This is one of our traditional, popular favorite treats, which is often served with tea, along with some other nice treats like boereks and buns. There is probably not a single housewife in all of Turkey who has never made red lentil balls. It’s one of those seemingly simple but essentially difficult recipes that often leads to genial competition among housewives, who are always striving to make ‘the best’ red lentil balls ever! This is due to the fact that this dish requires experience and a little skill to obtain the perfect consistency and flavor. Lentil balls must neither be too mushy nor too dry! They must contain a proper amount of tomato paste, onion etc and be seasoned just right! Some like to serve it with lemon juice, and some don’t. Some like to have their lentil balls on the hot spicy side and some don’t. And the list goes on… And the biggest issue we are faced with is that almost no homecook takes note of the measures they use. This is just one of those many verbally transmitted recipes from mother to daughter or friend to neighbor. I personally believe that writing and taking proper notes of everything is much better both in order to give out the recipe to people and to maintain a more or less standardized final product. I must warn you. You may have to try making this dish several times until you finally reach the flavor and consistency which best suits your pallate. So don’t forget to take your own notes along the way but for starters, you can try my version…
- 175 gr (ca 3/4 cup) red lentils
- 160 gr (ca 3/4 cup) fine bulghur
- 2-3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion (ca 150 gr)
- 3-4 tbsp tomato paste
- 1,5 tsp salt
- ½ tsp sugar
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- ½ tsp sweet paprika powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- 15-20 stalks of green onions
- Half a bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley
- A few leaves of Romaine lettuce to serve
Step by step method
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- Start by cleaning and washing all your greens. Dry them and set aside.
- Chop the onion finely and put into a small pot with olive oil. Toss onion over low-medium heat until it becomes almost transluscent (do not brown or caramelize onions)
- Now add tomato paste, salt, sugar and the rest of the spices. Cook gently over low-medium heat for 3-4 mns and set aside to cool down a little.
- Now check your lentils to clean away any tiny little stones (which can be found even in packaged lentils), wash with plenty of cold water and drain.
- Place lentils in a large pot and pour enough water to cover just by a couple cm. Bring to boil and lower heat. Place lid on pot in such a way so at to leave a small opening on one side and cook lentils until tender and almost all of the water has evaporated.
- You should regularly check your lentils (and mix with a wooden spoon) during this cooking process because you may need to add a little bit of hot water if most of the cooking liquid has evaporated before the lentils have become soft enough to mash.
- Once the lentils have reached the consistency of a slurry take pot off the heat and add the fine bulghur, mix into lentil slurry close lid and set aside. Remember, it is absolutely necessary to use the fine type of bulghur, medium or coarse kernels are not suitable for this recipe.
- Once this lentil-bulghur mixture has reached a lukewarm temperature and the bulghur has absorbed the remaining liquid (about 20-30 mns) add the onion-tomato paste mixture and gently work this mixture into the lentil mixture. The best way to do this is by using your hands and gently kneading the mixture like a soft dough. At this point you may need to add to a few tablespoons of olive oil if you find that the mixture seems to be on the dry side (you can use extra virgin for more flavor).
- Now return to your fresh greens, chop the parsley and cut the green onions very finely. Add them into the lentil mixture and gently knead again to evenly incorporate everything. You should also taste your mixture along these last two steps in order to adjust seasoning.
- Arrange some romain lettuce leaves on a platter and using your hands, shape your lentil balls and place them onto the lettuce leaves. (This is not a must but it is the preferred and common serving suggestion) Please note that traditionally lentil balls are shaped into finger-sized little logs but I sometimes prefer to shape them into smaller little balls. It makes it easier to serve as fingerfood and I believe it is more appealing to the eye.
Bon Appétit and don’t forget to refrigerate any left-overs