These Turkish Red Lentil Meatballs are perfect for parties, picnics, barbecues, potlucks or for any type of gathering that involves food. They also make the most amazing healthy snacks for kids and adults alike. Thanks to the fine bulgur wheat in them, they have the ability to keep you full for a long time. They are extremely easy to make yet this recipe will provide you for about 50 meatballs which make them a great option for meal prepping as well.
They are famously and traditionally served during small gatherings organised by stay-at-home moms (who usually are from the same neighbourhood or building). These little parties are called "gün" in Turkish, which translates into "day", because they take place during the day while the husbands are away at work. These are potluck events and an opportunity for ladies who stay at home all day to socialise, eat delicious food and maybe squeeze in a little gossiping as well!
Traditionally, these meatballs are served in finger shape with some fresh, crispy lettuce and lemon. The meatball is placed in the lettuce and folded like a taco and eaten with a generous squeeze of lemon on top or a drizzle of pomegranate molasses. They can also be served with some Tzatziki or greek yogurt mixed with some dried mint and oregano. The tartness coming from the yogurt pairs really nicely with the meatballs.
Another way to eat these little flavour bombs is by putting them in a tortilla or flatbread and make a wrap out of it! My fiancé made this version once and I was immediately hooked. You can use lettuce, tomato, bell peppers, onions, hummus, parsley, kale or any fresh vegetable you like to fill your wrap. If you like to try the wrap version, you can pan-fry them beforehand in some olive oil to get a firmer texture on the outside of the meatballs.
Some of the ingredients mentioned here like pomegranate molasses and fine bulgur wheat might necessitate a visit to your local Turkish or middle eastern grocery store. I know that most may not have access to these stores so I will try to give you some substitutes down below. Pomegranate molasses is not a part of the traditional recipe and thus not essential (however, I do feel like it brings out all the flavours in the meatball rather well).
Tips and Tricks:
If you aren't able to find fine bulgur wheat, you can try using regular bulgur wheat, quinoa or pulse some wheat berries in a food processor. I haven't tried this recipe with any of these substitutes but anything that would absorb the water should work.
The lentils will release some foam during boiling, you can skim the foam or leave it. It will not make a difference in taste nor texture.
If you can't find mild red pepper paste, use 2 tbsps of tomato paste instead.
If you can't find pomegranate molasses, you can disregard it entirely or use 1 tbsp of lemon juice. However, I would advise against the use of any extra lemon juice if you have already decided to serve them the traditional way with lemon. Optionally, making your own pomegranate molasses is also possible by reducing pomegranate juice into a syrup like consistency (a recipe of which is soon to follow here :) )
The more you knead, the better your flavours will get to compound and unify. A well kneaded and mixed meatball will be easier to shape and will have a better texture.
You can make the traditional finger shaped ones by squeezing them lightly in your palm, applying enough pressure to see the knuckle marks on the meatball. You can also roll them in your palm and serve them in ball shape.
You can use gloves for the kneading and shaping process but I love getting my hands dirty. Should you also want to participate in the preparation with bare hands, I recommend having a bowl of warm water and a kitchen towel next to you while shaping them to give your hands a little rinse in between. Rinsing your hands (even if you're using a glove) will help you achieve smoother looking meatballs.
You can store these meatballs in an airtight container for up to 4 days in the fridge. I prefer lining the container with parchment paper and placing them in layers with more parchment paper in between to prevent them from sticking together (and thus making it very hard to separate once ready to serve ).
PREP TIME: 10 MIN
COOK TIME: 40 MIN
TOTAL TIME: 1H 20 MIN
SERVES: This recipe will make about 50 individual finger shaped balls. The final number may vary depending on the shape and size you choose.
2 cups of red lentils, washed, drained
4 ½ cups of water
1 cup of fine bulgur wheat
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp mild red pepper paste
1 ½ tsp red chilli flakes
1 ½ tsp ground cumin
2 ½ to 3 tsp salt (to taste)
1 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
About 5 scallions, chopped finely
2 handfuls of parsley, chopped finely
1. Get all your ingredients ready. Rinse and drain the red lentils until the water runs clear. In a large pot, boil the lentils in 4,5 cup of water.
2. While your lentils are cooking, dice you onions and mince your garlic. In a medium sized pan, heat up the olive oil, add in the onions and sauté until soft and translucent. Add in the tomato and red pepper paste and sauté for about 5 more minutes then take it off the heat. I'll be calling this the wet mixture.
3. Take the lentils off the heat when they're soft and have absorbed almost all the water. Add the finely ground bulgur wheat in the pot and mix it until you have a homogenous mixture. Cover the pot with a lid and let the bulgur absorb the remaining water in the lentils. This will be your base (dry mixture) for the meatballs. Let this mixture sit in room temperature for at least 10 minutes before you proceed to the next step.
4. Transfer your dry mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add in the wet mixture and all the spices. Knead for about 10 minutes. If your mixture is still too hot to knead, use a spoon to mix everything together. This will release some of the heat.
5. Finally, add in your green onions and parsley and keep kneading until they are fully incorporated.
6. Lay some parchment paper or cling film on an oven tray or a large plate and begin shaping your meatballs and placing them on the tray. Keep them covered until they have cooled enough to be stored in the fridge. Be sure to check that they've fully cooled before stacking and storing them in the fridge to avoid condensation.
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