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Aug 19, 2014
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WINE WITH…Turkish Meatballs Baked in Tomato Sauce

We’ve never forgotten the amazing aromas of Istanbul’s famous Spice Bazaar. It’s been years since we spent a little time (not nearly enough!) in Turkey, but the delicious memory of the aromatic cacophony that hits you as soon as you step into the bazaar still haunts us still. Every now and then, we try to recapture at least a hint of that sensory experience by cooking something generously spiked with Turkish spices. Among the most prevalent are mint, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and paprika. And one of the best ways to showcase this treasure chest of flavors is via the humble meatball (kofte).

While kofte come in all sizes and shapes, we particularly like them formed into smallish balls and simmered in tomato sauce (without the sauce these can be delicious little bites to serve with drinks before dinner). The meatballs can first be browned in a skillet on top of the stove, but we find that baking them in a hot oven is faster and less messy.

Turkish Meatballs Baked in Tomato Sauce

Serves 6

For the Meatballs:

About 1 pound each ground lamb and ground beef

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 egg

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup minced parsley

¼ cup minced fresh mint leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried mint)

1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or cayenne or red pepper flakes to taste)


For the Tomato Sauce:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 28-ounce can whole or diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 quarter cup minced parsley

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°.

To make the meatballs, mix together in a large bowl the meats and remaining ingredients. Form the mixture into small balls (roughly golf-ball size). Arrange them in a single layer in a sided baking sheet or shallow roasting pan, preferably on a rack. Bake them until they are nicely browned (about 30 minutes). They may be made ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to use.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the onions and cook over medium heat until they have softened. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, about 30 minutes. When the mixture is cool enough to handle, purée it in a blender or food processor, then return it to the pan. Arrange the meatballs in a single layer on top of the sauce. Cover the pan and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the meatballs are thoroughly warmed though.

* * *

Whether served by themselves or over a bed of rice or pasta, these kofte definitely call for red wine, and preferably a red one with a relatively high level of acidity. This rules out many if not most California wines, as they are too soft and lush, without enough “bite” to pair well with the spicy tomato sauce. Of the eleven wines we tried, we are recommending two from the Golden State, but they both pay obvious homage to European models. Whatever you choose, look for a wine that has a firm structure and well-defined vivacity. This is one time when opulence is not desirable.

More recipes and wine pairings:    Wine With...  
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Approx. Price


Bonny Doon Vineyard, Central Coast (California) “Le Cigare Volant” 2009)


Randall Graham’s version of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this wine has secondary flavors that resemble dried herbs, tar, and pipe tobacco. Those notes, more than its plum-like fruit, are what made it a good match for this dish.

Famille Perrin, Côtes-du-Rhône (France) “Coudoulet de Beaucastel” 2011

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


Perhaps the most lauded Côtes-du-Rhône on the market today, this current vintage of “Coudoulet” is simultaneously earthy and bright—a paradoxical but also delectable combination.

Garzón, (Uruguay) Tannat 2012

(Imported by Blends)


A powerful wine, with firm tannins and deep, satisfying flavors, this Tannat is full of character. Though rich on the palate, it also is extremely well-structured, so always in balance. We loved it, both on its own and with our kofte.

Lee Family Farm, Arroyo Seco (California) Tempranillo 2012


A California version of Rioja, without the overt American oak (so no dill or pickle-like aromas), this is a medium-weight red that initially feels lithe but gains force in the finish. Its bright acidity enables it to seem lively, and made it a fine partner for our Turkish meatballs.

Massolino, Langhe (Italy) Nebbiolo 2011

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


Light in color, with a perfumed floral bouquet and vivid flavors, this wine has plenty of tight tannin in the finish, giving it balance and structure. It might be a bit too young to drink by itself, but it married very well with this dish. Still, we’d advise decanting it before dinner.