Oruk, or (Sam Orugu as they are also referred) the baked oval bulgur balls with delicious ground meat and walnuts filling, is a very popular dish at my hometown, Antakya (Antioch). It is a very special dish that turns up at my mother’s table at every festive event and family gatherings.
Antakya’s Oruk is a version of the delicious Kibbeh, which is considered to be the national dish of Lebanon. A very popular dish, kibbeh has variations in the Middle East, Cyprus (where it is called koupes) and Turkey. I suppose the difference between them is the spices & some ingredients used (for instance, there is allspice and pine nuts in Kibbeh), as well as the cooking method (Oruk is baked whereas Kibbeh is generally fried). There is also the Turkish Icli Kofte; this one is similar to Oruk, but rather than being baked, icli kofte is first boiled in water then sautéed in oil. If you have made any of these, I would love to hear your experience and perhaps stories behind them.
Whenever we go back to Turkey, oruk welcomes us at the first night of our visit, along with mother’s other specialty dishes like Mevlubi; the layers of rice with eggplants, meat, onion or potatoes, Cevizli Biber; walnut & red pepper paste dip or this delicious yoghurt based soup with bulgur balls in it. Surrounded by this special food and the company, we always know that we are back home.
I have been getting requests from readers on how to make oruk or baked icli kofte. Making oruk is a grand event at home; I grew up watching my grandmother and mother making this special treat with family and friends gathered around a big table in Antakya. Some would make the filling, some to prepare the bulgur dough and some to do the stuffing. Since there were no food processors around in those days, they would ground the meat and bulgur with hand held machines. There were lots of kneading and mixing involved and since they would make vast amounts to share and it would almost take a day for this feast to get ready. A lot of effort, but well worth it.
A few tips here to ease the process. I suggest you to prepare the filling a day in advance, if you have a limited time. The filling anyway needs to be cool and this really helps with spreading the work. A few readers emailed to say that their bulgur dough couldn’t stay intact. Semolina is the key here; it works great as the binding agent in the bulgur dough. You also need to have water aside and continuously wet your hands while shaping the dough. Ground meat that goes in the bulgur dough needs to be extra lean and double ground (you may ask your butcher to do this for you or you can pulse the ground meat in your food processor a few times). You may also prepare the easier Sini Oruk; tray baked bulgur spread with ground meat and stuffing in the middle. They are both very special treats at the end, quite a sacred food for me and worth all the effort.
If you are an oruk, icli kofte or kibbeh fan, I hope you would give it a go and make these delicious treats at home. My cookery book Ozlem’s Turkish Table, Recipes from My Homeland has a special focus on southern Turkish cuisine and many regional dishes including this Oruk is included in my book. Signed copies available at this link and now 25 % Off for a limited time and delivered worldwide including USA.
Serves 12 -14 generously
For the filling:
250gr/9oz ground beef (medium fat)
100gr/4oz shelled walnuts, finely crushed to small pieces (but not ground, needs to have a bite to it)
3 medium onions finely grated
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
30ml/2tbsp. olive oil
10ml/2tsp. ground black pepper
10ml/2tsp. red pepper flakes/ pul biber
Salt to taste (at least 2 tsp. recommended)
For the bulgur dough:
450gr/1lb. fine bulgur, koftelik bulgur (if you can only get coarse bulgur, you can pulse it a few times in food processor)
12fl.oz/ 1 ½ cup warm water to wet the bulgur and another 1 cup warm water to knead bulgur
167gr/ 1 cup semolina
4 fl.oz./½ cup warm water for semolina
250gr/9oz extra lean (double) ground beef
60ml/4 tbsp. Turkish hot pepper paste, biber salcasi
15ml/3tsp. ground cumin
10ml/2tsp. red pepper flakes/ pul biber
Salt to taste (bear in mind that the pepper paste is quite salty too)
Bowl of cold water for shaping the oval balls
Grease a small baking tray for the oval balls and a 32cm/12” round baking dish (or equivalent size) for tray bake oruk
Preheat the oven to 160 C/320F/Gas Mark 3
First make the filling, as it needs to cool down (to save time & spread the work, you can also prepare the filling a day in advance and keep in the fridge, covered). Heat the oil in a heavy pan and stir in the medium fat ground beef. Sauté and stir the meat, breaking the lumps into smaller pieces, over medium heat for about 8-10 minutes, until all the juice evaporated. Add the grated onion, salt, ground black pepper and red pepper flakes and sauté for another 5–8 minutes until onions softened and begin to color. Then add the finely crushed walnuts and the chopped parsley, mix well and turn the heat off. Leave aside to cool down (This really is a delicious filling, we couldn’t help having a few tea spoonfuls, it would also make a great pasta sauce).
