Mercimek Kofte (Turkish Lentil Meatballs) make the best combination of bulgur and red lentils. They are packed with flavors, super easy and inexpensive to prepare. Serve with lemon wedges and lettuce. Always a hit at parties. Plus, the leftovers taste even better!
If bulgur is a new food for you, go check out our basic way to cook bulgur. And if you need even more ideas, check out our list of bulgur wheat recipes. Two of our favorites are bulgur salad called kisir and bulgur rice.
Today, we will teach you how to make mercimek koftesi, a classic Turkish dish, from scratch. These naturally vegan meatballs are super easy to make and very versatile. They are mainly made from red lentils and bulgur with a variety of basic flavorful aromatics. This makes them sour and a little bit spicy too!
These lentil kofte are the perfect budget-friendly snacks for any occasion or gathering, including potluck parties! Give them a try! The leftovers also store very well!
Why You Will Like This Recipe
- It is a crowd-pleaser and perfect for serving cold or at room temperature.
- It is a great snack or appetizer recipe that is loved by everyone including kids.
- They are served in an extremely festive way with refreshing lettuce leaves, fresh lemon wedges and other sides like pickles and onions. It’s a perfect mezze dish or appetizer that you will never get tired of!
- You can make these red lentil balls in advance. They taste even better as they sit.
- The leftovers keep very well for a couple of days. They are great for lunch box.
What Is Mercimek Kofte?
Also known as mercimek koftesi or mercimekli kofte (meatballs with lentils), these are one of the most popular Turkish recipes that are served at potluck parties or picnic occasions. They are one of the most loved finger foods.
So, what exactly are these? Mercimek kofte is made of a combination of red lentils and bulgur wheat that are seasoned with onions, spices, and herbs. The mixture is then shaped into oval bite sized pieces. What makes them unique is that they aren't fried or baked after being shaped.
They are completely meatless although they are called kofte (meatballs). This name comes from their bite-size shape.
If you are looking for a classic meatball recipe, you might want to check out our Turkish kofte recipe.
Mercimek Kofte vs Cigkofte
Mercimek köfte is the cousin of cig bulgur kofte, another amazing dish made with bulgur. Although they look similar and served in the same way (with lettuce and lemon slices), these two bulgur dishes are completely different.
Mercimek koftesi is completely vegan. It is made with red lentils and fine bulgur wheat. The ingredients are cooked and flavored with spices before being shaped.
Chi kofte (cigkofte), on the other hand, is made with fine bulgur, spices and pureed tomato. It doesn't have any lentils. And the traditional version might contain raw meat but it is preferred meatless today.
Another big difference between these Turkish bulghur recipes is that cigkofte is not cooked. Bulgur is softened by being kneaded with the other ingredients for a long time whereas the ingredients of mercimek köfte are cooked and then shaped.
Both are delicious and served with lettuce, lemon wedges, coban salad, sumac onions, pickles, herbs, etc.
About The Ingredients
Use fine bulgur. It does work better to create a smoother meatball. You don’t have to prepare or cook it before adding it to the cooked lentils. When left in the hot lentils in the pot, they will tenderize quickly.
If you can't find fine bulgur, use medium coarse bulgur.
Use red lentils for traditional mercimek koftesi. If you use different lentils, the cooking times will vary. This will also affect how the bulgur ultimately cooks.
Red lentils are a staple ingredient in Turkish cuisine. You can also check out our Turkish Red Lentil Soup and lentil dip.
We use cumin, black pepper, paprika, and salt. If you would like to add more flavor, try Aleppo pepper or chili flakes (aka red pepper flakes). These are perfect for people who love a little spice in their food.
We use fresh parsley, mint and green onions (known as spring onions or scallions). You can always increase or decrease the amount of these.
Use red, brown or white onion. Optionally, you can combine it with one or two cloves of garlic.
Use store-bought or homemade tomato paste for this recipe or combine it with some red pepper paste (biber salçası). You can find both at Middle Eastern stores or Amazon.
Lemon Juice: It gives a nice tangy and refreshing flavor to these lentil balls.
It is optional in this recipe, but we recommend it for a richer taste. It is a unique condiment with a sweet and tangy flavor. You can buy it from online shops or make your own pomegranate molasses at home.
These mercimek koftesi are super easy to make, filled with rich, complex flavors, and have a deliciously soft and dense texture. These vegan snacks are perfect for serving on any occasion.
Prepare the red lentils
Wash them well and place them inside a large pan. Cover them with water and bring them to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, lower the heat and allow the red lentils to simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until soft.
Add in bulgur
After about 20 minutes when the lentils are partially cooked, remove them from the heat. Stir in the bulgur well and cover the pot with a lid (still off the heat) so that it absorbs the remaining water in the pot.
