Meatballs with Vegies for the Vegetarians

  December 18, 2023   Read time 2 min
Meatballs with Vegies for the Vegetarians
Do you like the idea of sinking your teeth into a tender, juicy, and spicy meatball that's actually meatless? Then this popular Turkish recipe made with red lentils and bulgur is perfect for you, especially if you're a vegan or vegetarian.

In Turkey, these tender delights are called mercimek köftesi (mare-juh-MEK' kuf-tay-SEE'). They are served cold as an appetizer–meze–or as a finger food at social gatherings. They are great for parties, very easy and inexpensive to prepare and loved by all.

You can even make them a day or two beforehand as they store very well in the refrigerator for several days. In fact, the longer the meatballs rest, the tastier they become.


  • 1 cup red lentils

  • 5 cups water

  • 1 1/2 cups fine bulgur

  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste

  • 2 tablespoons sweet red pepper paste

  • 3 teaspoons salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 pinch sugar

  • 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, to taste

  • 1 bunch green onions, trimmed and chopped

  • 1 large bunch Italian parsley, leaves only, thick stems removed, finely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Steps to Make It

  1. First, wash the red lentils in a wire mesh strainer until the water runs clear. Transfer the lentils to a large saucepan and add the water. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil.

  2. Once the water boils, cover the pan leaving the lid cracked, reduce the heat, and let the lentils boil until they are very tender and fall apart. Add more water if needed as they cook. Once the lentils are fully cooked, there should be about 1/2 inch or 1 1/2 centimeters of water remaining on top of the lentils. If there is too much, gently drain some of the water. If there is too little water, boil some water separately and then add enough to bring it to the right level.

  3. While the lentils are still hot, stir in the tomato and pepper paste and seasonings. Then add the fine bulgur and stir everything together with a wooden spoon until well combined. Cover the pan again and leave it to cool down.

  4. As the mixture cools down, the bulgur will absorb the extra liquid and become soft. When it's cool enough to handle, knead in the olive oil, lemon juice, green onions, and chopped parsley until they are distributed well through the mixture. Finally, taste the mixture and add more salt and hot pepper to your taste.

  5. Line your serving platter with lettuce leaves and then begin making your meatballs. Using a piece of mixture about the size of a large walnut, form it into a long cylinder shape with tapered ends, and place it on the platter. Repeat until all the mixture is finished.

  6. You can stack your meatballs any way you like, making several layers. Sprinkle the top of your stack with more chopped parsley leaves for garnish, if desired.

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