Now, let’s make the bulgur dough. Place the fine bulgur in a large mixing bowl (big enough for you to be able to knead). Stir in the red pepper paste, cumin, salt and red pepper flakes and using your hands, mix them all well. Then slowly pour the 1 ½ cup warm water all over it. Again using your hands, give the bulgur mixture a good mix and make sure all bulgur is wet. Let it rest and absorb the water for 10 minutes. In the meantime, place the semolina in a separate bowl and stir in the ½ cup warm water over it. Using your hands, knead and turn the semolina mixture into a soft dough. Semolina is important here as it helps binding the bulgur dough.
Have the ½ cup warm water bowl next to you and start kneading the bulgur mixture for about 5 minutes. Wet your hands continuously while kneading. Stir in the semolina dough into this bulgur mixture and wetting your hands, knead for another 5 minutes, you will see that the dough is getting more elastic and binding together. Add the double ground extra lean beef to the mixture (you can use your food processor for the meat) and again with wetting your hands, knead for 10 minutes, until you get a smooth, elastic dough.
Now, have a bowl of cold water aside to shape the oval bulgur balls; to avoid sticking bulgur dough into your hands and for the balls to stay intact. Wet your hands with the cold water and take a small tangerine size bulgur dough into your palm. Roll it into an oval shape and then using your thumb, hollow out an opening in the middle. Shape the ball into a thin-walled (about ¼”-thick) oval with an opening at one end by molding ball around finger, gradually tapering closed end. Mend any cracks in the shell with a moistened finger. Fill the bulgur shell with about 1½ tbsp. of the filling.
Moisten edges of opening, then pinch the edges of the ball to seal. Wet your hands and gently form the stuffed bulgur ball into the shape of an oval with slightly pointy edges. Place it on an oiled tray. Repeat the same shaping with remaining filling and bulgur dough. (I made 5 oruk, oval stuffed bulgur balls and a baked sini oruk, in 32cm / about 12” round baking dish. Alternatively, you can make about 18 oval oruk balls if you like). Place all the finished oval bulgur balls in a well-oiled baking tray and coat them all with olive oil.
Sini Oruk is another type of baked icli kofte and this tray baked version is much easier. To make it, divide the remaining your bulgur dough into two. Grease a (preferably) round baking dish of 32” diameter with 2 tbsp. olive oil. Wetting your hands with cold water, spread a thin layer of half of the bulgur dough onto the oiled baking dish. Make sure the spread stays intact; wet your hands and seal any broken parts. Spread the ground meat and walnut filling evenly over the bulgur dough spread, press gently.
Grease a chopping board or a work surface with 1 tbsp. olive oil. Take a handful of the remaining bulgur dough and spread with your hands to form a thin layer (about 1/3cm). Place this stretched bulgur dough onto the filling over the round baking dish. Continue until you finish the dough and the top layer is covered, like a patchwork. Wet your hands and bind all the loose ends. (We need to prepare the top layer on another oiled surface so that we won’t press too hard over the filling and break it into parts.). Oil the top layer of the bulgur spread, with about 2 tbsp. olive oil and cut into diamond or triangle shaped slices.
Bake both the oval shaped oruk and the tray bake sini oruk in the preheated oven for about 35-40 minutes, until crispy and golden brown at top. Bulgur absorbs olive oil quickly, so coat both oval bulgur balls and the tray bake with extra olive oil towards the end, so they won’t crack.
You can serve the Sam oruk, oval bulgur balls warm. For the tray bake sini oruk, it is best to wait for about 10-15 minutes to cool down so that they won’t break apart. Cooling and refreshing Cacik dip of yoghurt with cucumber and dried mint complements this delicious treat very well.
A visual feast of Antakya (Antioch)
I wanted to finish this oruk, baked icli kofte post with a visual feast of Antakya, Ancient Antioch, a cradle of many civilizations; a hope you can make it to my homeland sometime.
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I like the idea of baking rather than frying. I have to admit I’ve never ever attempted this recipe but now I’ve read your post I feel confident enough to try.
