These meatless vegetable-based “meatballs” or vegetarian koftas were the result of requests that I often get to develop more plant-based recipes based on traditional Palestinian dishes. I always welcome such requests because this is the kind of food that I enjoy eating the most. It does not get better than wholesome, feel-good, satisfying food that also has that nostalgic element we often crave. Eating less meat and more vibrant vegetable-based dishes can be soulful and familiar. It too, can taste like the delicious home-cooking we had growing up and even better.
Make this your comfort dish and play with the flavors. Feel free to adjust the herbs and spices to your liking. However, adding additional mushrooms or wet ingredients to the mixture will weigh down the koftas and make them lose their shape. Check my tips at the bottom of the recipe for a fool-proof result.
I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as my family and I do. And as always, if you give the recipe a try, I would love to see your creation and feedback.
PS, I would like to thank my lovely readers, Aysha, Jasmine, and Samy for their recent requests.
INGREDIENTS/ SERVES 4-6
For the Kofta/Meatballs
1 1/2 cups small whole green/brown lentils, rinsed
Fine sea salt, to taste
Organic, low-sodium vegetable stock cube, optional
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons fine bulgur
6-8 mushrooms/about 170 gr./6 oz. (common table mushrooms, white button), coarsely chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
2 generous handfuls parsley
1 generous handful cilantro1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely crushed
2 stalks green onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon 7-spice, optional
Freshly ground black pepper
For the Tahini Sauce
2/3 cups tahini paste
2/3 cups fresh lemon juice
2/3 cups water
Pinch fine sea salt, or to taste
2 cloves garlic, finely crushed
Dash cayenne papper
Fresh parsley, chopped
Aleppo chili flakes or other variety
Extra-virgin olive oil
Pine nuts, toasted
Soak the lentils in water for 1-2 hours and drain. Add a low-sodium vegetable stock cube (if using), 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin to a pot filled with 5 cups of boiling water. Stir in the lentils, bring to boil over high heat and cook for about 30-35 minutes or until the lentils are extra tender. Stir occasionally while cooking and add water if needed. Place the cooked lentils in a colander over the sink to drain. Draining them well is important for the kofta to hold its shape.
Combine bulgur and 3 tablespoons boiling water in a small bowl and stir together. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave to soak for about 10 minutes or until ready to use.
Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the chopped mushrooms to a pan over medium-high heat and stir-fry until golden brown, about 5-8 minutes. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 400F/200C and grease a large baking sheet or ovenproof glass pan with olive oil.
Combine lentils, bulgur, mushrooms, 2 tablespoons olive oil, parsley, cilantro, onion, garlic, green onion, 7-spice, 1/2 teaspoon cumin or to taste, salt to taste, and freshly ground black pepper in a food processor. Pulse just until the lentils are ground and the mixture is well combined, but be careful not to blend too much or it will become too soft to handle. Taste for additional seasonings and adjust to your liking. Taking about 2 tablespoons of the mixture at a time, shape into balls. Place onto the baking tray, leaving about a 1/2 inch of space between each. The ball should hold its shape in the pan. If it collapses and loses its shape, the mixture may have absorbed too much water. A quick fix is adding a tablespoon of breadcrumbs at a time until the mixture keeps firm. Chickpea flour is also a suitable and preferred alternative.
Brush the koftas with olive oil and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until cooked through and lightly golden. In the meantime, prepare the tahini sauce. Combine tahini paste and lemon juice and whisk until smooth. Add the water and mix until the sauce has a smooth and runny consistency. Stir in crushed garlic, a pinch of salt, and a dash of cayenne pepper. Set aside.
Remove the kofta from the oven and drizzle the tahini sauce over the top. Turn the oven broiler on and set the heat to high. Return the kofta to the oven at bake for a couple of minutes or until the sauce sets and develops a few golden spots. The sauce shouldn’t become too firm or dry out – it should still be smooth and wet from the inside. Garnish with fresh parsley, olive oil, chili flakes, and toasted pine nuts and serve with rice or a salad.
Be careful not to let the kofta mixture absorb too much water in the process of preparing it. This will cause it to lose its shape while baking. Draining the cooked lentils thoroughly will prevent this. Be sure that added herbs are also well drained and dried before adding them to the mixture.
In case the balls lose their shape as you set them onto the baking pan, add 1 tablespoon of chickpea flour, all-purpose flour, or breadcrumbs at a time until the mixture binds together and holds its shape. The recipe is designed to prevent this step.
If dairy is not an issue for you, mixing a few tablespoons of yogurt into the tahini sauce is also a delicious option.