Whether you’re someone who, like us, enjoys a bit of everything, or you’re vegetarian or vegan, this Turkish lentil köfte recipe (mercimek köftesi) is great for serving when you have friends over for food.
Köfte is the word often associated with the dreaded translation of Turkish meatballs. Well, no meat in this recipe.
Lentil köfte signals springtime for us. The weather in Fethiye is gradually losing its biting winter chill and opening the curtains to beautiful sunshine in the mornings kick-starts us into action.
It’s spring-cleaning weather, walking weather and eating-Turkish-meze-dishes-on-the-balcony weather.
The red lentils and bulgur wheat give us our wholesome comfort food fix, whilst the fresh salad ingredients remind us that warmer weather is on the way. A crisp summer flavour.
Turkish Recipe For Lentil Köfte
Mercimek köftesi or lentil köfte is traditionally eaten with lettuce and a squeeze of lemon juice. If you’ve got vegetarian and vegan friends, like we have, they’ll love you for serving this up.
We first had mercimek köfte many years ago at a friend’s house. Being highly non-vegetarian, I was really interested in the dish because both of us actually enjoyed eating it.
(Whilst we cooked a lot in the UK, it was only really when we came to live in Fethiye that we started to experience and experiment with different and unfamiliar flavours and combinations).
The recipe that our friend was using was her Turkish mother-in-law’s (a fantastic cook) and she wrote it down for us. With a few tweaks here and there over the years, it’s this lentil köfte recipe that we use today.
How To Make Lentil Köfte
Sometimes, following Turkish recipes can be a difficult process – especially those of a friend’s Turkish mother-in-law who knows her way around the kitchen and doesn’t need to measure or weigh anything. She just knows!
So her mercimek köftesi recipe suggested we put the lentils in a pan with ‘just enough water.’ Just enough water for what, exactly?
Well, a bit of common sense and a bit of trial and error in our first few attempts and we now have that part worked out, too, making life a bit easier for you if you want to make it.
The main bulk of the lentil köfte ingredients are red lentils and the fine bulgur wheat that we also use to make kısır salad. We’re going to be using a rakı glass to measure (approx 125 ml) and we need one each of red lentils and fine bulgur wheat.
We’re then going to be using that same glass for the ‘just enough water.’ A chopped onion and the lentils will be boiled in 4 rakı glasses of water and a dessert spoonful of salça (tomato puree) and spices.
Once the water has roughly reduced by half and the lentils are almost soft, we add the bulgur wheat, stir and then remove from the heat and seal the pan with a lid. After 15 minutes uncover the pan and the rest of the water should have been absorbed by the bulgur.
Once the mixture is cooled, we can then add our salad ingredients and start to form our mercimek köftesi.
Lentil Köfte Recipe – Ingredients & Method
Okay, let’s make lentil köfte…
Lentil Köfte Recipe (Turkish Mercimek Köftesi)
For The Lentil Köfte
- 1 glass red lentils
- 1 glass fine bulgur wheat
- 1 medium onion finely chopped
- 1 bunch spring onions around 5 or 6, chopped
- ½ bunch parsley finely chopped
- ½ bunch dill finely chopped
- 1 dessert spoonful tomato puree or red pepper paste
- 1 dessert spoonful olive oil
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp chilli flakes
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp dried mint
- salt & pepper to season
- 1 romaine lettuce
- lemon wedges or slices
- In a large saucepan, gently heat your olive oil.
- Now add your medium-sized chopped onion and your glass of lentils.
- Stir for a couple of minutes before adding 4 glasses of water.
- Turn the heat to high and bring to the boil.
- Add your tomato paste and stir until dissolved.
- Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the water is reduced by half and the lentils are almost soft.
- Whilst your lentils are simmering, add your cumin, paprika and chilli.
- When your water has reduced add your glass of fine bulgur wheat, stir to mix everything and remove the pan from the heat.
- Seal with a lid and leave to stand for 15 minutes.
- Now remove the lid and give your mixture a stir.
- Add your spring onion, mint, parsley and dill and mix in.
- Do a taste test and add more seasoning or spice if required.
- Pull the leaves whole from your lettuce.
- Wash and arrange on a large serving platter.
- Now take small handfuls of your lentil köfte mix and form into rough torpedo shapes.
- Place each one on your plate and arrange the lemon around them.
- As with all of our recipes, the calorie count is a rough guide, only.
This lentil köfte recipe makes around 30 köfte, depending on the size you make them.
- Spice measurements and seasoning can be increased according to taste.
- If you wish, you can also add a drizzle of nar ekşisi (pomegranate molasses) to your lentil köfte mix.
- Serve your lentil köfte on a lettuce leaf with a drizzle of lemon juice.
Mercimek köfte makes for an impressive display if you are making it as finger food for when you have friends to visit. Obviously, it goes well with other meze plates, too. Once you have created your display, place in the fridge for an hour or so to chill.
It’s up to you how you present your lentil köfte, but make sure there is a good supply of fresh lemon slices or wedges available to drizzle over the top of each one before eating. This is critical to lentil köfte enjoyment.
When it comes to eating your lentil köfte…
Take a crisp lettuce leaf. Place one or two lentil köfte onto the leaf. Now drizzle with fresh lemon juice, wrap your lettuce round the köfte – and eat.
And bear in mind that we are dealing with lentils and bulgur wheat, here. The köfte is deceptively filling so if you need to leave room for other foodie treats, don’t get too carried away munching your way through them.
We make this much lentil köfte for ourselves as it keeps in the fridge for 3-5 days.
Mercimek Köftesi Recipe – Afternotes
- The rakı-glass-method makes 25-30 lentil köfte, depending on how big you make them.
- For reference, a rakı glass is usually 150 ml.
- The rule is, whatever you use to measure your lentils, make sure you use the same for your bulgur and water.
- Make sure you use fine bulgur wheat; not coarse. Otherwise, it won’t cook.
- Feel free to add more of (or omit) each spice if you like. The measurements are a rough guide.
- We also sometimes drizzle some nar ekşisi (pomegranate molasses) into our lentil köfte mix.
- If you love red lentils, you could also try our spicy red lentil soup.
- And if you’re looking for more vegetarian or vegan köfte ideas, try our falafel recipe.
- And if you need some other meze ideas to go with your lentil köfte, there are lots of ideas in our Turkish recipe collection.