While lamb makes for a great köfte, lentils alongside the right mix of herbs and spices do the job just as well, if not better!






Skill level

Average: 3.6 (69 votes)

"This is a recipe you’ll want to prepare for every party and get together as it’s visually spectacular - like a Turkish version of san choy bow - and packed with the flavours of exotic spices and herbs. Attila has always had it on his menu at his bustling restaurant Pazar Food Collective and has customers who are sure they’ve eaten a delicious meat dish instead of humble lentils. Mercimek köfte is a classic Istanbul street food dish that is enjoyed with fresh herbs, pickled red chilli and those fabulous pickled red onions that pop with both colour and flavour." Maeve O'Meara, Food Safari Earth


  • 410 g (2 cups) Turkish red split lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 2 tsp chilli flakes
  • salt
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp Turkish red pepper paste (biber salçası)
  • 250 ml (1 cup) olive oil
  • 175 g (1 cup) fine bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 1 large red onion, very finely diced
  • 1 bunch spring onion, finely sliced
  • 1 bunch mint, leaves picked and finely chopped
  • 3 bunches parsley, leaves picked and coarsely chopped

Red pickled onions

  • 250 ml (1 cup) white vinegar
  • 250 ml (1 cup) water
  • 30 g salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tsp juniper berries
  • ¼ tsp whole cloves
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 baby beetroot, peeled and halved
  • 3 large red onions, halved and sliced

To serve

  • baby cos lettuce leaves
  • fermented red chilli
  • red pickled onions
  • pickled gherkins
  • extra parsley and mint
  • lemon wedges

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Cooling time: 1 hour

Place the red lentils and 1 litre water in a large saucepan and bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are soft and are easily squashed. Stir in the cumin, paprika, chilli flakes, a pinch of salt, tomato paste, red pepper paste and cook for another minute. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and the bulgur and combine well. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside to cool. The mixture will thicken as the bulgur absorbs the excess liquid.

Meanwhile, to make the pickled onions, place all the ingredients except the onion in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Place the onion in a bowl and strain the brine over the top, discarding the spices. Place a small plate on top of the onions to keep them submerged, then stand until cool. The pickled onions will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for at least 1 week.

When the lentils are cool, place in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and 100 ml olive oil and half the lemon juice. Using clean hands, knead the mixture together. Add the onion, spring onion, mint and parsley and mix well. Add the remaining lemon juice and olive oil as required if the mixture is too dry. Taste and season further if required. The mixture should be easily moulded in your hands and shouldn’t be sticky.

To serve, shape the lentil mixture into golf ball-size portions then squeeze gently into a football shaped köfte. Place each one in a baby cos lettuce leaf and top with a little fermented red chilli, pickled red onion, gherkins, parsley and mint. Prior to eating give them a good squeeze of lemon juice.


Photography by Sharyn Cairns. Styling by Lee Blaylock. Food preparation by Emma Warren. Creative concept by Belinda So.

Brand-new series Food Safari Earth airs Thursdays at 8pm on SBS then on SBS On Demand. For recipes and more visit the program site right here.