A classic Middle Eastern dish, Sini Kofte (Turkish) or Kibbeh bil Sanieh (Lebanese) is a layered, baked kofte. It features a beef and bulgur mixture as the base and topping, and a cooked ground beef mixture as the filling. It’s considerably easy to make, and is excellent for entertaining guests, as it can be make ahead and reheated.
Growing up in an Armenian-American household, most of my comfort foods are not the typical dishes one expects. An ingredient that is used a lot in my family is bulgur, or cracked wheat. Many people, even in America, have first experienced this in tabbouleh, a bulgur and herb salad. Tabbouleh is becoming more and more popular outside of the Middle East, and thus bulgur is becoming more well-known. With that said, there are so many other wonderful dishes that utilize this ingredient. One of my favorites (and actually one that is quite easy) is sini kofte.
What is Sini Kofte or Kibbeh bil Sanieh?
In Turkish, sini means “pan” and kofte means “meatball.” The term kofte is easily used to describe dishes that are not formed into ball shapes, so it can apply here as well. Sini kofte is made with meat pressed flat in a pan. Taking it one step further, it’s basically the pan version of ishli or içli kofte.
Ishli Kofte was one of my favorite dishes growing up. It’s very time consuming and requires a lot of skill to make properly. You make it by combing bulgur wheat with finely ground beef, flattening a bit in your palm, topping with cooked ground beef, and wrapping the bulgur mixture around the filling to create a large ball. It’s then boiled and served with lemon wedges. Sini kofte features all the same flavors in a much easier to assemble recipe.
You also don’t need to get special beef for the sini kofte that would be required for chi kofte or ishli kofte. Standard ground beef works perfectly for both the filling and the exterior layers. Some people like to use the leaner beef (or even lamb) for the exterior layers of this dish as well. It simply yields a slightly different texture, but it’s up to you. Some include pine nuts in their gheyma, while others do not. Others also cut their sini kofte into diamonds instead of squares. That probably more traditional, but my family has simplified things with basic squares. It all tastes the same so do whichever way you like 🙂
How to make Sini Kofte
The first step to make sini kofte is to make the gheyma, or cooked ground beef. Melt some butter in a skillet and add ground beef, breaking it up with the side of your spoon or spatula. When the beef is mostly, but not completely cooked through, add chopped onions and seasonings and continue to cook. Stir in chopped parsley, and remove from the heat. Cool completely before moving on to the next steps.
My grandmother’s special trick to keep the meat extra juicy and tender is to add some mashed potato. I think it keeps the protein in the meat from binding too tightly and creating a tough exterior to the dish. Regardless of how it scientifically improves the sini kofte, it’s the only way we make this dish in our family. Peel and dice a potato, and boil until tender. Mash the potato and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl you’ll want to combine your bulgur with some water. Allow the bulgur to soak and soften for about 15 to 20 minutes. Mix in ground beef, cornstarch, an egg, and seasoning, and then add in the mashed potato.
Preheat the oven, and lightly grease a pan or baking dish. Divide the beef and bulgur mixture in half. Carefully flatten half the mixture in an even layer into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread the gheyma mixture (the cooked ground beef) evenly over the top. Next, take handfuls of the remaining beef and bulgur mixture and flatten them between your palms, wetting your hands as necessary to keep the meat from sticking. Arrange the flattened pieces over the top like a puzzle, filling in gaps as you go.
Use a sharp knife to cut 2 to 2 1/2-inch squares (or diamonds if you prefer), wiping off the knife between cuts. Pour oil and then water over the top, making sure it soaks into all the cut edges.
Bake uncovered until cooked through, about 45 to 50 minutes. This recipe is great for company and reheats really well. Serve it with lemon wedges for squeezing over the top of each piece.
Other recipes you may like
- Ishli Kofte (Stuffed Kofte)
- Homemade Manti (Turkish/Armenian Dumplings)
- Armenian Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- Armenian Meatball Soup
- Chorek (Armenian Sweet Bread)
- Armenian Gata
- Roza’s Tas Kebab
What are your favorite Middle Eastern dishes? Leave me a comment below!
Sini Kofte (Baked Kofte)
Gheyma (Ground Beef) Filling:
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 medium onion finely chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Beef and Bulgur Mixture:
- 1 medium potato peeled and diced
- 1 1/2 cups grade #1 fine bulgur cracked wheat
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups cold water
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 large egg
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup water
- Lemon wedges for garnish
- Start by making the gheyma (ground beef). Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When melted add the ground beef, stirring and breaking up into small pieces. When the beef has started to brown but is not completely cooked yet, add the onions and season with salt, pepper, and paprika. Continue to cook until the beef is well-browned and cooked through. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Stir in the parsley and remove from the heat. The gheyma can be made ahead and reheated as needed. It can also be frozen.
- Place the peeled, diced potato in a small saucepan filled with cold water. Heat over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until tender. Drain any excess water and mash. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, place the bulgur in a large mixing bowl. Soak the bulgur with 1 cup water (or more as needed) for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until softened (you can add a bit more water at a time until the bulgur absorbs it all). Mix in the ground beef, cornstarch, egg, and season with salt, pepper, and paprika by hand. Then add the mashed potato and combine until smooth. Wet hands as needed to easy in mixing.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, with the rack set in the middle of the oven.
- Lightly grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with olive oil. Divide the beef and bulgur mixture in half. Take large handfuls of the mixture and press them into the bottom of the pan creating an even layer to cover the entire pan (again, wetting hands will make this process much easier). Spread the gheyma evenly over the beef and bulgur layer.
- Next, take large handfuls of the remainder of the beef and bulgur mixture and press them between your palms to flatten them to the same thickness you had beneath the gheyma, wetting hands between each frequently. Arrange these flattened discs of meat/bulgur over the gheyma evenly, patching them together to create a solid layer, filling in gaps with smaller flattened pieces as needed.
- Cut into squares about 2 to 2 1/2 inches across (alternatively you may cut diamonds), wiping down the knife in between cuts (wetting and wiping the knife helps clean it between cuts). After cutting the entire pan into squares, pour the oil evenly over the top. Next, pour the water over the top.
- Bake, uncovered, for about 45 to 50 minutes, or until it is cooked through and the surface has lightly browned.
- Use a knife to cut around the edges of the pan, and in between the squares. Serve hot or at room temperature with lemon wedges for squeezing.
Notes & Nutrition
- You may also use the same type of ground beef for the beef and bulgur mixture as you would for ishli kofte or chi kofte (very fresh top round ground 3 to 4 times until paste-like). Many Armenians use this special ground beef for sini kofte. It’s very lean and bright red. It yields a more firm and dense exterior to the sini kofte than if you use standard ground beef. It’s also a brighter red color, very similar to the appearance and flavor of ishli kofte. My family has made it with both types of beef. Regular ground beef is a lot easier to source, and yields delicious results so we use that more often than the specially ground variety of beef.
- You may also cut sini kofte into diamond shapes instead of squares. This is more traditional, but you will have some odd-shaped edge pieces. Cutting it into squares is more resourceful and yields uniform pieces. We usually do it that way, but you can try either shape.
- Sini kofte can be made in advance and reheats very well. Arrange squares on a baking sheet, and reheat at 375 degrees F until heated through.
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