Mercimek köftesi (Turkish Red Lentil Balls)

Detox with me!
This is a recipe that was passed along to me as part of a French assignment created for my friend Ipek last summer. I held onto it for months and months, waiting for the perfect moment and time. Then, darling Siobhan from Garden Correspondent rolled through New York, bringing with her good cheer, high spirits, and a liter of delicious Turkish olive oil!

Which, of course, helped to push Ipek’s recipe to the top of the list of things to make.

Unfortunately, everything on that list languished while other parts of life took priority over blogging. However, following the overindulgence of the holidays, I thought something simple, healthful, and delicious was in order.

This recipe is so simple that I wondered if it would even be tasty. After forming the lentils and bulgur wheat-mixture into torpedo-shapes and balls,* I had additional doubts as to whether I would be able to finish eating them all. Then, something curious happened: each time I passed my fridge, I would dip into the quickly diminishing pile for a little fix of Turkish yumminess. Although initially dismissed as bland, I found myself craving the wholesome nuttiness of lentils gently accented with mild spice.

Ipek’s recipe states that you should serve Mercimek köftesi with lettuce. At first I was a little unsure what that meant. Was the lettuce mandatory garnish? Or were you supposed to wrap the köftesi in the lettuce?

My hunch was right: you are supposed to roll the köftesi in the lettuce and eat them like you would Vietnamese spring rolls. Without the fish sauce dipping sauce, of course.

Strangely, many recipes say to serve them on top of the lettuce with no mention of eating them together either.

So I suppose it is up to you!

Incidentally, Ipek tells me that there is an alternative version called Çiğ köfte. A peek at different recipes shows that it is fairly similar if not identical to Mercimek köftesi with the exception being that raw meat is used in place of red lentils. The meat is usually massaged by hand into the bulgur until the mixture is smooth enough to be shaped. Again, the lettuce appears to somewhat ornamental, especially in the case of this restaurant where the staff seems to have just stuck the leaves upright into a giant mound of raw meat and bulgur and called it a day.

For my money and food safety reasons, I will stick to the lentils!

* Or as Sharon put it, “Can I have some more turds and balls, please?” 🙂


1 1/2 cups of red lentils, rinsed and drained

2 1/4 cups of water

1 1/2 cups of bulgur wheat

1 onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

1 teaspoon of Aleppo pepper flakes or red chili pepper flakes

4 tablespoons of olive oil

The juice of one lemon

1/3 of a cup of fresh parsley, chopped

Lettuce leaves

How to prepare:

1. In a large casserole or sauté pan, combine the rinsed lentils with 2 1/4 cups of water. Bring the lentils to a boil before lowering the heat to a simmer. Season the lentils while they cook.

2. Once the lentils are very soft, turn off the heat and add the raw, dry bulgur wheat. Stir very quickly to incorporate it into the lentils. Cover the mixture and let it sit for about 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, sauté the chopped onions in about a tablespoon of olive oil until they are golden.

4. After the bulgur wheat and the lentils have finished steaming, add the onions, the tomato paste, the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and the spices. Stir to combine well. Add the chopped parsley and the lemon juice to the mixture.

5. At this point, the lentil mixture should be cool enough to handle. Using your hands, form either small balls, or small torpedo-shaped logs. Let these rest in the refrigerator until cold.

Serve on top of lettuce leaves with lemon wedges on the side.


43 thoughts on “Mercimek köftesi (Turkish Red Lentil Balls)

  1. brie

    This recipe looks fantastic and delicious! before I even commented I just had to forward this to one of my closest friends who doesn’t eat meat and is now on a gluten free dairy free diet for health reasons. I think she will love this (and I am secretly hoping make it to share some with me 🙂 !!).
    Love the posts…keep them coming PLEASE!!!

  2. Susan

    These do look like tasty fridge snacks, and like good party food. These also look like virtuous hangover food, i.e., when you just can’t face bacon. 🙂

    • baconbiscuit212

      Lentils are super easy to conquer! I think that the only fear (and I have this hesitation with dried beans too) is that there might be a small stone in the pile. But a quick visual check usually catches everything.

  3. Michelle

    Those look really good, Daisy! I need to learn more about Turkish food. My knowledge extends not much further than böreks bought at French markets (which were yummy, I must say, though Steve ruined a brand new shirt from dribbling meat juices from one down his chest). It’s funny, our blog gets a lot of hits from Turkey because we long ago posted a Turkish meat pie recipe from a Claudia Roden cookbook.

  4. scroungelady

    Looks easy and delicious. Healthy isn’t a bad attribute either! How are they with yogurt as a dipping sauce (wrapped in lettuce, of course!)? I agree that raw meat is not a good idea unless you are grinding the meat yourself.

  5. rubyandwheaky

    How did I miss this post? It never showed up in my blog reader. Argh! WP!!! I’ve eaten something like this before. It seems to be a good alternative to meat. Isn’t this the second post in which you have used red lentils? I need to look for some at the supermarket. I’ve only seen green/ brown colored lentils. Red lentils sound rather exotic and tasty. I think I’ll pass on the raw meat balls for health safety reasons. Carpaccio is about as far as I’ll venture.

  6. Cauldrons and Cupcakes

    I spent one crazy day in Istanbul, Daisy, and have always wanted to go back for a longer stay. All that gorgeous food. And the apple tea was soooooo good. I am going to make these little morsels for a craft circle I’m going to tomorrow night. Just perfect in a place with such a high vego population (Byron Bay) and so pretty. I’m sure they’ll be a hit!

    Plus I am excited because our flood water is down and I shall be able to get to the shops AND the Post Office today. Hooray! Much love to you xx

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s