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
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)”
Now this one would go down very well with the wife – very veg, as I would say
Oh gosh! Did I leave the rare and oozing brisket out of the recipe again?!
Just kidding 🙂 Yes, it is very vegetarian-friendly!
Very interesting 😀 – they would go down very well with me 😀
Thank you, Nick! They were interesting, filling, very snackable, and most importantly, quite frugal 🙂 Good for parties too 🙂
Absolutely frugal! Very well done :D. Ah yes, parties… I’ve not had one of those here yet. We haven’t really got the space 😦
Aw, shucks 🙂 You’re sweet! You should throw a party, Nick! February is the month to do it. Think of all the amazing party food you could come up with!
And space schmace. A few friends over. It will be cozy 🙂
Also, we’ve not been living here long and haven’t many friends 😀
You will! Bristol is full of amazing and cool people — like you both!
Oh I know – I have lived here for three years previously 😀
So you are an old hand at this 🙂 I have good memories of Bristol . . . not of the airport, but of the town itself!
I think these sound like a perfect veggie protein snack. I also think I need to learn more about Turkish food. Yum!
Me too! Turkish food is fascinating. It feels healthy and opulent at the same time. Nice cuisine to tackle for 2013, no?
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!!!
Thanks, Brie! I didn’t even think about the gluten-free aspect, but you are so right: this is a great gluten-free recipe! Thanks for all of your wonderful support. You are awesome!
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. 🙂
Oh, babe, I can always face the bacon 🙂
Thank you, Lucas!
you’re mostly welcome.
You know what? I don’t know nearly enough about lentils. I guess I’ve always been somewhat afraid of them.
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.
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.
Oh my gosh! I ruined a dress in Istanbul dribbling meat juice down my front!
We should get bibs 🙂
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.
A yogurt or cacik dipping sauce is an excellent idea, Scroungelady! Thank you! I should have made one to go with this. Next time I will remember!
Keep those recipes coming!
Thanks, Scroungelady! I will!
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.
I know! That wordpress reader is so glitchy sometimes 😦 Red lentils are amazing! I think that there are a few recipes on here where I have used red lentils. I remember we had a conversation about them not being so easy to find for some people, so, while I was at the store today . . . well, you’ll see 🙂
Yes, the idea of eating raw meat massaged by hairy Turkish men doesn’t appeal!
Nothing against hairy Turkish men. It wouldn’t appeal if it were anyone!
You’re so p.c. LOL.
Sigh. Yes. To a fault 😉
I have never had any turkish food but have seen it on showcased on several travel shows. It sounds interesting and good.
It’s so fascinating! I went to Istanbul a few years back and ate myself silly. I think that at any given moment, I had either some Turkish delight, or a filo dough cheese thing hanging out of my mouth. Turkish food is like this fabulous mish-mash of Mediterranean food, Ottoman opulence, and nomadic tradition. Delicious!
You are very lucky to have experience such wonderful food in such an interesting place.
I would love to go back! How about yourself? Any plans to travel again soon?
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
Isn’t it such an incredible city? It’s engraved in my memory as one of the most beautiful I have been to. And the food! Holy Roman Empire, Batman! It was awesome 🙂
If you make these, let me know how they turn out!
I sure will 😀 xx
Big hugs and much love to you, Nicole! Xo, Daisy
I made them They were AWESOME!!! And your beautiful card turned up. Thank you so much, Daisy! ♥ xx
Wonderful! So happy to hear the update! And glad to hear that you enjoyed them and got my card! XOXO, Daisy