Lettuce cups with red pepper lentil balls









Vibrant colours, bright flavour hits and warm spicy notes – all combined in these wonderful Turkish red pepper & lentil balls served on emerald green baby romaine lettuce. Turkish mercimekli köfte make a fabulous appetizer for a crowd, great finger food for a party, brilliant brunch fare or vegetarian meal and look stunning while being super easy to prepare and assemble. In the interest of stability when served as finger food I’d go back to its original shape of a small köfte, an oblong loaf shape, rather then the admittedly prettier balls which only pretend to remain stationary but suddenly start to roll on the lettuce like a fast spinning roulette ball (not soo funny when heading for your dress). For even more colour mix lettuces and add purple Treviso leaves & pale jade shards of chicory/endive. Two sauces rather then one (moderation is not a virtue of mine) to choose from: a tangy mild spiced roasted red pepper, tomato & pomegranate sauce or a fresh, creamy Tahini yoghurt-buttermilk number.

Go and ask a Turkish person about these and you’ll get about one hundred different recipes plus expert advice on the ideal bulgur wheat grain size to use: there are seven different ones and about half of those have been pointed out as the ultimate to use: from very fine to medium coarse. In the end, I went with a brilliant working medium-fine one (the scientific reason for this choice simply being the only organic one available). My recipe is a mixture of these and a Kitchn version, which tips the scales in favour of more lentils than bulgur. In Germany with Turkish grocer’s galore, there is no real need to whip up your own Salça, a paste made from roasted red peppers and tomatoes, since this condiment is one of the backbones of Turkish cuisine and fills shelves over shelves. Alternatively blend roasted red peppers from a jar with tomato paste and a smidgen of harissa or aleppo pepper flakes = pul biber. Done.

The yield of this recipe is geared for a party but pulses in general and lentils in particular are versatile workhorses for me, so I make the whole amount of red lentil mix to have more than one life throughout the next weeks: A few leftover köfte or balls start a light lunch or become the main player on top of a salad with a creamy tahini dressing. I freeze a portion to be quickly transformed into a Middle Eastern spiced side to anything from grilled fish/meat/vegetables (ready in minutes) instead of the usual suspects. Another small portion usually thickens a vegetable curry and gives it depth while another one could be an instant pureed soup (not so unlike this gorgeous one) if mood and need strikes.

Seems a little OTT for you? Well, I became a great re-user & re-creator of leftovers (and a surprising lunch box maker) out of necessity: we hate to eat the same thing day after day after day but I also abhor the thought of throwing out delicious food just because of that (and usually cooking way more than was necessary for us two). Plus, there is the calm assuredness that a weeknight dinner or lunch can be fashioned into something wonderful & new with just a few tweaks and fresh ingredients. I am happy to follow Pearl S. Buck here: “Second helpings need not be a repetition, but a fresh new taste”.


More brunch / party food, nibbles, appetizers for the Easter host: scarlet eggs, Béarnaise eggs / chervilled eggs, cheese biscuits & sablesWhitefish salad (halibut), Salmon tartareburnt aubergine & tahini dip, tandoori octopus with preserved lemon relish, broad bean bruschette, Tapenade, aubergine involtini, Palmiers, Momofuku pork buns, pork belly ssämsaubergines with buttermilk sauce & pomegranate seeds, falafel, Indian spiced chickpeas with mint & coriander yoghurt dressing, Chipotle-lime mix, Nigella & caraway seed sticks, labneh, caponata alla Siciliana

And let’s not forget the necessary drinks: perfect Bloody Mary, Extra-stormy Dark & Stormy, Clementine & ginger sparkler (alcohol free), Ipanema (alcohol free), Elderberry cosmopolitan, Americano


Lettuce cups with red pepper lentils

Red pepper lentil köfte with two sauces

Serves about 10-12. Adapted and inspired from The Kitchn cookbook, Frau Dr. B. & people at my Turkish grocer.


1 red onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
olive oil
¼ + ¼ cup Salça (Turkish red pepper paste)
¼ + ½ teaspoon harissa or ½ + 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper / pul biber (more to taste)
1+ 1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1½ cup / 330g red lentils, washed
3 cups / 700ml water
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup / 135g medium-fine bulgur wheat
juice of 1 lemon
salt & black pepper

2-3 spring onions, finely chopped
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley or cilantro, minced

To serve:
¼ cup pomegranate molasses, warmed
½ cup Salça
leaves from 2-3 salad hearts or small lettuce heads, Treviso, red or white chicory

Tahini yoghurt-buttermilk sauce:
Mix 1-2 tablespoons Tahini into the yoghurt-buttermilk sauce (see Aubergines with buttermilk sauce & pomegranate seeds) and sprinkle a little sumach on top.


In a saucepan, soften onion & garlic in olive oil without browning them, add ¼ cup Turkish red pepper paste (Salça), ¼ teaspoon harissa (or ½ teaspoon of Aleppo pepper), cumin & sweet paprika, stir until combined and warm. Decant red lentils into the saucepan along with water & salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until the lentils have softened but are not falling apart. Add bulgur wheat, take the saucepan off the flame and cover with a lid. Leave for 20 minutes for the bulgur to swell – until the mixture resembles a thick & rather dry rice pudding. Season with the remaining ¼ cup Salça, ¼ teasp. harissa or ½ teasp. Aleppo pepper), 1 teasp. cumin, lemon juice, salt & pepper to taste and leave to cool. Finally mix with spring onions & parsley or cilantro and form balls or oblong shaped köfte.

