Turkish Lamb Meatballs with Rhubarb

Turkish Lamb Meatballs with Rhubarb

Istanbul spans two continents, separated by the blustery Bosphorus. I’m sure you knew that already. Apparently tourists are often reluctant to cross over from the European to the Asian side, which is weird, because you can do it on a boat and boat rides are fun. Also, why on earth would you miss an opportunity to travel between continents in the space of half an hour-ish? I think I possibly liked the Asian side more than the European, actually. Or maybe I liked them the same. Or perhaps I liked the European more. Argh! It’s such an exciting city.

Anyway, this recipe was inspired by a restaurant on the Asian side called Çiya which, like Çukur Meyhane, had a few dishes on the menu that jumped out at me as being things I absolutely had to eat. There are three branches of Çiya, and to quote Rebecca Seal who kindly gave me lots of excellent recommendations, ‘you want the one that does more than just kebabs’. We sat outside, blinking in the high, bright sunshine on a wobbly table set on a steep cobbled street. Service is rapid and brusque; before we knew it silver dishes clattered onto the table. The mezze appears to be self-served from a buffet inside the restaurant, which I didn’t realise until we’d eaten our main courses. No booze either but it was worth the visit for this dish alone – rich, sweet meatballs, cooked with soft, gently acidic plums.

Ciya Meatballs with Plums

Original dish with plums at Çiya, Istanbul

I wanted to re-create the dish and rhubarb seemed like an interesting seasonal variation. The meatballs are rich with Turkish chilli paste, which turns the oil bright amber as they cook, and those Urfa Turkish chilli flakes are so small and dark they look like slate chippings. The sauce is heady, sweet and sour with pomegranate molasses and of course, the rhubarb.

Turkish Lamb Meatballs with Rhubarb


This was perfect served with saffron rice and a dollop of yoghurt. The only thing missing was the sun (pissing rain outside, naturally) and the opportunity to amble over to the bar opposite for a cheeky raki and a tooth-achingly sweet noodle dish with cheese in the middle.

Turkish Lamb Meatballs with Rhubarb

(makes approx 25 meatballs)

500g minced lamb
1 smallish onion, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Generous tablespoon Turkish pepper paste (biber salcasi)
1 tablespoon Urfa chilli
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 slice bread soaked with water until completely wet, then excess water squeezed out

For the sauce

2 sticks rhubarb (approx 350g), cut into evenly sized chunks
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
2 cardamom pods, crushed lightly
Generous splash white wine (in the past I’ve used water, stock and once even ginger kombucha – don’t laugh)
1 tablespoon caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Greek yoghurt, to serve

Make the meatballs by combining the lamb mince, onion, garlic, Turkish pepper paste, Urfa chilli, cinnamon, bread and some salt in a bowl. Mix really well using your hands, then shape into 25 balls. Heat a large frying pan (you won’t need oil as the lamb is fatty). Fry the balls in batches, about 5 or 6 at a time, until browned, then set aside.

De-glaze the pan with a good glug of the wine. Add the rhubarb, cardamom pods (crush them a bit), pomegranate molasses, sugar, ginger and some salt. Add a generous splash of water, bring to a simmer, put the lid on and cook for 8 minutes or until the rhubarb is completely soft. Return the meatballs to the pan and cook for a further 8-10 minutes with the lid on. Serve with bread or rice and yoghurt.

Istanbul Cat

Istanbul cat picture…seems to have become standard practice

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  • Avatar
    Reply Paul May 12, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Looks ACES! Do you think you can whip up a recipe for the noodle cheese thing??? Would love to give that a go as well.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 12, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      I don’t see why not. Since you’ve specifically requested it n all…

  • Avatar
    Reply Paul May 12, 2014 at 1:49 pm



    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 12, 2014 at 1:51 pm

      On it. On. It.

  • Avatar
    Reply Hungry May 12, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    Those meatballs look/sound lush!

    On that supersweet noodley-cheese thing. It’s called Kunefe (?) or something. I had it a few times when i was in istanbul last year.. not exactly because i loved it, just because it was so… odd.. Crispy, baklava-y vermicelli, soaked in supersweet syrup, with melty salty cheese in the middle and honey on the top. Oddly moreish, though I always ate it with a puzzled look on my face..

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 12, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      Yeah that’s it! I had written it down somewhere, but forgot to look. Recipe coming soon…

  • Avatar
    Reply Food Urchin May 13, 2014 at 8:09 am

    Of course I knew that Istanbul spans two continents, separated by the blustery Bosphorus. What do you think I am? Dumb or something?

    But nice dish Helen and nifty use of the ‘barb there, I like it a lot.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 13, 2014 at 8:52 am

      Weeelll I didn’t want to say Danny…

  • Avatar
    Reply One Handed Toast May 13, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Oh my God! This is too much! Even that cat looks good enough to eat!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen May 13, 2014 at 10:26 am

      THE CAT?!!! Woah, woah, woah…

  • Avatar
    Reply Esmanur Istanbul May 19, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks for mentioned or lovely Istanbul! Ciao from Bursa!

  • Avatar
    Reply Linda May 29, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    Looks and sounds amazing. I do love lamb. I also love the cat. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen June 1, 2014 at 6:50 am

      Thanks. Do let me know if you try it.

  • Avatar
    Reply Jas June 1, 2014 at 1:50 am

    Amazing recipe – so tasty! I swapped the rhubarb for mango powder and it was phenomenal too with Greek yoghurt…new fave!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen June 1, 2014 at 6:50 am

      Fabulous! Ah yes I should have said I served yoghurt on the side – forgot about that! I think it was essential. So pleased you liked it.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen June 1, 2014 at 6:51 am

      Thanks! Do let me know if you try it.

  • Avatar
    Reply Aaron June 9, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    These look delish! I was in Istanbul a couple of months ago and had a great meal in Ciya. Don’t miss the mezze next time – you help yourself from the buffet and they weigh the plate to work out how much you have to pay.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen June 9, 2014 at 1:53 pm

      I won’t! Was very annoying.

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