Red Lentil Balls (Vegan, Low-fat, Gluten-free)

by Zin
Turkish vegan red lentil balls in a dish with ingredients overlaid on a background: onions, flat-leaf parsley, garlic cloves, spring onions, red lentil, lettuce leaves, lemon wedges and pepper paste.

Here is another Turkish classic, which is naturally vegan. Turkish Red Lentil Balls, or Mercimek Köftesi in Turkish, is one of the most popular side dishes or cold mezes in Turkish cuisine. Quick to make, tasty, and fantastic party food.

The original recipes have bulgur, which is common in most Turkish dishes. For a gluten-free version, I swapped it with quinoa. Even though this dish is a side or tasty appetizer, it can be an immensely satisfying meal. The recipe will serve vegans or non-vegans well.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE RECIPE

Easy: Cooking time is less than half an hour. It uses simple and easy to find ingredients. The only troublesome item could be the Turkish red pepper paste. You can find it in Middle Eastern markets around you. However, you can also use tomato paste only, with cayenne pepper.

Low fat: Authentic Turkish recipes are not shy to use olive oil. As a high carb low-fat person, I always try to reduce the amount of oil I use as much as possible. If you are following an oil-free diet, this recipe could still serve you well. Just sauté the onions and garlic in water. 

Dietary friendly: It is vegan, gluten-free, low-fat, added sugar-free, soy-free, rich in protein and fiber.

Serve warm or cold: This is initially a cold meze. You can make it in significant quantities, store in the fridge and enjoy them through your week as a quick lunch. However, it is also an excellent finger food to eat warm as well.

Turkish vegan red lentil balls overlaid with some lettuce leaves and lemon wedges.

BULGUR AND GLUTEN-FREE RED LENTIL BALLS

The Turkish red lentil balls recipes you’ll find on the internet will include bulgur as one of the main ingredients. It is a whole grain made from several different cracked wheat species. It is parboiled during processing and has a range of grinds from finely ground (usually used in meatballs and salads) to medium or coarse (for pilafs).

Originated in the Mediterranean region, bulgur’s history goes back to thousands of years. It is a staple whole grain ingredient in many traditional Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes.

Although packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, it is a wheat product and not suitable for people who have a gluten allergy or intolerance. If you are following a gluten-free diet for health restrictions or avoiding it for any other reason, this recipe will satisfy you.

INGREDIENTS

For cooking:

Red lentils
Quinoa (Bulgur in traditional recipes. quinoa is a replacement for gluten-free option)
Olive oil (extra virgin)
Onion
Garlic cloves
Tomato paste
Turkish red bell pepper paste
Parsley
Spring onion
Spices (salt, black pepper, and cumin)

For serving:

Lettuce leaves
Lemon wedges

HOW TO MAKE

Pour 1 cup red lentils and 2 cups of cold water into a saucepan. Cover and bring the lentils to the boil. Reduce the heat and continue cooking for 15 min or until the lentils are mushy. While cooking, whisk the lentils a couple of times to mix well with the water and do not stick to the saucepan.

In a separate saucepan, pour 0.5 cups quinoa and 1 cup cold water. Cover and cook the quinoa for 15 min.

You will be cooking both lentils and quinoa at the same time to save time.

After cooking, stir them well together and let the mix rest for 10-15 min. If your lentils are still watery, do not worry. The quinoa will swell a little more in the residual heat and remove the lentils’ excess water.

Transfer the mixture to a deep bowl.

In the meantime, sauté the finely chopped onion with olive oil in a skillet for couple minutes. Then add finely chopped or crushed garlic cloves to the onion and sauté them a little more. Add tomato and pepper paste to the saucepan and cook them for another couple minutes. Keep stirring them until they mix well, and the mixture is fragrant.

Add sautéed onion mixture, finely chopped parsley, spring onions, and spices into the mix. Stir everything until they are smooth and evenly mixed.

Take a walnut-sized portion of the mixture in your hand and squeeze them lightly with your fingers.

This recipe yields 30-35 lentil balls and serves 4-6 people.

HOW TO SERVE

Serve the balls with some lettuce leaves and squeeze the lemon wedges on top right before eating.

Turkish vegan red lentil balls in a dish, made with red lentils and quinoa. Low-fat, gluten-free recipe. Red lettuce leaves and lemon wedges to serve.

Close up view of Turkish vegan red lentil balls with red lettuce leaves and lemon wedges to serve. Low-fat, gluten-free recipe.

If you make these vegan lentil balls, rate it on the recipe card and leave a comment below. Also, do not hesitate to share your photos on Instagram, tag @plant.awesome, and use the hashtag #plantawesomelife.

Turkish vegan red lentil balls overlaid with some lettuce leaves and lemon wedges.

Turkish Vegan Red Lentil Balls (Low-fat, Gluten-free)

Yield: 4-6 people
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

Turkish vegan red lentil balls with red lentils, quinoa, herbs, and spices. Low-fat, gluten-free, quick and easy to make for your lunch, dinner, or parties.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1/2 cup white quinoa
  • 3 cups water (total amount of water required to cook lentils and quinoa)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin)
  • 1 onion (finely chopped)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves (finely chopped or crushed)
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp Turkish red bell pepper paste (mild Turkish chili paste)
  • 1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley (finely chopped)
  • 4-5 spring onions (finely chopped)

Spices

  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)

For serving

  • 1 bunch red lettuce leaves / butter lettuce leaves
  • 2 lemons (cut into wedges to squeeze right before serving)

Instructions

    1. In a saucepan, cook lentils with 2 cups of cold water.
    2. In a separate saucepan, cook ½ cups quinoa with 1 cup cold water.
    3. Transfer the lentils and quinoa into a deep bowl, stir them well together, and let the mix rest for 10-15 min.
    4. Sauté the finely chopped onion and garlic cloves together until they are translucent. Add tomato and pepper paste and cook them for another couple minutes. Keep stirring them until they mix well.
    5. Add sautéed onion mix to the lentil quinoa mixture.
    6. Add very finely chopped parsley, spring onions, and spices.
    7. Stir everything until they are smooth and evenly mixed.
    8. Take a walnut-sized portion of the mixture in your hand and squeeze them lightly with your fingers.
    9. Serve the balls with lettuce leaves. Squeeze the lemon wedges on top before eating.

Did you make this recipe?

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