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.
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.
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.
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.
As always: If you make this recipe, let us know what you think by rating it and leaving a comment below. And post a pic on Instagram too—tag @give_recipe so we can see!
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