Turkish Vegetarian Meatballs With Red Lentils And Bulgur

Turkish vegetarian meatballs are made with red lentils, bulgur, tomato and pepper paste, green onions and spices. They make a great finger food. Photo © Elizabeth Taviloglu, 2013
  • 45 mins
  • Prep: 30 mins,
  • Cook: 15 mins
  • Yield: 5-10 servings
Ratings (7)

Do you like the idea of sinking your teeth into a tender, juicy and spicy meatball that's actually meatless? Then this popular Turkish recipe made with red lentils and bulgur is perfect for you, especially if you're a vegan or vegetarian.

In Turkey, these tender delights are called 'mercimek köftesi' (mare-juh-MEK' kuf-tay-SEE'). They are served cold as an appetizer, or 'meze,' or as a finger food at social gatherings. They are great for parties, very easy and inexpensive to prepare and loved by all.

You can even make them a day or two beforehand as they store very well in the refrigerator for several days. In fact, the longer the meatballs rest, the tastier they become.

The Perfect Party Food

For your next party, stack as many of these long, round meatballs on a platter as you can to add a splash of color to your buffet table. You'll watch the platter of meatballs quickly disappear as your guests pass by.

Make It An Interactive Snack

To get the conversation going, you can add extra Romaine lettuce and some lemon wedges on the side for even more interactive fun. Have your guests place a meatball inside a lettuce leaf, squeeze on some lemon juice and pop it in their mouths. Once they try one, they won't be able to stop.

The best part about this finger food is that it's great for you. The meatballs are lowfat, you get protein and fiber from the lentils, healthy carbs from the bulgur, and just enough spice from the green onions and red pepper to make this dish the perfect appetizer or snack.

I like to keep some 'mercimek köftesi' ready in the refrigerator for busy days. It's easy to pop a few in your mouth when you're on the run. Two or three meatballs are enough to keep you full and satisfied in between meals.

Try this easy, delicious Turkish recipe for your next party or when you want to have something healthy on hand to snack on.

What You'll Need

  • 1 rounded cup red lentils
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups fine bulgur
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons sweet red pepper paste
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, more or less to taste
  • 1 bunch of green onions, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 large bunch of Italian parsley, leaves only, thick stems removed, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

How to Make It

  1. First, wash the red lentils in a wire mesh strainer until the water runs clear. Transfer the lentils to a large saucepan and add the water. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil.
  2. Once the water boils, cover the pan leaving the lid cracked, reduce the heat and let the lentils boil until they are very tender and fall apart. Add more water, if needed as they cook. Once the lentils are fully cooked, there should be about 1/2 inch or 1 1/2 centimeters of water remaining on top of the lentils. If there is too much, gently drain some of the water. If there is too little, boil some water separately and add enough to bring it to the right level.
  1. While the lentils are still hot, stir in the tomato and pepper paste and seasonings. Then add the fine bulgur and stir together until well combined with a wooden spoon. Cover the pan again and leave it to cool down.
  2. As the mixture cools down, the bulgur will absorb the extra liquid and become soft. When it's cool enough to handle, knead in the olive oil, lemon juice, green onions and chopped parsley until they are distributed well through the mixture. Finally, taste the mixture and add more salt and hot pepper to your taste.
  3. Line your serving platter with lettuce leaves, then begin making your meatballs. Using a piece of mixture about the size of a large walnut, form it into a long cylinder shape with tapered ends and place it on the platter. Repeat until all the mixture is finished.
  4. You can stack your meatballs any way you like, making several layers. Sprinkle the top of your stack with more chopped parsley leaves for garnish, if desired.