Mercimek Kofte (Lentil Balls) is a healthy and flavourful Turkish dish made with fine bulgur, red lentils, onions, tomato & red pepper paste, and spices. These aromatic vegetarian meatballs are inexpensive and very easy to make. They are usually served as an appetizer, a healthy snack, or a part of a mezze platter.
Mercimek Koftesi is very popular in Turkey and they are perfect for any occasion. They are usually served cold or at room temperature along with lots of lettuce and lemon slices. Perfect for picnics or midnight cravings!
Why This Recipe Works?
- They are healthy, delicious and vegan/vegetarian friendly. Perfect party food for entertaining a crowd.
- They are inexpensive and It is extremely easy to make them with step-by-step pictures & instructions.
- You can make them ahead, they would keep fresh for up to a week in the fridge or up to 3 days at room temperature.
Ingredients and Substitutes
- Red Lentils - These edible legumes are a kitchen staple in Turkey and are used for making soups (Turkish Lentil Soup and Ezo Gelin Corba), stews or even filling for boreks. You can easily find them in large supermarkets or Middle Eastern shops.
- Bulgur - Bulgur is one of the two main ingredients and is available in a range of grinds, typically fine, medium, coarse and extra coarse. Mercimek Kofte requires fine bulgur which is also commonly used for Middle Eastern recipes such as Tabbouleh Recipe (Lebanese Tabouli Salad) or Icli Kofte (Turkish Kibbeh). You can easily find all types of bulgur in Turkish or Middle Eastern shops.
- Onions - Onions are the essential ingredient for lentil meatballs. I gently sauté brown onions with a good quality olive oil until soft and also add sliced spring onions. You can add some fresh red onions as an extra flavour&texture.
- Tomato paste - It is the staple of Turkish cooking. It adds an umami flavour to the dishes as well as a bright red colour. You can find it in Turkish or Middle Eastern shops. You can also buy it from .
- Red pepper paste - Turkish red pepper paste is a rich, delicious paste made with juicy, spicy red peppers and I use it quite often in my Turkish recipes. You can buy it from Turkish or Middle Eastern shops or online from Amazon.
- Spices - Adjust the amounts to your taste. Although turmeric is not a traditional spice to use for these red lentil balls, I love the colour it adds to them. You can skip it if you like! Also if you don't have chilli flakes, you can use finely chopped red chillies or hot paprika for a bit of heat.
- Olive oil - Use a good quality olive oil for slow cooking the onions
- Parsley - Flat leaf or curly parsley works perfectly with these vegan koftas. You can also use coriander, mint or chives if you prefer.
- Lettuce - They are perfect to wrap the mercimek koftes up. You can use any lettuce you have in hand.
- Lemon - A generous amount of freshly squeezed lemon juice brightens the koftes up and adds a fresh flavour.
Please see the recipe card below for exact quantities.
This is a very simple recipe with a few easy steps to follow to achieve the best results:
Cook the Lentils
Wash the red lentils and place them in a saucepan with 500 ml of water. Bring the pan to a boil on medium heat and cook until the lentils are soft, approximately 20 mins. You should still have some water left in the pan.
Cook the Bulgur
Remove the pan from heat and add the fine bulgur. Put a lid on and let the bulgur absorb the rest of the water. The bulgur will cook and swell in about 20 minutes.
Sauté the Onions
While the bulgur is cooking and swelling, place the chopped onions in a frying pan with olive oil. Gently sauté them on low heat until soft and translucent. When the onions are soft, add the tomato paste and pepper paste, and then cook for a minute.
You can replace the pepper paste with tomato paste if you don't have it but I would suggest you keep some in the fridge! Add freshly ground black pepper, paprika, chilli (optional), cumin, turmeric and salt, and then sauté for 30 seconds before taking off the heat.
Mix and Shape
Add the sautéed onions to the lentil and bulgur mixture and then nicely combine them together. Let it cool down until easy to handle. When the mixture is cold enough to handle, add parsley and spring onion, and mix again until nicely combined.
Shape the mixture into long oblong meatballs. Dip your hand in a little water to avoid it sticking. Serve them with sliced lemons and lettuce.
For more authentic&delicious Turkish recipes why not try:
Mercimek kofte a.k.a lentil balls is a vegetarian dish made of red lentils, fine bulgur, sautéed onions, aromatic spices, and a mixture of tomato&pepper paste. They are called kofte for their shape although they don't contain any meat.
Here are some of the most popular Turkish food in Western countries:
Turkish Rice Pilaf, Lamb Shish Kebab, Turkish Moussaka, Gozleme (Turkish Pancakes), Pide Turkish (Kiymali Pide), Turkish Baklava with Pistachio and Grilled Lamb Kofta (Izgara Kofte).
These vegan koftas can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days in an airtight container. If you want to keep them longer, you can refrigerate them and keep for up to a week or freeze them and keep them for up to 3 months.
Top Tip From the Chef.
The ratio of water to lentils is very important and needs to be followed for the right texture for the koftes.
I hope you enjoy the process of making these spicy and healthy Turkish Vegan Lentil Balls as much as you enjoy eating them! 🙂
Bon appétit! / Afiyet Olsun!
Mercimek Kofte (Lentil Balls)
- ½ cup red lentil (100 grams)
- 1 cup fine bulgur (200 grams)
- 2 cups water (500 ml)
- 2 onions (finely chopped)
- 3 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon pepper paste
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon chilli flakes (optional)
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup parsley (finely chopped)
- 5 spring onions (thinly sliced)
- gem lettuce or roman lettuce (to serve)
- lemon slices or wedges (to garnish)
- Wash the red lentils and place them in a saucepan with 500 ml water.
- Bring the pan to a boil on medium heat and cook until the lentils are soft, approximately 20 mins. There should still be some water left in the pan when the lentils are cooked.
- Remove the pan from heat and add the bulgur. Put a lid on and let the bulgur absorb the rest of the water. The bulgur will cook and swell in about 20 minutes.
- While the bulgur is cooking and swelling, place the chopped onions in a frying pan with olive oil. Gently saute them on low heat until soft and translucent.
- When the onions are soft, add the tomato paste and pepper paste(you can replace the pepper paste with tomato paste if you don't have it but I would suggest you keep some in the fridge!), cook for a minute.
- Add freshly ground black pepper, paprika, chilli (optional), cumin, turmeric and salt, saute for 30 seconds before taking off the heat.
- Add the sautéed onions to the lentil and bulgur mixture then nicely combine them together. Let it cool down until easy to handle.
- When the mixture is cold enough to handle, add parsley and spring onion, mix again until nicely combined.
- Shape the mixture into long oblong meatballs. Dip your hand in a little water to avoid it sticking.
- Serve them with lettuce leaves and lemon slices/wedges.
- Cook to a minimum temperature of 165 °F (74 °C)
- Don’t leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Use oils with high smoking point to avoid harmful compounds
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove
See more guidelines at USDA.gov.
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