20-Minute Turkish Vegetarian Meatballs

Turkish vegetarian meatballs on bed of lettuce
Elizabeth Taviloglu
Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Total: 45 mins
Servings: 5 to 10 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
73 Calories
2g Fat
13g Carbs
3g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 5 to 10
Amount per serving
Calories 73
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 2g 2%
Saturated Fat 0g 1%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 869mg 38%
Total Carbohydrate 13g 5%
Dietary Fiber 3g 11%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 3g
Vitamin C 3mg 13%
Calcium 15mg 1%
Iron 1mg 6%
Potassium 140mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Do you like the idea of sinking your teeth into a tender, juicy, and spicy meatball that's actually meatless? Then this popular Turkish recipe made with red lentils and bulgur is perfect for you, especially if you're a vegan or vegetarian.

In Turkey, these tender delights are called mercimek köftesi (mare-juh-MEK' kuf-tay-SEE'). They are served cold as an appetizer–meze–or as a finger food at social gatherings. They are great for parties, very easy and inexpensive to prepare and loved by all.

You can even make them a day or two beforehand as they store very well in the refrigerator for several days. In fact, the longer the meatballs rest, the tastier they become.


  • 1 cup red lentils

  • 5 cups water

  • 1 1/2 cups fine bulgur

  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste

  • 2 tablespoons sweet red pepper paste

  • 3 teaspoons salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 pinch sugar

  • 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, to taste

  • 1 bunch green onions, trimmed and chopped

  • 1 large bunch Italian parsley, leaves only, thick stems removed, finely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Steps to Make It

  1. First, wash the red lentils in a wire mesh strainer until the water runs clear. Transfer the lentils to a large saucepan and add the water. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil.

  2. Once the water boils, cover the pan leaving the lid cracked, reduce the heat, and let the lentils boil until they are very tender and fall apart. Add more water if needed as they cook. Once the lentils are fully cooked, there should be about 1/2 inch or 1 1/2 centimeters of water remaining on top of the lentils. If there is too much, gently drain some of the water. If there is too little water, boil some water separately and then add enough to bring it to the right level.

  3. While the lentils are still hot, stir in the tomato and pepper paste and seasonings. Then add the fine bulgur and stir everything together with a wooden spoon until well combined. Cover the pan again and leave it to cool down.

  4. As the mixture cools down, the bulgur will absorb the extra liquid and become soft. When it's cool enough to handle, knead in the olive oil, lemon juice, green onions, and chopped parsley until they are distributed well through the mixture. Finally, taste the mixture and add more salt and hot pepper to your taste.

  5. Line your serving platter with lettuce leaves and then begin making your meatballs. Using a piece of mixture about the size of a large walnut, form it into a long cylinder shape with tapered ends, and place it on the platter. Repeat until all the mixture is finished.

  6. You can stack your meatballs any way you like, making several layers. Sprinkle the top of your stack with more chopped parsley leaves for garnish, if desired.


  • For your next party, stack as many of these long, round meatballs on a platter as you can to add a splash of color to your buffet table. You'll watch the platter of meatballs quickly disappear as your guests pass by.
  • To get the conversation going, you can add extra romaine lettuce and some lemon wedges on the side for even more interactive fun. Have your guests place a meatball inside a lettuce leaf, squeeze on some lemon juice, and pop it in their mouths. Once they try one, they won't be able to stop.
  • The best part about this finger food is that it's great for you. The meatballs are ​low-fat. You get protein and fiber from the lentils, healthy carbs from the bulgur, and just enough spice from the green onions and red pepper to make this dish the perfect appetizer or snack.
  • You can keep some mercimek köftesi ready in the refrigerator for busy days. It's easy to pop a few in your mouth when you're on the run. Two or three meatballs are enough to keep you full and satisfied in between meals.