Leave the bulgur to absorb the water and get tender for roughly 10-15 minutes. The mixture will look a little dry, and that’s perfectly fine!
Create the aromatic base
While the lentils cook and the bulgur tenderize, start heating olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and saute them until they become golden.
Add the tomato paste, salt, cumin, black pepper, and paprika. Stir the ingredients together very well and cook for a couple of minutes.
Combine the bulgur, lentils, and flavoring base
Once all the elements are prepared, add the seasoned onion mixture to the cooked bulgur and red lentils in the pot. Fold the ingredients together very well so all the flavors blend. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
Add the parsley, mint, green onions, pomegranate molasses, and lemon juice. Make sure to mix the ingredients together well using your hands, and adjust the seasonings if needed. Let it cool for 15-20 minutes or a bit longer.
Shape your red lentil balls
Put a little water or olive oil to a small bowl and set it aside. Wet your fingers in this bowl, then take a handful of the seasoned mixture. Shape the mixture by gently squeezing it in your palm. Wet your finger tips each time you make a ball to prevent it from sticking your hand.
Place them on a serving platter lined with lettuce leaves or herbs. Repeat the process until you don’t have any mercimek koftesi mixture left.
Let the mixture cool for 20-30 minutes before starting to shape it.
If the mixture looks too dry, add in a little more olive oil.
Dip your fingers in olive oil or water when shaping the balls. This will help prevent the mixture from sticking to your hands. It is easier to shape them this way.
Mercimek köfte is served simply. You can place it on a bed of fresh crisp lettuce leaves. Romaine (cos lettuce) or gem lettuce work great as their leaves have enough space to hold these lentil kofte.
You should serve these lentil meatballs themselves cold or at room temperature. It is not a warm, grilled, kebab-style treat.
Garnish them with more lettuce leaves and fresh lemon wedges. Also, you can serve them with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and a variety of pickles. A small bowl of pomegranate molasses on the side would be great too. You can drizzle some over your lentil kofte when eating.
You can serve these lentil kofte as a part of mezze platter with other traditional Turkish food. We recommend sigara borek, haydari and mucver.
How To Store
Keep the leftover mercimek koftesi in an airtight container in the fridge. They keep well for up to 5 days.
A good tradition in Turkey when you make mercimekli kofte is to serve tea with or after them. Bulgur easily makes you feel full and if you can not dominate your appetite and eat too much, you might too full. In this case, a well-brewed Turkish tea relaxes your stomach.
Yes, it is a completely vegan dish. It doesn't contain any animal products or animal-derived products.
No, it is not. It contains bulgur, which is NOT gluten-free. You might substitute cooked quinoa for bulgur for a gluten-free option, but we haven't tried it ourselves.
Mercimekli kofte is not a baked kofte recipe. The lentils and bulgur wheat are cooked before you shape the balls. Once shaped, simply serve them at room temperature or cold.
More Bulgur Recipes
More Turkish Recipes
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Mercimek Köfte (Lentil Balls)
Vegan meatballs with bulgur, red lentils, herbs and spices. Perfect for your next party.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Total Time: 50 minutes
- Yield: 8 servings 1x
- Category: Snack
- Method: Cooking
- Cuisine: Turkish
- Diet: Vegan
- 1 and ½ cup red lentils
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup fine bulgur
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ cup parsley, chopped
- ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
- ¼ cup chopped green onions
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses, optional
- Wash the red lentils well and put them in a large pot. Pour water over them and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer uncovered until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.
- Once most of the water is gone, remove from heat and add in bulgur. Give it a stir and let it rest covered(lid on), for 10-15 minutes so that bulgur absorbs the rest of the water and gets tender. After all the liquid in the mixture of bulgur and lentils is gone, the mixture will look a bit dry. It is ok, don’t worry.
- Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, saute the chopped onion in the olive oil until golden. Add in tomato paste, salt, cumin, black pepper and paprika. Stir well.
- When all the liquid is absorbed by bulgur in the pan, transfer the sauted onion mixture into the bulgur and lentil mixture. Stir well and then transfer it into a larger bowl.
- Add in salt, parsley, mint, green onions, lemon juice and pomegranate molasses. Mix well with your hands. Taste and adjust the amount of salt to your taste. Let it cool before shaping.
- Line a serving platter with lettuce leaves or other herbs. Put ¼ cup of water or olive oil in a bowl and put it aside. Wet your fingers dipping into this water (or olive oil). This will prevent any stickiness. Shape them in your palm and place them on the lettuce leaves. Repeat until all the mixture is finished.
- Serve them with extra lettuce leaves, lemon wedges, herbs and pickles.
- Let the mixture cool for 20-30 minutes before starting to shape it.
- If the mixture looks too dry, add in a little more olive oil.
