One of the most popular mezze of Turkish cuisine is mercimek köftesi. It is a vegan dish mainly made with red lentils and bulgur.
What are mercimek köftesi?
The two most important ingredients in mercimek köftesi are bulgur and lentils.
In Turkish, mercimek means lentils. The word köftesi is the plural of the word köfte.
The word köfte in Turkish means “meatball”, and by extension the word has also been attributed to meatless preparations.
The word kofta comes from the classic Persian word kōfta (کوفته), which means “rissole” from the verb kōftan, meaning “to pound” or “to grind”, reflecting the ground meat used for meatballs.
In Turkey, many dishes are prepared in the form of meatballs. Here are some examples :
- köfte kebab is a grilled meatball,
- ciğ köfte, where ciğ means “raw”, is a very spicy raw beef or mutton patty served cold
- kadinbudu kofte, whose literal translation is “female thigh dumpling”, in connection with the shape of this dumpling which is reminiscent of a woman’s thigh. Kandibudu köftesi are mainly made of ground beef and rice with parsley and/or dill, Turkish kasari cheese and spices. These dumplings are breaded and fried.
- içli köfte is similar to kebbeh, a popular meatball in Levantine cuisine, that comes in the shape of a torpedo and is made from minced lamb or beef wrapped in bulgur or rice before being fried.
- sulu köfte is a stew or thick soup, like mercimek çorbasi, with köftesi. It consists of meatballs, usually beef, mixed with rice or bulgur, onion and spices and boiled in their own sauce, with tomato sauce, olive oil and the famous Turkish red pepper paste called biber salçası.
- tahinli batırık köfte is a vegan dish just like the mercimek köfte, but which consists mainly of bulgur and tahini (sesame paste). Filled with spices, and often walnuts and/or pistachios.
How to make mercimek köftesi
The preparation of this very popular Turkish dish is actually very easy. However, there are a few tips to be aware of.
One of the most important tips for making these lentil meatballs is to properly adjust the ratio of lentils to water.
You should first cook the lentils until they are very soft, as keeping them firm would not be suitable to easily shape patties.
Make sure that the lentils haven’t absorbed all the water, otherwise the bulgur won’t have enough water to be hydrated and could not swell. For the bulgur to swell, the lentils must therefore be slightly watery. So make sure there is still a small amount of water left.
Do not wet the bulgur before mixing it with the lentils. Indeed, if it is wet beforehand, it will not swell in the lentils and will not have the expected consistency.
It is very important to cover the preparation while the bulgur is swelling and it is also the steam generated by cooking the lentils that will help it swell.
As for the preparation of the tomato paste with olive oil, at this stage, if you put too little fat, the balls may not hold, if you put too much, the consistency and the taste would not be good.
It is very important to add fresh parsley and onions while the preparation is lukewarm so that they do not cook with heat and above all keep their bright color, which is very characteristic of this Turkish mezze.
If the mercimek köftesi do not have the expected consistency, put a little bulgur in hot water and add it to the mixture. The added bulgur will absorb the excess water and oil and make the consistency better.
Another suggestion is to incorporate boiled potato. Boiled potatoes will absorb excess oil and water and give the meatballs the desired consistency.
Like mezze, bulgur is the backbone of Turkish cuisine.
The Anatolian lands and the geographical conditions being favorable for the cultivation of wheat, wheat products, including bulgur, constitute the basis of Turkish cuisine. For example, bulgur pilaf holds a special place in Turkish cuisine.
Bulgur, also known as bulgur, borghol, bourghol or burghul, is a by-product of durum wheat stripped of the bran that surrounds it, steamed, dried and finally crushed.
Bulgur, a word from the Turkish word bulgur, of Persian origin which means “parboiled wheat” is an ingredient widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine, especially in Syrian and Lebanese cuisine, in recipes such as tabbouleh, kibbeh, mjadra, or bourghol, but also in Iraq almost as a main dish but also in Armenia, Greece, and Turkey.
In Tunisia, there is also a dish called borghol, which is in the form of a red soup (tomato), in which the bulgur is mixed with chickpeas, harissa, garlic, and beans all seasoned with cumin and olive oil.
Bulgur is one of the main ingredients of the famous kishk, which is bulgur mixed with yogurt fermented for a week, then dried in the sun.
With regard to the bulgur variety, in Turkey, for example, a distinction is made between pilavlik bulgur (fine bulgur) and köftelik bulgur (coarse bulgur).
Here are some examples of delicious bulgur dishes from Turkish cuisine:
- ezorbelin çorbası is a traditional Turkish soup made with lentils, tomato, bulgur and rice, flavored with dried mint, olive oil and peppers.
- kısır is a bulgur-based mezze found in Turkish and Kurdish cuisines, that is similar to tabbouleh. The main ingredients are fine bulgur, parsley and tomato purée.
- burghul bi dfeen is a traditional Lebanese dish made from bulgur and chickpeas and which is usually eaten with yogurt. It is also eaten in certain regions in Turkey.
- 1½ cup red lentils (kırmızı mercimek)
- 4½ cups hot water
- 1¼ cup fine bulgur
- 2 onions , diced
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon biber salçası (red pepper paste)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 5 scallions , chopped
- ½ bunch flat parsley , finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- Lettuce leaves
- Lemon wedges
- Rinse the lentils thoroughly and drain them.
- Place the red lentils and the water in a saucepan.
- When the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, then cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.
- It is important not to salt the lentils during cooking as this will slow down the process and cause them to harden.
- Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the bulgur.
- Cover and let stand for about 15 minutes to get the bulgur to swell.
- Heat the olive oil over medium to high heat in another pan.
- Brown the diced onions for 5 minutes. Add the pepper paste, tomato paste, salt, chili powder and cumin. Mix well and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add this preparation to the bulgur and lentil mixture.
- Wait until the mixture has cooled a little before adding the scallions and parsley so that they keep their bright color.
- Knead everything by hand for about 10 minutes, until obtaining a homogeneous and smooth mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Wet the hands a little, take a knob of dough and press in the hand. Form an elongated köfte with the shape of the fingers.
- Place on a serving plate with lettuce leaves and lemon.
- Keep cool until ready to serve.