As much as I try to, I cannot live on cake alone. To prove this (and to put my mother at ease – she does worry where all that cake I post goes), I decided to post something savoury for a change. Still a baked good, mind you, as these lentil kofte are baked rather than fried.
These lentil kofte are one of my favourite things to make when I am not busy eating (or making) cake, whether I am on my own, cooking with friends (I have even made them in Copenhagen when staying at my friend Laura’s) or having people over for dinner here in Brussels. If the latter, I like serving them as part of a big mezze spread with some home-made labneh, a beetroot and parsley salad just the way my mum makes it, homemade hummus, and a mix of cheese, olives and whatever pickles and other small nibbles I happen to have picked up at the market that week.
These lentil kofte are a vegetarian version of my brother Ruben’s outrageously good kofte he always makes for our Christmas Eve dinner. For years, I have been nagging him to give me the recipe, but alas, he always claims it is ‘all just in his head’ and he would not know what the exact quantities are for the different spices. So I have had no choice but to spend several Christmas Eves watching him like a hawk to figure out how he makes them and then make countless versions of these kofte in my own kitchen until I was happy with the spice mix.
And here we are. These lentil kofte are heavily spiced to amp up the flavour, there is also a bit of heat from a bit of harissa paste and chili. While anything but delicate in appearance these kofte are anything but heavy. hey are crisp on the outside but soft on the inside – thanks to the addition of some milk-soaked bread to the mixture.
To serve, I love topping these with a preserved lemon yoghurt sauce. Any garlicky yoghurt sauce will do but I recently started adding some preserved lemon to mine and love that slightly in your face lemon flavour they add and have not looked back. Also, chopped coriander and some pomegranate arils are a must here.
Lentil Kofte with Preserved Lemon Yoghurt, Coriander and Pomegranate Arils
Notes: These kofte are very straightforward to make. Plus, they are baked rather than fried, so you don’t even need to wrestle with a spitting frying pan (something that petrified me as a child when it came to making meatballs). Also, feel free to adapt the spices to suit your personal tastes and preferences (I have on occasion taken these in a more Italian direction by omitting the spices listed below and using parsley and grated parmesan).
150g beluga lentils
70g white bread, cubed
Milk to soak the bread
A small handful of chopped coriander
Half an onion, chopped finely
1 tsp of harissa paste
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp of fennel seeds, toasted and finely ground
1 star anise, toasted and finely ground
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1/2 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1/2 tsp mild chili flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Milk to thin the yoghurt
A quarter of a preserved lemon
1 clove of garlic
Salt to taste
A small handful chopped coriander, arils of 1/4 pomegranate
Cook the lentils until soft. While the lentils are cooking, soak the bread in the milk.
Add half the lentils to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the lentils break down into a pulp.
In a large bowl, mix the lentils with the lentil pulp, the egg, add the bread (squeezing out the milk before), the chopped coriander, onion, harissa, sugar and spices. Set aside for 30 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees and line a tray with parchment paper. Brush the parchment paper lightly with oil to prevent the kofte from sticking.
Using 1-2 tbsp of the mix for each kofte, shape around 10 kofte and place them on the tray (it is easier if you use wet hands for this). Lightly brush with oil. Bake for around 20 minutes until the kofte are crisp on the outside but still soft in the centre.
While the kofte are baking, prepare the preserved lemon yoghurt. In a bowl whisk together the yoghurt with enough milk to loosen it – you want it to be thin enough to easily drip from a spoon but not soupy. Remove any pips from the preserved lemon and chop both the preserved lemon and the garlic finely. Add to the yoghurt. Add salt to taste.
Once the kofte are baked, carefully remove them from the parchment paper using a spatula (they may stick ever so slightly but can usually be peeled off without any damage provided you do so carefully). Arrange the kofte on a plate, drizzle with the preserved lemon yoghurt and scatter the chopped coriander and the pomegranate arils over everything.