Turkish spiced red lentil kofteI love Turkish food. It has all the healthful aspects of other Mediterranean cuisines, plus the spices and complexity of Ottoman, Central Asian and Persian cuisines. There is so much to it! I think one of the reasons it is such a wonderful cuisine is because Turkey produces everything it needs for its cuisine. Rice, wheat and legumes, meats, fish and vegetables, herbs, spices, fruits and nuts, oils and cheeses…

These Red Lentil Köfte are excellent and healthy. Vegetarian — vegan even! You can eat them warm or cold. My own embellishment is to drizzle them with pomegranate molasses either instead of or in addition to the drizzling of olive oil called for in the recipe.

This recipe is the first in a book entitled Turkey: More than 100 Recipes, with Tales from the Road, a terrific collection of recipes by Leanne Kitchen. (I won’t go on about the appropriateness of her name for a cookbook author…) Many interesting recipes with luscious accompanying photos, and almost every one a winner. A particular favorite is chicken stewed with apricots and saffron, and also salmon baked in grapevine leaves with grape sauce, to name just a few.

For this recipe, you will need a couple of ingredients that are not so common: fine bulgar wheat and Turkish red pepper paste. Mostly coarse bulgar wheat is available in the bulk section of better supermarkets, but probably you could approximate fine by grinding the coarse stuff in a spice grinder or a food processor. The Turkish red pepper paste can be found in middle eastern specialty food stores, such as PFI in Seattle.

Spiced Red Lentil Köfte

Ingredients:
  • 3/4 c fine bulgar wheat
  • 3/4 c red lentils
  • 2 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 T Turkish red pepper paste
  • 1 1/2 t ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 t paprika
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 large pinch chili powder
  • For serving, baby romaine lettuce leaves, scallions and lemon wedges
  1. Rinse the bulgar under cold running water, then drain well and set aside. Put the lentils and 2 c water in a saucepan, bring slowly to a simmer, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until very tender. Remove from the heat, and stir in the bulgar. Cover again and let stand for 15 minutes while the bulgar absorbs moisture from the lentils. The mixture should be very thick.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, for 7-8 minutes, until softened. Add the tomato paste, pepper paste, cumin and paprika. Continue stirring for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Stir in the lentil mixture until well combined, then re-cover the pan and set aside to cool.
  3. Once cool, season the lentil mixture with salt and pepper. Mix in the lemon juice and chili powder and knead it all together with your hands. Add a little bit of water if the mixture is too dry to hold together.
  4. Make little balls out of the mixture, with an indentation in the top. (The recipe says make the balls out of 1 T of the mixture, but I make mine out of about 2 or 3 T.) Arrange them on a serving plate and drizzle with olive oil (and/or pomegranate molasses), and serve with the lettuce leaves, scallions and lemon wedges.
Turkey, by Leanne Kitchen
Turkey, a collection of recipes by Leanne Kitchen

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