Really kind of you Annie, I’d be over the moon if the recipe inspires and encourages; it took me quite a while to have a go too but it was much easier than I thought; quite a bit of kneading involved but it was rewarding : ) Cok Selamlar, Ozlem
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Özlem, Sounds delicious. Lots of good suggestions, too. I think I tried to make this dish once from a Paula Wohlforth recipe and couldn’t get the dough to hang together so this may get me to try it again – thanks. (Also the pasta sauce suggestion was one I might try as well.)
Merhaba Jolee, thank you for stopping by; I think most folks found binding the bulgur dough together a bit challenging too and semolina really helped me here – mother’s tip : ) – I have also seen some folks using mash potato for that purpose, that makes sense too. The nutty filling is utterly delicious; me and the children most probably had more than our fare share! Let me know if you can help any further when you give it a go. Cok Selamlar, Ozlem
This is a really interesting and delicious recipe:) have loved working with bulgur since you introduced me to it and this really takes bulgur to the next level of expertise:) thanks for simplifying it with simple tips and instructions, Ozlem….look forward to trying it out someday soon. XxPeri.
You are welcome dear Peri, it looks a little challanging at first but once you have a go, it is easier than one thinks, and hugely satisfying. So glad to hear you are enjoying bulgur : ) Ozlem xx
Looks delicious..Also I make this recipes as içli köfte:)but I want to try sini version. it looks more easy:)
Merhaba Cagnur, thank you so much for stopping by; Sini oruk is really a life saver, as it is easier; hope you enjoy it. Cok Selamlar,
Merci, c’est un régal pour les yeux et un délice pour le palais.
Bonjour – Merhaba Sarvenaz : ) you are very welcome!
I have always wanted to try making icli kofte but had never seen anyone make it so I thought it might be difficult. Your post today makes it seem doable! I will have to try this out and I will let you know how it turns out. I also like the idea of baking it. Love the step by step photos!
Merhaba April, I am glad it looked doable from your end, it really was 🙂 it took me a while to give it a go too, but it is totally worth it, every effort! making the filling a day in advance certainly helps and the tray baked version is a lot easier – afiyet olsun, look forward to hearing your verdict!: )
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This is a fascinating post; not only because it is so detailed and give one confidence to attempt this classic and ancient dish, but also because of the history; Antioch means a lot for the Melchite community of Lebanon (I am talking several centuries ago); as far as the kibbeh, I love your version, even though it is so different from the Lebanese version, which does not use red peppers or semolina to bind the dough. The technique for laying out the pie is similar, although at the end there is a lot of scoring. these types of kibbeh with walnuts and red peppers are an influence from Aleppo which is close to your neck of the woods.
Dear Joumana, thank you very much for stopping by and this lovely note; it is fascinating to see similarities and variations for this delicious, ancient dish, I greatly enjoyed hearing how you do it. You are right, there are a lot of influences from Aleppo in the cuisine and in this dish; my grandfather was a fresh produce merchant and used to trade with Aleppo, amazing times.
That dish look so delicious and mouthwatering! I’m glad to be here 🙂
Merhaba Julia, thank you!
Ozlem, fantastic post and very thorough…I now have the confidence to try this out.
Thank you Peter, I am glad you enjoyed it – and delighted that it will be a part of your Istanbul themed dinner! Look forward to hearing your feedback and seeing the photos! Best wishes, Ozlem
Superb. These sound like such a treat and look so impressive. I thought this might be a little too tricky but you’ve made it sound very possible.
Lovely to see you here Phil, I am glad you enjoyed the oruk recipe; it’s taken me a while to tackle, thinking exactly the same, but at the end, it really is doable, especially the tray baked version, and such a treat. So glad you felt the same : )
I too have been put off by the frying method but will certainly have a go with the baking method. Might try the ‘flat’ version rather than the individual kofte.
Merhaba Judy, it really is a worthy effort and baked version hase been delightful, hope you enjoy it, many thanks for stopping by.
Think I’ll try the sini!!!
Oh, I think you’ll enjoy sini, much easier and really worth the effort : )
Oh my word!! I’ve been trying to make baked koupes/kibbeh/whatever you want to call them FOREVER and every time they fall apart before I can get them in the oven, or while they’re in there. But semolina does the trick!! Thanks for the top tip, your mother is a wise woman
Thank you so much for your kind note Amy, I am glad semolina did the trick for you too! Eline saglik & afiyet olsun, enjoy your oruk, baked kibbeh!
