• Spicy Meat-Filled Bulgur Dumplings with Tomato & Mint Sauce


Spicy Meat-Filled Bulgur Dumplings

By Robyn Eckhardt

These chewy bulgur dumplings hide a filling of ground lamb and onion spiked with tomato and Turkish red pepper paste. Deep-fried versions are found all over Turkey, but I prefer this boiled version from Van, especially when it is drizzled with tomato butter before serving. You will have to expend some energy kneading the dough, which becomes gummy if mixed in a food processor. Mastering the technique for filling the dumplings takes a bit of practice, but tears or holes can be easily patched with dough scraps and a little water. Both the dough and filling are easier to work with if they’re chilled, and both can be made the day before you assemble the dumplings. Use ground meat with a good amount of fat, to keep the filling moist. Assembled dumplings keep well in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, or they can be frozen for up to 2 months. Four or five dumplings make a main-course serving. The dumplings also make a lovely hot meze; figure on one per person with other dishes.


Spicy Meat-Filled Bulgur Dumplings with Tomato & Mint Sauce



  • 1  1/4 cups fine bulgur
  • 1  1/4 cups medium bulgur 2  1/2 cups boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt 3/4 to 1  1/4 cups warm water
  • 1 to 1  1/3 cups (5 to 7 ounces) bread flour


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium-large onion, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 8 ounces ground lamb
  • 1/4 cup Turkish sweet or hot red pepper paste or tomato paste, or a combination
  • 1 teaspoon ground dried chiles (or substitute cayenne pepper or hot paprika), or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Turkish or other crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 heaping teaspoon dried thyme or oregano (optional)
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley


  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon dried mint
  • 2 teaspoons ground dried chiles (or substitute cayenne pepper or hot paprika), or to taste
  • Dried mint and red pepper flakes, for serving



Soak the Bulgur

Place both bulgurs in a large bowl, pour over the boiling water, and stir to moisten the grains. Cover with plastic wrap or a large plate and set aside.

Make the Filling

Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, sprinkle over the salt, and cook, stirring, until the onions just begin to color and soften, about 5 minutes. Add the lamb and cook, stirring and breaking up the meat with a fork or spatula, for about 4 minutes, until the meat no longer looks raw. Add the pepper paste, ground chile, and red pepper flakes, grind over a little black pepper, and stir to coat the meat and onions. Add the dried thyme or oregano, if using, crushing the herb between your palms as you add it to the pan. Cook until the paste is fragrant and the oil is colored a deep crimson, about 2 minutes. Add the parsley, stir, and cook for 1 minute, then remove the pan from the heat. Let the mixture cool slightly, transfer to a bowl or plate, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until cold.

Meanwhile, Make the Dough

Sprinkle the salt over the softened bulgur and mix it in with your hands, squeezing the grains between your fingers as you do so. Add the warm water and flour alternately, about 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing and kneading the dough. A good way to do this is to gather the dough to one side of the bowl and use the heel of your hand to press it down and over the bottom of the bowl, bit by bit. After you’ve added 3/4 cup water and 1 cup flour, assess the texture of the dough: It should be stiff and only slightly sticky. Gather a lump of dough and squeeze it in your hand—it should hold together when released. You should be able to roll a lump of dough into a ball without it leaving a tacky dough trail across your palms. If the dough is too dry, add more water and knead thoroughly again; if it’s sticky, add more flour. When the dough has reached the proper consistency, gather it into a lump, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours.

Make the Dumplings

Fill a small bowl with cold water and place it on your work surface; have a dry kitchen towel within reach. Lightly oil a baking sheet. With completely dry hands, roll a heaped tablespoon of dough into a ball about  1  3/4 inches in diameter. Hold the ball in your left hand (right, if you’re left-handed), dip the forefinger of your other hand into the water, and push it into the dough ball, almost to the bottom. Cup the dough in your palm while you gently work your finger back and forth to widen the hole to about twice the circumference of your finger. Now wet your thumb and forefinger, place your finger into the dough ball with your thumb on the outside, and gently squeeze while rotating the ball in your cupped palm, simultaneously widening the opening in the dumpling while thinning its sides and adding height. The dough should begin to look like a cup with a wide opening and thin sides that narrow toward the base. Your goal is to get the walls of the dumpling as thin as you can without creating cracks. If the dumpling begins to crack at the opening, gently squeeze the cracks together; if a hole develops in the wall of the dumpling, patch it with a bit of dough and use your wet finger to smooth the patch. Work the dough firmly, pressing it with your fingers to press and thin it.

When you are satisfied with the dumpling wrapper, spoon in about 2 teaspoons of filling and tap it down with your finger; the dumpling should be about half full. Wet the fingers and palm of your free hand. Cup your hand around the dumpling and slide it upward, rotating the dumpling in your palm as you do so, to form a little point of dough at the top of the dumpling. Pinch off the point to close the dumpling at the top, sealing the filling inside. Gently roll the dumpling into a ball between your palms. Place on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, remembering to dry your hands thoroughly before starting each new dumpling. You can cook the dumplings immediately or refrigerate them (covered) for up to 24 hours, or freeze them on the baking sheet, then transfer to a freezer bag or other container and freeze for up to 2 months.

Cook the Dumplings

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Gently drop in the dumplings. They will sink to the bottom; after 2 minutes or so, gently nudge them loose with a spoon or spatula and cook until they rise to the surface of the water, about 12 minutes. (Add frozen dumplings directly to boiling water; they will require an additional 6 to 8 minutes to rise to the surface.)

While the Dumplings are Cooking, Make the Sauce

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the salt, tomato paste, dried mint (crush the mint between your fingers as you add it), and ground chiles and stir with a spoon, breaking up any lumps of tomato paste. Let the butter and other ingredients sizzle until fragrant, being careful not to let the tomato paste brown or burn, about 2 minutes. Pull from the heat and cover to keep warm.

After the dumplings have risen to the surface of the water, let them cook for another minute or two, then lift them out with a slotted spoon, drain well, and divide them among plates or shallow bowls. Drizzle the sauce over the dumplings and pass dried mint and red pepper flakes at the table.

Spicy Meat-Filled Bulgur Dumplings with Tomato & Mint Sauce from Istanbul & Beyond by Robyn Eckhardt. Copyright © 2017 by Robyn Eckhardt. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

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