Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Vegan Red Lentil (& Bulgur) Balls - Mercimek "Köftesi"

Mercimek Köftesi are these delicious, nutritious, and very satisfying vegan bitesmade of red lentils, bulgur, onions, and lots of herbs and spices.  They are full of flavor, loaded with protein, and really quite substantial.  I often make a batch and take several to work with me for lunch, and most recently I brought a platter to book club to share with the amazing group of women that I read and socialize with every month.

First, I measure out 1 cup of red lentils and 1 cup of very fine bulgur (also known as "Bulgur No. 1").  Both items are commonly available in supermarkets that carry a variety of ethnic foods, and any Middle Eastern market should definitely have them in stock.  Bulgur No. 1 is distinguishable from its coarser bulgur brethren (that is, Bulgur Nos. 2, 3, and even 4) in that it is so fine that it can be used in recipes where the bulgur is not actually cooked, such as in Tabbouleh.  Here, Bulgur No. 1 is essential and can not be replaced with another grade.

I start by rinsing the red lentils really well. 


Then I cook the lentils in 2 cups of boiling hot water, along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes until completely tender.  Some water should remain in the pot after cooking.  Next, I turn off the heat and add 1 cup of fine bulgur to the lentils, stir, cover the pot, and let the ingredients rest together for about an hour until the mixture cools off and all the water has been absorbed.  In the meantime, I finely dice and saute 1 white onion in about a tablespoon of olive oil over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes until the onion becomes tender.  Then I add a teaspoon of paprika to the onion, saute for another minute, and set it aside.

During this waiting period I also measure out the dry ingredients --1 teaspoon of ground cumin, and 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of red pepper (depending on the level of heat you want) -- and I coarsely chop up 4-5 scallions and finely chop up a handful of fresh mint and a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley (about 1/3 cup each).

After the hour has passed, I spoon the well-rested lentil/bulgur mixture into a large bowl, and check to make sure it is moist. (It should be about the consistency of cookie dough.)  If it is too dry, I add a bit of hot water and some olive oil until a dough-like consistency is reached.  Then I stir in the sauteed onions along with 1 tablespoon of good tomato paste.

Next, I fold in the herbs and spices, followed by juice from half a lemon and some salt and black pepper.  Now it is time to taste the mixture and adjust the spices by adding more salt, lemon, cumin, or red pepper to taste.

Once the flavor is perfect, I form about 20-25 oval or round bite-sized balls, like so, and arrange them on a serving plate.  They should be served at room temperature with fresh lemon and a side of small lettuce leaves.  And if you would like to make them in advance, simply cover and store them in the refrigerator, and bring them to room temperature before serving. They are delicious on their own, with a squeeze of lemon...

... or wrapped in a lettuce leaf for a bit of crunch.