Hello Özlem hanım
Your posts and recipes are great. Thank you did being so enthusiastic about Turkish Food and especially from Antakya. We live in İstanbul bug have visited your home town many times.
Of course I love içli köfte but I have never eaten meat in the dough only as part of the filling. Is there perhaps a mistake in the list if ingredients for the dough?
Merhaba dear Debbie, many thanks for your kind note,I am glad you’re enjoying my blog and your visits to Antakya sounds wonderful, love Antakya and its cuisine. There’s indeed ground meat as part of Oruk dough, a huge specialty at my homeland and makes Oruk taste crisp and delicious, blended with bulgur. hope you enjoy it, cok selamlar, Ozlem
Merhaba Ozlem! I cant wait to try this recipe! Do these oruk freeze well or should you just refrigerate them?
Merhaba Cali, Oruk freezes beautifully; as it is quiet an effort to make, I do freeze some for a nice surprise later, hope you enjoy it, they are delicious!
So well explained that I have to try making it your way. This is a very common dish here in Brazil because we have many Lebanese people here. I always thought we should add fresh mint or cinammon to the bulgur dough. Is it usual? Where did I get this idea from? Çok teşekkür ederim ! Virginia
Merhaba Virginia, many thanks for your note, kibbeh has many versions, we don’t add mint and cinnamon in our version but mint especially sounds refreshing, afiyet olsun! Ozlem
I made içli kofte and they were delicious! My friend, Mehmet, introduced me to these at a Turkish bakery in north London many years ago, and I thought I’d never get to eat them again. Definitely go to a specialty store and get the FINE bulghur wheat. I used regular bulghur (which I did try to buzz in the food processor) the first time and the dough/coating was too hard and cracked slightly. (They were still good, though!) Thanks so much for the great recipe and the great memories it brings.
Merhaba dear Mike, many thanks for your note – I am so impressed that you made Icli Kofte, Oruk, not a easy task but so rewarding, elinize saglik! I am with you, fine bulgur works best and worth looking out for it. Afiyet olsun, Ozlem
Merhaba! I lived in Turkey for 4 years, and was married to a man from Kayseri. His family made all of the complicated dishes, including this. I was looking for a recipe where I can make a bunch and freeze them. Have never tried baking icli kofte, so I’m super excited to give this a shot.
Merhaba Carol, many thanks for your kind note – super happy that you’ll have a go at making these baked oruk, they are much easier and lighter in flavor, hope it brings back happy memories! I also wanted to mention that my cookery book, Ozlem’s Turkish Table is now out – and I am signing all these initial pre-orders until April 16th; the book includes many authentic and regional recipes like this Oruk. Here’s the link if you’d like to have a signed copy, afiyet olsun https://www.gbpublishing.co.uk/product-page/ozlem-s-turkish-table-hardback
Merhaba Ozlem! I have a Turkish partner and enjoy trying out new recipes for us to taste in England and your website is great. I’ve made icli kofte before but I’ve always used potato as the binding agent for the dough! It does work but I’m definitely going to try your recipe with semolina.
Merhaba Helen, lovely to get your note, glad you’re enjoying my recipes here! Definitely try semolina as the binding agent, it works great. Just to let you know, I now have a cookery book, Ozlem’s Turkish Table, packed with these delicious, authentic recipes, signed copies are on offer at the moment too. If you’re interested in, order and info link is here, Afiyet Olsun! https://www.gbpublishing.co.uk/product-page/ozlem-s-turkish-table-hardback
I really LOVE this filling. The walnuts and parsley with the meat taste amazing. I made the oruk and it was delicious, but I also used the filling for different kibbeh recipes (I used the filling to make a boiled version of Kibbeh from the cookbook “Istanbul and beyond” and an Iraqi kibbeh that used mostly potatoes as the shell) ! I also have added tomato and a little tomato paste to the filling so it’s looser and eaten on pasta. Delicious!!
Merhaba dear Rose,
Thank you so much for your kind note, so glad you enjoyed the filling for Oruk and made use of in a variety of way, all sounds delicious! We love the filling too, leftovers ended in our pasta, so delicious.
