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2 round ishli koftes on a white square plate, 1 is broken in half

Ishli Kofte (Stuffed Kofte)

A family favorite, Ishli Kofte (Içli Köfte) is nearly identical to Lebanese Kibbeh. Its name means "stuffed kofte" or "stuffed meatball" because that's exactly what it is. A meat and bulgur wrapper stuffed with cooked ground meat. We may as well call it meat squared! I call it delicious!
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 2 hrs
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 2 hrs 45 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Armenian, Lebanese, Turkish
Servings 33 koftes
Calories 151 kcal


Gheyma Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 2 large onions finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Paprika
  • 1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley


  • 3 cups grade #1 fine bulgur cracked wheat
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 pounds very fresh top round trimmed of all fat and ground 3 to 4 times until fine like a paste
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 whole almond or hazelnut optional

Cooking & Serving:

  • 3 quarts water
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Lemon wedges for serving


Gheyma Filling:

  • 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. Cool completely before using. The gheyma can be made ahead and refrigerated until needed. It can also be frozen.


  • Fill a small bowl with some water to use to wet your hands as needed during the mixing and shaping process. In a large mixing bowl, soak the bulgur with water for about 15 minutes until absorbed but still wet. Season with 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon paprika, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Mix until combined.

  • Add the meat to the top of the bulgur mixture. Season with 2 tablespoons salt, 1 tablespoon paprika, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Mix together with your hands until thoroughly combined, wetting your hands as needed to keep the meat from sticking to your fingers. Taste the mixture for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
  • Add the egg and mix it into the meat until smooth (again wet your hands if needed). Then sprinkle the flour over the top, and do the same.

Assembling & Cooking:

  • Scoop 1/4 cup of the kofte mixture into the palm of your hand (your left hand if you are right-handed). Wet your hands occasionally throughout the process to keep the meat from sticking. Shape the mixture into a ball, then use a finger (an index finger or thumb) to press into the center of the ball (use the fingers on your right hand if you are right-handed). While cupping the kofte with your other hand, carefully spin the kofte and keep pressing with your finger to expand the indentation. Keep doing this, carefully working the meat to yield an even thickness all around. Get it as thin as you can without tearing or losing structure. It should look like a wide meat cup.
  • Pack the inside of the kofte cup with about 2 heaping tablespoons of gheyma (the capacity will depend on how thin you got the walls of the kofte). Again, keep wetting your hands as needed. Carefully turn the kofte in your hand, using your other hand to seal the ball closed as you turn. You want to keep the exterior as even and thin as possible. Smooth out the ball either into an oval or round shape and set it on a sheet while you continue to shape the other koftes. While you work, occasionally wet the beef/bulgur mixture in the mixing bowl, and mix it again to ensure it doesn't get dry. If desired, for one of the koftes include an almond or hazelnut in the middle of the filling before sealing up the kofte. Whoever gets the kofte with the nut inside is the lucky one! (Only do this if you are sure all diners are not allergic to nuts!). Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours if you're not cooking them immediately.
  • Add 3 quarts of water, 3 tablespoons of kosher salt, and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice to a large pot and bring to a boil. In batches, add koftes. Boil for about 10 minutes, reducing the heat to medium to maintain a gentle boil/simmer. Use a slotted spoon to remove koftes to a strainer, and let rest for minute to finish draining. Transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Notes & Nutrition

  • My grandmother recommends seasoning the bulgur mixture separately and then seasoning the meat separately as well. She says it tastes better this way, and I listen to my grandma. This is why there are instructions to season the bulgur, then season the meat, and mix it all together.
  • This recipe uses kosher salt (aka cooking salt, kitchen salt, coarse salt outside of the US). If you are using table salt, definitely scale down the salt as that is a saltier type of salt! The type of salt will make a big difference in how salty your food tastes, so keep that in mind.
  • You can taste the meat mixture for seasoning before adding in the egg. We essentially eat this as another raw dish called Chi Kofte, or Armenian steak tartare. If you have an aversion to raw meat, don't taste it, just use the provided measurements.
  • Many people fry their ishli kofte. The Lebanese version kibbeh always seems to be fried. My grandmother and great-grandmother always boiled theirs, and this is our family recipe. But you can deep fry yours if you prefer.
  • When my grandmother would make a smaller batch of ishli kofte, she would still use 1 whole egg. If you cut this recipe in half, plan to still use 1 egg. Don't bother to measure half an egg.
  • Although this recipe uses a lot of meat (4 pounds) it makes about 33 koftes. If each person were to eat 4 koftes, that would be about 8 servings. You can reduce the recipe, but since it freezes so well I do suggest making the full recipe if you can.
  • To freeze: Allow cooked koftes to cool completely, then transfer to freezing bags and freeze. To reheat: Thaw frozen koftes in the refrigerator overnight. Make another batch of seasoned water with water, salt, and lemon juice (reduce the amounts as needed if only reheating a small number of koftes). When the water is boiling, add the cooked koftes and heat them through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain and serve.
Servings 33.0 * calories 151 * Total Fat 6 g * Saturated Fat 3 g * Monounsaturated Fat 0 g * Polyunsaturated Fat 0 g * Trans Fat 0 g * Cholesterol 43 mg * Sodium 344 mg * Potassium 85 mg * Total Carbohydrate 11 g * Dietary Fiber 2 g * Sugars 0 g * Protein 14 g
*All nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary with brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes and more.*