- Dip your fingers in olive oil or water when shaping the balls. This will help prevent the mixture from sticking to your hands. It is easier to shape them this way.
- Keep the leftover mercimek koftesi in an airtight container in the fridge. They keep well for up to 5 days.
- Nutrition information is approximate and meant as a guideline only.
- Serving Size:
- Calories: 333
- Sugar: 3.6 g
- Sodium: 598.3 mg
- Fat: 15.2 g
- Carbohydrates: 41.6 g
- Protein: 11.4 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
Keywords: mercimek koftesi, lentil balls
Michele Dagenais says
Pronunciations please! We hate to learn something great and then mispronounce it. You are sharing more than just recipes, it is your culture too!
What keeps these from falling apart? or do they?
They don't fall apart at all thanks to mashed lentils.
These actually are not fired??
No they are not fried.
These are delicious! They were good before even adding the onion/parsely (in fact adding the parsley/onion worked to hide a bit of the tomato flavor so I wish I used more tomato!). I think cilantro would've been good with them as well. I used green lentil since that was what was already on my stove when I found this recipe and couscous for ease since I've never had luck getting bulgur to cook by just letting it sit in hot/boiling water (maybe different brands?). I doubled the recipe and threw a fresh tomato I needed to use up in place of some of the tomato paste. I personally really like the taste of fried tomato and onion so next time I'll probably just use fresh altogether rather than the tomato paste. I ended up sprinkling on a little more cumin and black pepper at the end (because I never know when enough is enough) and realized it's this spice combo which gives more of a 'meaty' taste that I'm personally not a fan of- just a warning to others not to go over the recipe if they don't want this. With some tahini-lemon-garlic sauce as well, they're great!
Hi Natalie! So glad that you loved these! Never used cilantro in this recipe but sounds like a good idea. Mom sometimes uses green lentil too, but they are not as smooth as red lentils when mashed. Cumin and black pepper are two of my favorite spices and love to add a lot of these in this recipe. The tahini sauce sounds great! Will try it next time! Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us!
I've made these köfte several times myself and loved them always, thank you for the reminder, I will have to make them very soon again. Beautiful pictures and I like the tip of eating them in salad leaves with pomegranate molasses, I have never had them that way.
My 3 1/2 year old and I made these today. We have made this several times and my daughter loves them. She really enjoyed mixing and squeezing and kneading with her hands! It is as fun as playdough....who says you can't play with your food!
Following your recipe, I found them to be a little pale and bland to my taste (I usually play around with seasonings since I like things a little spicy), so I use a tablespoon EACH of hot pepper paste AND tomato paste and I added the juice of a whole lemon directly to the mixture when I added the parsley and green onion. I sometimes don't want to "bother" with the lettuce and lemon, so these spiced up ones are better "plain". I use 1/3 cup olive oil. I wasn't sure how much a "tea cup" was and I think the 1/3 of an 8 ounce cup worked fine. I do always have to work extra water into the mixture as I am kneading it---it is SO DRY! In fact, I used 4 cups of water to cook the lentils, but I STILL had to add more when I was kneading. I suspect that it will absorb as much water as you put in it if it sits long enough! I use disposable gloves to keep from staining my hands when I am doing the mixing. This is a super good food to mix up and keep ready for a quick lunch, and it is also easy to take on a picnic or just put in a insulated lunchbox when you are out running around....no expensive and unhealthy fast food for me when I am on the go!
It definitely goes well with the onion salad! I used red onions the first time I made the salad, but when I made it the second time with yellow onions and the sumac my daughter's aunt brought from Tarsus (much brighter than what I find in the store), after mixing it up, it was a pretty purplish color just from the sumac! Purple onions are more expensive here, but I guess they have extra phyto-nutrients, but I like being able to use the cheaper onions. I saw a friend roll up some onion salad along with the lentil ball, and that was a neat trick! Tasty!
Thank you so much, Zerrin, for your great recipes and fantastic pictures and stories.
yummy lentil balls! I love how they have a lot of great spices in it to give them a nice flavorful kick
These look so healthy and delicious! I would love to give them a try one day. I've never had bulgur. I've learned how to "soak" grains overnight. For example, I soak my oatmeal with 2-3 tablespoons of Kefir and a small amount of nuts in enough filtered water to cover. It not only cooks up faster in the morning, the whole soaking process makes (any) grains easier to digest. I will have to ask around if the same goes for bulgur as I wonder if soaking bulgur could also help avoid stomach problems. Just a thought.
Thanks again, Zerrin! I hope you enjoyed the Ramadan holiday. I enjoyed learning so much about it, and the Turkish culture. I truly appreciate the Turkish tradition and culture and mostly because neighbors still gather together to cook and eat.
Cajun Chef Ryan says
Love bulgur and lentils, and these look great too!
Yummm...this looks way too tempting.