Just to also let you know, I now have a cookery book, Ozlem’s Turkish Table, packed with these delicious, authentic recipes, signed copies are on offer at the moment too – 30 % off. If you’re interested in, order and info link is here (also ebook option available), Afiyet Olsun! https://www.gbpublishing.co.uk/product-page/ozlem-s-turkish-table-hardback
Thank you! I actually already purchased the e-book version. Is the hardcover available in the USA? I couldn’t find i but would love to buy it.
I’ve made almost every recipe from your site over the last few years, all are awesome! For some reason I’ve never commented, I think the pandemic is making me more social online lol! Keep up the amazing work, I so appreciate it!
Merhaba dear Rose,
Thank you so much for your kind note, really delighted to hear you are enjoying my recipes – many thanks for getting my ebook too, very kind. Yes, the Signed hardback copies are delivered around the world, including the US at this link and now it is 30 % off, if you like to check out, Afiyet Olsun! https://www.gbpublishing.co.uk/product-page/ozlem-s-turkish-table-hardback
I thought I had commented on this before but apparently not – great recipie even through I only once tried to make the “balls”, every other time straight to an oven tray – far easier!
Surprised it didn’t make it to your book – I looked there first before coming back to your website.
The comment I meant to make before and think is still valid, is that if you make it on an oven tray, I think you can reduce the amount of the bulgur mix by approx half, not that I remembered until I started eating today! Otherwise the bulgur can overwhelm the filling.
Fantastic recipie though – keep it up 🙂
Merhaba dear Rob,
Many thanks for your kind note and comments as always; Oruk is in my cookery book (page 227 and 231), it is a bit of labor of lova but so worth it, bravo to you for giving a go. You are right, if you are after a thinner layer of bulgur mixture, you can reduce the amount – this is hoe my grandma used to make and hence stuck with me : ) Cok tesekkurler, Afiyet Olsun, Ozlem
Hi, im living in Adana with my husband and these are his favorite köfte. I thought i would surprise hım and make them last night. They looked good but when i fried them they stuck to the pan and fell apart. They were a mess and i was totally disheartened although he praised me for trying. I didnt have semolina so i used flour as his mum does and hers turn out perfect. So what happened? By the way your recipes are helping me so much with my Turkish cooking, thank you.
Merhaba dear Clair,
Many thanks for your note and well done for giving a go. Semolina is really important here as it helps binding the bulgur dough; I have never substituted it with flour so not sure how your mother-in-law makes it, it may be a different method. Also, we bake ours in the oven, rather than frying. I am so glad your husband praised your efforts, as it is not the easiest but practice makes it better each time. I also would like to remind having the bowl of cup warm water bowl next to you and kneading the bulgur mixture for about 5 minutes. Wet your hands continuously while kneading. I would definitely use semolina to bind the dough and knead well – you would notice it’s getting more elastic and binding together.
You may also try the traybake sini oruk, it is much easier and equally delicious. Do hope this help, please let me know if you have any other questions. I really am delighted you are enjoing my recipes : ) Elinize saglik & Afiyet Olsun, Ozlem x
This recipe was awesome – made them great on my first try and I’m very proud of myself. I just wanted to ask though – should you use tatli or aci pul biber because I used a little (5ml) pul biber with the mince and it was VERY VERY hot so had to leave it out when making the bulgur.
I assumed it would be the aci one, but perhaps I made a mistake.
Thanks so much for this!
Really delighted you enjoyed my recipe, bravo to you! We like it quite spicy in southern Turkish cuisine, but you can use tatli biber salcasi if preferred and use less or no pul biber. Aci would be the one traditionally we go for, thank you and Afiyet olsun, Ozlem
Greetings from the USA. I, too stayed in Antioch for a little while and I have to say that I cannot forget the wonderful taste of this dish. I cannot say that I am too successful in making it, as mine tend to be very thick and break very easily. After reading your instructions I am going to try again with the semolina. Would you recommend using a kitchenaid mixer for the kneading? If yes which tool would I use? Thank you for sharing the recipe with us :).
Merhaba dear Aylin : )
Lovely to get your note, so glad you had a chance to visit Antioch, magical land. Making oruk gets better in practice and semolina is crucial as it helps binding the dough. I always made this kneading by hand – wet your hands while you do that – as you will make the dough elastic and smooth, I don’t think you can achieve that with a mixer. Do hope you enjoy it and it brings special memories, afiyet olsun, Ozlem : )