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Mercimek köftesi is one of my favorite dishes. As I travel a lot, when people ask me to cook something Turkish, I usually cook this because it has the easiest ingredients to find abroad. When I was living in Italy, I’ve even attended to a cooking contest for international residents and I won the contest with mercimek köftesi. This success of mercimek köftesi made me cook it in every country that I’ve lived so far; France, Spain, Chile, United States and Canada: I become an international mercimek köftesi maker! Since I love it so much,  I have been trying with to pair this dish with different wines, but unfortunately  I still couldn’t find my Mr. Right Wine! I am sure that I will find it someday!

What is mercimek köftesi?

If you translate literally ‘Mercimek köftesi’ from Turkish, it would be ‘lentil meatballs’. But they don’t have meat; you use lentils instead, so I think we can just call them lentil balls. As many recipes, this also has different versions depending on the person who makes it. So, I have my own recipe, which I am happy to share it with you:

The ingredients:

  • Red lentils (You can also use the yellow ones but with red it is more delicious.)
  • Fine ”bulgur” (If you cannot find it, couscous would work more or less the same.)
  • Double concentrated tomato paste (Generally Italian brands have this.)
  • White onion
  • Spring onion
  • Parsley
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper (or paprika)
  • Lemon and lettuce to decorate and accompany.


How to make it?

  • The measurements are so important to prepare mercimek köftesi. You have to calculate very well otherwise it will end up being so juicy or so dry that it will not be possible to give them shape.
  • Boil 2 cups of red lentils with 3 cups of water.
  • When it is cooked, take away from the stove and add immediately 1 cup of fine bulgur. (The trick is not to let it cool before you add the bulgur, so it will cook with the heat of the lentils.) Mix a bit and close the lid of the pot. Wait 15 minutes until it cooks; afterwards leave it to cool down.
  • Cut the white onions into cubes and stir fry them with olive oil until they turn to have golden color.
  • Cut the spring onions and parsley in small pieces.
  • When the mix of lentil and couscous is cold, add the stir fried white onions, spring onions and parsley. Finally add the double concentrated tomato paste, salt and paprika.
  • Mix them very well, until they become a uniform paste, until it has the same consistency as dough.
  • The final step is to give them shape and serve. You can give them the shape of a small ball or a potato crocket. After shaping, serve them with lettuce and lemon slices. Additionally, squeeze a lemon, and bring the juice to the table. When you eat them, lay one mercimek köftesi on a lettuce leaf, pour some lemon juice on top and enjoy!


Wine pairing:

As you can see, it doesn’t have meat and it is a good option as starter or a menu for vegetarian guests. Unfortunately, before, I’ve made the wine pairing according to main course which didn’t make any synergy with mercimek köftesi. I’ve paired with a red Chilean wine, Cantaluna Gran Reserva Cabertnet Sauvignon 2010. Another time I cooked it in a Turkish dinner and I paired it with a red Turkish wine,Gülor Öküzgözü & Petit Verdot 2011. Finally, I’ve planned a dinner in which mercimek köftesi was the star of the table and it was accompanied by Riesling 2013 from Alsace. My idea was to pair the acidity of food and wine, while letting the sweetness of Riesling to cover the spiciness of the food. And it worked perfectly. If it was not a Riesling, I would also think this dish with a bottle of Tidal Bay from Nova Scotia, where the acidity is pronounced with a touch of sweetness and strong enough to accompany this dish which is rich in spices and consumed with lemon.

Let me know if you try it, and find a delicious wine pairing.

Bon appétit and cheers!


All images © 2017 by Neslihan IVIT. All rights reserved.

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