Let's get this out of the way: this Trader Joe's-inspired recipe won't save you time. If you're accustomed to running into TJ's and grabbing their prepackaged Spicy Lentil Wrap (with Spicy Tahini Sauce!), then the chopping, boiling, and whisking required to make it at home might seem like more than you care to take on. But it's such a worthy endeavor. Quite frankly, this homemade wrap is so vibrant and flavorful that I don't think I can ever eat the store-bought version again. Luckily, much of it can be prepared ahead of time, so the wraps are still fairly easy to assemble in the end.
Although I tend to avoid prepackaged meals, I must admit that Trader Joe's Spicy Lentil Wrap has become a mainstay of my weekend hiking trip lunches. I feel guilty about buying a premade sandwich housed in plastic ... and then I throw all qualms aside as I polish off the vegan lentil and bulgur-filled wrap with tahini sauce. It's pleasantly spicy and zingy, and pretty nutritious as far as packaged foods go. Could I make a homemade version that was just as tasty?
While working on my own recipe, I realized that the filling is basically an Armenian lentil kufta (which is usually served in sort of a meatball form). I played around with some traditional recipes to create a filling of nutty red lentils and bulgur, spiced up with cumin, red pepper, and onions. This is rolled up in a sheet of lavash (I use whole wheat) along with crunchy shredded cabbage and gorgeous red pepper paste.
Again, I consulted some Armenian recipes to make the paste. Traditionally, making red pepper paste requires days of sun drying, but this simplified version just involves simmering red bell peppers and cayenne on the stovetop. (You might want to make more of this; the sweet, lightly spicy condiment is amazing with eggs, soup, and other sandwiches.) Alternatively, you can use store-bought pepper paste, which is often sold in Middle Eastern markets.
Finally, the tahini sauce – my version is more lemony and less salty than TJ's, but I think that's a good thing. Used as a dipping sauce for the wrap, it makes this meal even more dynamic and fun to eat.
My partner, who instigated the creation of this recipe, confirmed in a taste test that my version beat the store-bought one in a landslide. I expected the two to be fairly similar, but when tasted side-by-side, the flavors and textures of the homemade wrap were so much more lively. It's truly worth the extra time and effort!
Spicy Lentil Wraps with Tahini Sauce
Makes 6 wraps
1/2 cup red lentils, rinsed
2 cups water
3/4 cups fine grain (#1) bulgur
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 scallion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 (approximately 9x12-inch) sheets lavash, white or whole wheat
3/4 cup red pepper paste (recipe below, or use store-bought)
2 cups shredded cabbage
Tahini sauce to serve (recipe below)
Combine lentils and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 20 minutes.
Turn off heat and stir in bulgur. Let stand until water is absorbed and bulgur is soft, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent. Stir in cumin and red pepper flakes and cook for another minute.
Add onions, scallions, parsley, and salt to lentil-bulgur mixture and stir until well combined. Let cool before using to make wraps. (If you want a smoother texture closer to the Trader Joe's version, you can run the filling through a food processor, but I like it just as it is.) You can freeze the filling in an airtight container if not using all at once.
To assemble, lay out a lavash sheet with the shorter end closest to you. Spread 1 1/2 tablespoons of red pepper paste across the lower 1/3 of the sheet. Top with the lentil-bulgur mixture, and then the cabbage. Roll from the bottom up, and spread an additional 1/2 tablespoon of red pepper paste across the top end to help seal the wrap. Repeat for remaining wraps.
To serve, cut each wrap in half and serve with tahini sauce on the side.
Red Pepper Paste
Makes about 3/4 cup
6 red bell peppers, cored and chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Olive oil to cover (if refrigerating)
Combine bell peppers, cayenne pepper, and salt in a food processor and puree.
Pour the puree into a skillet over low heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced to a paste. This can take up to 2 hours.
Let cool before using. To store, pack the paste into a jar, pour enough olive oil on top to cover, and refrigerate.
Makes about 3/4 cup
1/4 cup tahini
2/3 cup or more warm water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon crushed garlic
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Place all ingredients in a small bowl and mix with a fork until well combined.
Gradually stir in small amounts of additional warm water until the desired consistency is achieved.
(Images: Emily Ho)