old bread available. In this case, the crust had gotten quite hard so I just used the middle part. Some recipes call for soaking the bread crumbs in water or milk. That’s up to you. I don’t find it necessary as long as the bread is relatively soft.
- ¼ cup finely minced onion
- 2-4 cloves finely minced garlic
- 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons dried mint
- 3 tablespoons smoky paprika
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- salt and pepper to taste (1 teaspoon each is a good start)
- ½ teaspoon cayenne powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Place all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and work the mix well to ensure even distribution. (The mix should be smoother than you may be used to.)
- At this point you could test the blend by frying up a small amount and making any adjustments you like.
- If time allows, let the mix stand for at least an hour before cooking.
- Divide the mix into equal portions and form the sliders. We formed them to fit the rolls we'd bought and had some extras.
- Cook the sliders using whatever method you'd like until they're just the way you like them.
Now for the supporting cast, the tzatziki and muhammara sauces:
To make tzatziki add half a grated cucumber (no need to peel) and a clove of minced garlic to a cup of Greek style yogurt. Stir in about a couple teaspoons of dried dill leaves and season with salt and pepper. If you have fresh dill available use it. The difference in flavor is incredible.
Muhammara is a blend of roasted red peppers and walnuts. Some recipes call for pomegranate molasses (reduced pomegranate juice) others for vinegar. I used a splash of vinegar since I couldn’t find any pomegranate juice. It’s very simple to make. I used a whole pepper from a jar along with a handful of walnuts (walnuts can be very astringent, start with a small amount and add more as desired). These were pulverized with my stick blender. Then I added salt, pepper and about a tablespoon of vinegar and blended a little more. After tasting and adjusting the seasoning, we ended up with about a half cup of muhammara.
Can you imagine making muhammara with a mortar and pestle? I’m grateful for modern appliances!
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