I cannot remember the first time I ate these lentil balls, but it was certainly not my mother who cooked them. It was never a dish that was part of our family’s traditional festivity tables. But well, it should have been!
This very traditional dish is called Mercimek Koftesi in Turkish – mercimek means lentil and kofte means meatball. However the dish actually does not contain any meat at all. So we translate to English as Lentil Balls. The most traditional shape is not a ball but cylindrical. However, it is not a must; I did it once as balls and it was the same taste after all.
The main ingredient of this dish is red lentil. It is mixed with bulgur or couscous (I use couscous) and the addition of paprika and tomato pastes, onions, spring onions, a couple of spices and parsley creates a very rich taste. Normally, there is also parsley in these balls, however, since I am not the biggest fan of parsley, I do not put it in my version. You are welcome to use parsley in yours.
Lentil ball is not a main dish. It is a vegetable dish, which can be considered as a meze. You can eat them plain like this, or you can wrap them up with salad leaves. Or, one thing I like is, dipping them into plain yogurt. Especially if you accidentally put too much spice and make the balls really hot, then dipping them into yogurt really helps with taking away the extra spiciness.
It’s best to eat them the day you make, but you can also keep them in the fridge to eat next day. Do not continue to a third day though, the quality of the taste drops dramatically.
Enjoy your lentil balls!
(makes about 60 pieces)
1 cup / 2.4 dl red lentils (washed)
1 lt. water
2 cups / 4.8 dl couscous (washed)
2 medium sized onions, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup / 1.2 dl olive oil
2 tbsp / 30 ml paprika paste
1 tsp / 5 ml black pepper
Aleppo pepper / red pepper flakes – as much as you like, I put 1 tsp / 5 ml
1/2 cup / 1.2 dl warm water
2 tbsp / 30 ml tomato paste
6-7 pieces of spring onions, chopped
1.5 tsp / 7.5 ml salt
a bunch of parsley, chopped (it is almost always put in the balls, but since I don’t like it much, I do not use it much – as explained in the text above)
salad leaves to wrap the balls with while eating (optional)
2. Cook lentils until half the water is used. Then take the pan away from heat. You should not let all the water to be used in cooking, otherwise the balls get really dry.
3. In a big mixing bowl put couscous. Add red lentils with the water in the pan. Stir until lentils and couscous are well mixed.
4. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth until couscous get bigger with the water in the bowl, for about 40 minutes. It is good to stir this a few times so that lentil and couscous do not get too hard.
5. In the meantime, in another pan, put olive oil on medium heat and let it warm up for about a minute. Add onions and sauté until the onions get translucent.
6. Add paprika and tomato paste and stir until they are well incorporated.
7. Add black pepper and stir.
8. Add red pepper and stir.
9. Add warm water and let it cook for about 5 minutes, still on medium heat.
10. Once the red mixture is cooked, add it to lentil mixture and stir, until all the ingredients are incorporated.
11. Add salt and spring onions (and parsley, if you like) and stir well.
12. Wait for about 10 minutes for the mixture to cool down. Once it is cool, start kneading and continue this for about 10 minutes.
13. Take about 1.5 walnut size from the mixture in your hand and shape it. Do this until you use all the mixture. Bon app!