Combine warmed pomegranate molasses & red pepper paste to a thick sauce. For the second, totally optional sauce stir Tahini into the yoghurt-buttermilk sauce from the aubergines. Place lentil balls or köfte onto lettuce or endive leaves and drizzle with sauce.


Make Salça yourself:
Blend 3-4 roasted red peppers (roasted over a gas flame or in a hot oven, peeled & relieved of stalks, stems etc. or from a 12 oz. jar, drained) with dash of olive oil and a tablespoon or less of tomato paste to a red paste which tastes mainly of red peppers and has only a hint of tomato.




Lettuce cups with red pepper lentils

Rote Paprika & Linsenköfte mit zwei Saucen

Für ca. 10-12 Personen. Adaptiert und inspiriert von The Kitchn cookbook, Frau Dr. B & meinem türkischen Gemüsehändler. Ich habe hier zwei Saucen vorgeschlagen, die erste stammt von The Kitchn und ist eher fruchtig-säuerlich (siehe Bild), die andere ist cremig-nussige Variante. Ich finde beide passen hervorragend zum den Linsenhäppchen.


1 rote Zwiebel, fein gehackt
4 Knoblauchzehen, fein gehackt
4 EL + 4 EL Salça (Turkische rote Paprikapaste, nicht scharf)
¼ + ½ TL Harissa oder ½ + 1 TL pul biber / Chilliflocken (nach Geschmack)
1+ 1 TL Kreuzkümmelpulver
1 TL Paprika, edelsüß
330g rote Linsen, gewaschen
700ml Water
1 TL Salz
135g medium-feiner Bulgur
Saft von 1 Zitrone
Salz & Pfeffer

2-3 Frühlingszwiebeln, fein gehackt
1 Bund glatte Petersilie oder Koriander, fein gehackt

Zum Servieren:
Blätter von 2-3 Salatherzen, kleinen Salatköpfen, Treviso, rotem oder weißem Chicoree

4 EL Granatapfelmolasse / Granatapfelsirup, erwärmt
8 EL Salça

1-2 EL Tahini in die Joghurt-Buttermilchsauce (siehe Auberginenrezept) mischen und mit etwas Sumach garnieren.


In einem Top Zwiebeln & Knoblauch in Oliveöl anschwitzen ohne sie zu bräunen, 4 EL rote Paprikapaste (Salça), ¼ TL Harissa (oder ½ TL pul biber), Kreuzkümmel & Paprika hineinrühren und erwärmen. Rote Linsen sowie Wasser und Salz hinzugeben und zum Kochen bringen, dann Hitze reduzieren und ca. 10 Minuten köcheln lassen bis die Linsen weich sind aber nicht zerfallen. Den Topf vom Herd nehmen und den Bulgur hineinschütten, Deckel auflegen und 20 Minuten quellen bis eine dicke, weiche Masse entstanden ist. Mit den restlichen 4 EL Salça, ¼ TL Harissa (oder ½ TL pul biber), 1 TL Kreuzkümmel, Zitronensaft, Salz & Pfeffer nach Geschmack mischen und abkühlen lassen. Dann Frühlingszwiebeln und Petersilie oder Koriander untermischen und zu kleinen Bällchen oder Laibchen / köfte formen.

Erwärmte Granatapfelmolasse mit Salça zu einer dicklichen Sauce verrühren. Für die zweite Sauce, wenn gewünscht, die Joghurt-Buttermilchsauce (vom Auberginenrezept) mit 1-2 EL Tahini verrühren. Linsenbällchen oder-laibchen (die Laibchen rollen nicht so schnell) auf Salatblätter legen und mit einer der beiden Saucen beträufeln.


* Was ist das und wo gibt es das denn alles? Granatapfelmolasse bzw. Granatapfelsirup ist eingekochter Granatapfelsaft, er ist nicht süß, sondern herrlich fruchtig-sauer. Diese gibt es genauso wie die Sesampaste Tahini und Bulgur sowie Harissa und türkischer Chillipaprika pul biber in allen Körnungen im türkischen Laden, mittlerweile gibt es das meiste auch in gut sortierten / besseren Supermärkten.
Salça habe ich auch im türkischen Laden gekauft, das ist fast eine Grundsauce in der türkischen Küche. Es gibt sie in zwei Varianten, nicht scharf und scharf, am besten die ungewürzte nehmen und den Schärfegrad mittels Harissa oder dem türkischen Chillipaprika pul biber selbst wählen. Man kann Salça aber auch selbst machen.



Salça selbstgemacht:
3-4 geröstete rote Paprikaschoten (von allen Seiten über einer Flamme oder im heißen Backofen geschwärzt, die Haut abgezogen und Stile, Kerne etc. entfernt oder aus einem Glas, abgegossen) mit etwas Oliveöl und einem EL Tomatenmark pürieren. Die Paste sollte hauptsächlich nach roten Parika schmecken und nur nach einem Hauch Tomatenmark.



15 thoughts on “Lettuce cups with red pepper lentil balls

    • Thanks, Seana, these days, when you get all possible weather in one day (we had snow, rain, hail, sunshine, storm yesterday), brightly coloured and tasting food is exactly what I need.

    • Hi Danae, easy: you’ll go to the main page (Home) and scroll down until you’ll see at the end of the right-hand side bar: “Follow this blog via email” and use the button Follow. That#s it. Thank you so much for your interest.

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