To a Turkish speaker, “vegan kofte” signifies an oxymoron: Vegan means meat-free; kofte means meatball. But at Nefista in East Islip, the first Long Island branch of a Turkish chain, the phrase makes delicious sense.
The kofte served at Nefista is modeled on the specialty called cig kofte, made from raw meat kneaded with seasonings. At Nefista, bulgur (cracked wheat) and walnuts are mixed with smoked pepper, tomato and pepper pastes, carrots, celery, garlic, onions, parsley and many more herbs and spices to produce a brick-red paste that staffers squeeze between their fingers to make the distinctive, ridged logs that the diner then wraps up in lettuce leaves with fresh herbs and pickles and, if desired, pomegranate sauce.
Or you can get the kofte mixture schmeared on a super-thin flour wrap. It's generously sprinkled with lettuce, onions, walnuts, corn, mint, parsley and peppers before being rolled into a tight cylinder and inserted into a specially made sack that makes for a neat eat-while-driving snack. Nefista also packs the kofte mixture into taco shells.
Unlike industrially produced Beyond or Impossible Burgers, it is entirely possible to create vegan kofte in your own kitchen (in East Islip, the mixture is made fresh a few times a day). In fact, owner Serkan Canbulat was making it in his own kitchen until last year.
Canbulat, Turkish-born a contractor, had enjoyed Nefista while visiting Istanbul. Upon his return to Long Island, he started fiddling around on his own to perfect the recipe until he learned that, lo, there was a Nefista in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. Then he learned that the company was offering franchises and, with his wife’s encouragement, he bought the rights, found a location and — the easy part for a contractor — renovated the former New Wave Seafood into a gleaming shop with about a dozen seats. It opened in late December.
Beyond kofte, Nefista offers herbed chickpeas in wraps and bowls, hummus in pita and, for dessert, baklava. Almost everything on the menu is less than $10.
Nefista is at 91 East Main St., East Islip, 631-228-3500, nefista.com.