There's a common misconception that when you become vegetarian (or vegan) you will have to eat a very restricted diet. While that might be true on occasions when you dine out at a standard American restaurant, eating meatless actually has the ability to open your eyes to a whole new world of cuisines.
In fact, it wasn't until I transitioned to vegetarianism twleve years ago that I started to discover so many new foods. It's almost as though it forced me to get creative and think outside of the box of meat and potatoes.
Even to this day I find myself discovering new dishes that delight my senses. This lentil kibbeh, for example, is a Middle Eastern recipe that I didn't even know existed until recently. There are several variations of the dish from different countries, but it's typically made from a combination of bulgur wheat, red lentils, and minced onion.
Most of the ingredients are readily available at standard grocery stores, except for red pepper paste, which is essentially a combination of muddled red bell pepper and red chili peppers. Because I had trouble tracking it down at my local store, I went ahead and substituted minced red bell pepper with crushed chili pepper and a touch of cayenne.
Overall the recipe is fairly to easy to make, you just have to be patient while you let the lentil and bulgur mixture cool. This process helps the excess moisture absorb so that it will be easier to roll into balls.
Some lentil kibbeh recipes call for eating it raw, while others call for frying or sometimes baking them before serving. To keep the dish light and healthy, I chose to bake them for about 15-20 minutes, which is just long enough for the outside to get golden and crispy. They are best served with fresh squeezed lemon juice and topped with plain yogurt. If you have some warm pita on hand, that would make a nice addition as well!
- 1 cup red lentils rinsed
- 1 ½ cups fine bulgur wheat
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion minced
- 1 red bell pepper cored and minced*
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- ½ teaspoon cayenne or less, depending on your preference
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 6 green onions finely chopped
- ½ cup fresh parsley finely chopped
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt to taste I used 1 teaspoon
- Chopped romaine lettuce
- Fresh lemon juice
- Plain yogurt
- Place 3 cups of water and 1 cup of red lentils into a medium pot and set over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 7 minutes, until most of the water has absorbed. Turn the heat to low, add the bulgur wheat, cover, and cook for 15 minutes while stirring intermittently. Once the bulgur is cooked and all of the water has absorbed, remove from heat to cool.
- Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and red pepper, then cook for about 3 minutes. Stir in the cumin, paprika, crushed red pepper, cayenne, and tomato paste. Add 3 tablespoons water, stir to combine and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Place the lentil mixture and the onion mixture into a large bowl, add the lentil mixture with the onion and red pepper paste. Stir together to combine, then set aside to cool completely for about 30 minutes.
- Once the mixture has cooled, add chopped green onion, fresh parsley and lemon juice. Stir together. Add salt, as needed, to taste.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F then line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop out about 2 tablespoons of the mixture at a time and roll into balls, arranging each one on the baking sheet at least an inch apart. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until light golden brown. Serve with chopped romaine, fresh lemon juice, and plain yogurt for topping.