These vegan lentil meatballs are a Turkish classic. Made with red lentils and bulgur, these meatballs are usually served with lettuce and herbs.
Turkish recipes are very versatile and use fresh and healthy ingredients. Many Turkish recipes such as Turkish yogurt soup, Turkish white bean salad and zucchini fritters are naturally vegetarian. These red lentil meatballs are another delicious Turkish recipe that happen to be naturally vegan. They are quick to make and are absolutely tasty!
What is mercimek koftesi?
Mercimek koftesi, also known as vegan lentil meatballs is a common Turkish dish that's a staple in many Turkish households. These cold lentil meatballs are considered a cold Meze dish which can be served alongside other cold mezes such as hummus, muhammara and baba ganoush. These lentil balls are served cold and they're perfect for a tasty appetizer or even a quick lunch.
What's interesting is that these vegan meatballs are not common at restaurants so unless you've had one of those nice Turkish neighbors or friends, chances are that you've never tried these tasty treats until now. With just a few ingredients, you can make these at home and bring yourself the taste of the Mediterranean.
An easy vegan meatball recipe
I'm not vegetarian or vegan myself but enjoy having vegetarian meals a few times a week. These lentil balls are a great vegan option when you're hosting a party and know you're going to have vegetarian or vegan friends over.
Turkish lentil meatballs also make a good light lunch for days that you want a quick pick-me-up. If you're looking for an easy vegetarian meal that comes together in no time and is packed with nutrients, then these vegan meatballs will be your go-to, especially because you can easily make them ahead of time and enjoy them through the week.
What goes into lentil meatballs
Mercimek koftesi or Turkish lentil balls are made of a few ingredients:
- Red lentils
- Olive oil
- Tomato paste
- Green onion
- Spices such as salt, pepper, cumin and Aleppo pepper
Red lentils cook very fast and usually turn light orange after cooking. As for the bulgur, make sure you're getting fine bulgur so you can mix it with red lentils easily. Check out The Spruce Eats to read more about bulgur wheat and its use.
How to make lentil meatballs
What I love about this lentil meatball recipe is that it's very simple and easy to make:
- Cook the lentils and bulgur: Cook the lentils with water until all the water is absorbed and the lentils are mushy. Turn the heat off, add the bulgur to the lentils and mix. Cover and let it sit for 30 minutes. The bulgur will cook with the steam and moisture coming from the lentils.
- Prepare onion and garlic: Saute the onion and garlic in some olive oil over medium heat. Stir in the tomato paste for color and flavor.
- Mix: Add the onion mixture to the lentil and bulgur mixture. Mix well using a spoon or a spatula. To the lentil mixture, add the spices, olive oil, chopped parsley and green onions.
- Shape: Take a piece of the mixture the size of a large walnut and shape it into a long cylinder and place it on a platter with some lettuce leaves. Cool in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving.
This is a simple lentil meatball recipe that's best when served cold. Packed with red lentils and bulgur and flavored with herbs and spices, this healthy lentil recipe will become a staple in your home.
What to serve with Turkish lentil meatballs
As I mentioned above, mercimek koftesi can be a part of a mezze platter alongside dips such as hummus and muhammara. These vegan lentil meatballs are usually served with lettuce leaves and parsley with a squeeze of fresh lemon for more flavor.
Can I make Turkish lentil vegan meatballs ahead of time?
Yes! It's best to make these vegan lentil meatballs and refrigerate them for a few hours before serving. However, they stay so well in the fridge so you can even make them a couple of days in advance. Squeeze some fresh lemon on them right before serving and make sure to use fresh lettuce leaves for serving.
Notes and tips to make Turkish vegan lentil meatballs
- This recipe yields 25-30 lentil balls and is enough for 5-6 people. You can store the leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
- Red lentils get very soft when they're cooked and will lose their shape. It's important to make sure the lentils don't have too much excess water since you want the vegan meatball mixture be sticky enough so you can shape it into balls.
- Make sure you purchase fine bulgur and not coarse bulgur. The finer the bulgur, the smoother the meatball mixture is going to be. Coarse bulgur will make the mixture crumbly and hard to shape.
- Aleppo pepper is not hot and is used to add depth and flavor to this recipe. If you would like the vegan meatballs to be spicy, you can add ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper to the mixture.
- If the mixture is not sticky enough, add more olive oil to it, one tablespoon at a time.
Looking for more lentil recipes?
- Turmeric red lentil soup
- Curry lentil soup
- Chicken lentil soup
- Mediterranean green lentil soup
- Persian lentil rice
Tools and ingredients used to make this recipe:
Turkish Lentil Meatballs (Vegan)
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1 ½ cup fine bulgur
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion chopped
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 ½ cups fresh parsley chopped
- 1 cup green onion chopped
- 1 tsp cumin
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- In a sauce pan cook the lentils with 3 cups of water until they have absorbed the water and are cooked.
- Turn the heat off, add in the bulgur and cover with the lid. Let it sit for 30 minutes.
- Heat olive oil in a frying pan and saute onion and garlic until golden. Add in tomato paste and cook for a few minutes. Turn the heat off.
- Place the red lentil and bulgur mixture in a large bowl. Add in the onion mixture and mix.
- Add in the parsley, green onions, cumin, salt, pepper and Aleppo pepper.
- Add in the olive oil and mix well.
- Start shaping the vegan lentil meatballs into long cylinders and place them on a platter.
- Chill for an hour in the fridge and serve with fresh lemon and lettuce.