This is the one time I didn’t quite believe my students. Usually, köfte refers to Turkish meatballs. My younger students often named köfte, meatballs, as their favorite food. However, my older students insisted that there was a vegetarian version of köfte, made with lentils or beans. A veggie friendly, traditional Turkish dish? All the food I encountered while teaching there was so meat-heavy, I didn’t quite believe them— though I wanted to.
Until I was drinking too much wine in Istanbul one night, and a sandwich seller wandered by. What was he selling?
Köfte sandwiches. Wonderful, spicy red lentil balls wrapped in fresh pita bread. A great drunk food, they also make a wonderful cold appetizer.
The trick was to replace the bulgur, and make them gluten-free— which is remarkably easy. I used chickpea flour, which held the köfte together very well. The quinoa helped give it a little body. (I used rainbow quinoa, for the purdy colors.) In the future, I’ll likely add some spicy peppers to the onions to give these a little more kick. Also: when stirring this, use a good-quality wooden spoon— plastic ones will bend too much.
These are good hot or cold, wrapped in lettuce or in pita bread. Since I haven’t tried locating good gluten-free pita, I used lettuce, like the recipe from Almost Turkish that I adapted. (Also, wrapping them in lettuce keeps them from sticking together in the fridge.)
Red lentil köfte (mercimek köftesi)
1 cup red lentils (unshelled and uncooked)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 medium onion, diced
lemon juice from one lemon
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1 tsp cumin
1/2 cup chickpea flour
salt to taste
cayenne pepper to taste.
1. Bring broth to a boil, and add the lentils, cumin, cayenne pepper and salt.
2. Simmer the lentils for about 20 minutes, or until they absorb the water. Red lentils cook really, really quickly. You want the lentils to still have some consistency— too mushy, and they’ll be hard to form into balls.
3. Take the lentils off of the heat, and add the cooked quinoa and chickpea flour. Stir everything together well, then set aside. This is easier said than done— the lentils will turn into a super thick, sticky mixture.
4. Saute the onion in olive oil over medium heat.
5. When the onion is soft, add this to the lentils. Also, add the lemon juice, green onion and parsley, and stir well. The mixture might feel a little dry, but the lemon juice and olive oil will help everything mix evenly.
6. Take a small scoop of the lentils and form into bite-sized balls.
7. Serve warm or chilled, wrapped in lettuce leaves.