I love red lentils.
Red lentil soup is one of the best, fastest, most versatile hot meals in the world. You can put just about any combination of herbs and spices in it- curry, ginger, lemon and garlic… And it’s ridiculously healthy. I make it weekly, a big pot of hot, thick lentil sludge, and while eating it (with a dollop of yogurt on top) I never fail to think about how the porridge Cain killed Abel for was most likely lentil porridge, and how that’s totally understandable then.
I’m new to Turkish cooking. I know, I know. I’ve been here a year and I barely speak the language and I haven’t learned to cook. It’s embarrassing. But I’ve recently developed an enthusiasm for the simpler vegetarian dishes and I LOVE this one for lentil köfte, or mercimek köftesi. It’s everything I love about lentil soup, but portable, for taking to work for lunch! It’s also ridiculously healthy.
Here is my recipe, roughly adapted from the one on this website, (which is a very nice one if you want to try Turkish cooking or just see some pretty pictures of it.)
1 large coffee mug of red lentils, washed.
a bouillon cube
1/2 the same large coffee mug of fine ground bulgar
a little more than a tablespoon of olive oil or hazelnut oil or butter
a medium red onion, chopped
a clove of garlic (or more!) chopped
a teaspoon of cumin
a tablespoon of tomato paste
juice of a lemon, or tablespoon of bottled lemon
white part of two green onions, finely sliced
fresh parsley, chopped.
Put the lentils in a pot with two mugs and a little extra of water, and a bouillon cube. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and keep an eye on it while you chop the onions or whatever. When some of the lentils are falling apart but some of them are holding their shape, that’s the sweet spot. That’s perfect. There should be enough unabsorbed water to make the lentils a little bit soupey. Add the bulgar and stir vigorously. Cover with a towel and leave it alone for ten minutes.
In the meantime, cook the onion in the oil and a little salt until it’s soft. Add the garlic and cumin and stir. Next plop in the tomato paste, and a little water to keep it from burning. stir it all together, cook for a few minutes, and turn off the heat.
Add the onion mixture to the lentil mixture, along with the parsley, green onion and lemon.
Scoop out walnut sized balls and roll them into köfte shapes in your hands. (See picture.)
I’m having these for lunch today, and I’m eating them in lettuce wraps with garlic-yogurt, (which is just what it sounds like: a cup of yogurt with a clove of minced garlic and a smidge of salt whisked in). But the possibilities are endless.
Add corriander and chili when you add the cumin, and substitute cilantro for the parsely for mexican köfte.
Curry köfte is just delicious.
Put the juice and rind of a lemon and a cinnamon stick in the lentils while cooking. Omit the cumin, parsley and tomato paste from the onion mixture, and add more garlic. Don’t think cinnamon goes with lentils? Oh my friend, you are so wrong.
Ginger (fresh or powdered or both) and tumeric.
Mercimek köftesi are great on salads and in lettuce wraps or on their own. You can also make burgers spice them up and make burger patties from them.
Do any of you have ideas for flavoring them or serving them? Or a similarly versatile recipe? Leave it in the comments!