Hye Thyme Cafe: Izmir Kufte

Welcome to the Hy
e Thyme Cafe. Although not all of my recipes are Armenian, the name is a little nod to my Armenian grandmother who is no longer with us. The Hye refers to all things related to her homeland, and she represents all things food-related to me, so the two just seemed to go together. I can't even claim that my Armenian recipes are truly Armenian, since Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, and even Egypt share so many foods that they've all sort of morphed into one over thousands of years.

Whether you like to cook, bake, have never done either, or just like to play with your food...come on in and join me! :)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Izmir Kufte

Izmir Kufte : Hye Thyme Cafe

We grew up calling these Grammy's Meatballs, and they were always one of my favorites. I love to spoon some of the sauce over my Pilaf. I mentioned yesterday that I had learned something new about this dish. Growing up eating Porov Kufte, which are a filled kufte, and Izmir Kufte, I just assumed that Porov meant filled and Izmir related to the sauce. Wrong again! (I know, "Never assume. It makes an ass out of you and me." I guess in this case it just makes a Big Ass out of me since half of you never heard of this anyhow). Turns out Izmir is a place. Specifically, it is now apparently the third largest city in Turkey.

Knowing that makes this recipe even more confusing, since one of the ingredients is Chamen, which seems to mean different things depending on where you're from. Living near Boston as a kid, I had ample access to all of the Armenian Bakeries in the Belmont/Watertown area, so Chamen was easy to come by. After moving to New Orleans and now being in New York, that is no longer the case, so when I can't get it, I use the recommended replacement of Chili Powder. Having now Googled Chamen (and it's various spellings of Chaman, Chamen, Chaimen), I'm confused!

It seems as though it was at one time a translation problem between Turks and Armenians and that to some, it is ground Fenugreek Seeds, where to others, it is a blend of spices, much like curry, used in various dishes, most notably Basturma (Pasterma), which loosely would be described as a kind of Beef Jerky. The spice blend in question is a combination of Fenugreek, Paprika, Salt, Pepper, Cumin, Red Pepper, Allspice, Garlic, and sometimes a pinch of cinnamon. According to the Handbook of Spices, Seasonings and Flavorings, Chaman is the Armenian word for Caraway, a/k/a Wild Cumin. Caraway is not mentioned in the other descriptions, and as for Cumin, in this particular application, that makes no sense, as the next ingredient is ... you go it, Cumin.

My response to all of that would be OOF!! (The Armenian exclamation of exasperation - with the OO being like in foot rather than in food). The bottom line is if you don't live near an Armenian Bakery where you can get their version of Chamen, stick with the Chili Powder. Maybe some day I'll do a side-by-side with all three versions for comparison.

My grandmother would always fry the meatballs in Crisco shortening, then bake them in the tomato sauce. That's how I have always made it until now. I was thinking about just browning them in a little olive oil and cooking them longer in the sauce. I figured that would cut down on the spattered/smoky kitchen, not to mention the fat content. Then my sister reminded me that she browns her regular meatballs in the oven anyhow, so I decided to work backwards - browned the meatballs in the oven, then finished them off on the stove in the sauce. I actually liked it better this way.

2 lb ground beef (I usually use 85% lean)
2 eggs
1/4 c seasoned dry bread crumbs
1 t cumin
2 t chamen (chili powder)
3-4 cloves minced garlic

Crisco (if frying them)
15 oz can Hunt's tomato sauce
1 can of water 
1 T tomato paste
4 T (1/2 stick) butter

Mix together the ground beef, eggs, bread crumbs, cumin, chamen (or chili powder), garlic, and a little salt and pepper until very soft. I know - anyone who has ever made a meatloaf is thinking WHAT?! We've been told forever not to over-mix the meatloaf or it will turn to lead. Fear not.  ;)

Spray a tray with PAM, roll the meat mixture into ovals (about the size of an egg - not too small since they'll shrink), and line them on the tray.  Give them all a shot of PAM and bake at 350 for about a half hour until browned.

While those are in the oven, you can get started on your sauce. In a pan large enough to accommodate all of the meatballs, bring your tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, and butter to a boil. Let it boil for about 5" to reduce, stirring every now and again, especially if you're not using a non-stick pan. When the meatballs are browned, transfer them to the pan with the sauce, along with any crispy bits left on the tray, and reduce to a simmer until cooked through.

Izmir Kufte : Hye Thyme Cafe

Serve with Pilaf and your veg of choice. Don't forget to spoon some of the sauce over your Pilaf.  ;)


  1. I grew up in germany and one of my best friends was Turkish. Her mother made a dish very similar to this one. Thanks for the post.

  2. That makes sense since Izmir is in Turkey. Now that I've been following a lot of blogs, I realize how many dishes are so similar between the different cultures. I was just browsing through a Lebanese blog and found a lot we have in common. :) I'd be curious to see your friend's version.

  3. Honestly, I don't need to worry about planning meals anymore. I'm just going to make every darn thing you put on this blog. Just yesterday I was thinking I need a good fried rice recipe, as we eat a lot of pork around here, and there you have a lovely picture right on the sidebar. I'm going to be putting Granny's meatballs on the menu next week.

    1. Awwwww! Well I'm glad you stopped by, and I hope you like the kufte and dare to try other things you might find over here in my little corner of the world. :)

    2. @in the coop. i know right??? all the food i put on our dinner table for hubs and i, is inspired by hyetheyme. truly!

  4. That sounds a delicious recipe - am tasting it now and it's inspired me to try it for lunch on Thursday: am being hosted to lunch tomorrow! Thanks very much.

    visiting as a result of the TALU link party. Hope to see you visiting my blog too sometime: you'd be very welcome indeed!

    1. That's funny, I think while you were browsing over here, I was browsing over there. :)

  5. ohhh another delicious and mouthwatering recipe from hyethyme! yum yum .. seriously i dont know why i cant perfect my meatballs. they break off when i fry them.. what do i do??? ;-(

    1. Have you tried baking them instead of frying? Maybe your crumbs or another filler, onions, etc. need to be smaller.


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