Recipe: Lettuce Cups with Red Pepper Lentils

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

When we wrote The Kitchn Cookbook, we knew we wanted to include a few popular recipes from the site. But, for the most part, we wanted to create a whole set of brand new recipes in our voice and style — a fresh bunch of good cooking for a brand new cookbook. This week we’re sharing a few of those new recipes as part of our Simple Sunday Dinner Party menu.

This recipe for peppery, tangy red lentil balls in lettuce cups was a fun recipe to develop — and the idea for it came from a reader!

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

These intensely delicious lentil wraps are based on the Turkish dish mercimek köftesi, which came to my attention through a reader who rhapsodized over lentil balls full of smoky red pepper flavor, with a tangy pomegranate sauce, rolled up in crisp, fresh lettuce leaves.

Here’s the comment, left on Emily’s recipe for Spicy Lentil Wraps with Tahini Sauce:

The version below pulls together common elements from other similar recipes, but I tried to simplify where I could. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients; everything can be made ahead. I like to make the red pepper paste and freeze it, too.

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Lettuce Cups with Red Pepper Lentils

Serves 6 to 10

For the Quick Red Pepper Paste:

1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the lentil balls:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup store-bought or homemade Quick Red Pepper Paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup bulgur wheat
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions, green parts only (from 1 to 2 scallions)
1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro (from 1 bunch)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
Freshly ground black pepper

For the pomegranate sauce:

1/4 cup pomegranate molasses, warmed
1/2 cup store-bought or homemade Quick Red Pepper Paste

For assembling the lettuce cups:

2 small heads butter lettuce, separated into leaves

To make the Quick Red Pepper Paste: In a small food processor, blend the red peppers with the smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, and olive oil until it forms a thin paste or sauce. Leftover paste may be refrigerated in a covered container for up to 1 week.

To make the lentil balls: In a 2-quart or larger saucepan, heat the olive oil and cook the red onion and garlic over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until soft and fragrant. Add 1/4 cup of the red pepper paste, the cumin, and paprika, and sauté for 30 seconds.

Stir in the red lentils and pour in 3 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes or until the lentils have softened. Stir in the bulgur wheat. Remove from the heat and cover the pan. Let the lentils and bulgur rest for 20 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and soft.

Stir in an additional 1/4 cup red pepper paste, as well as the scallions, cilantro, lemon juice, and a generous quantity of black pepper. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired. Set aside to cool.

To make the pomegranate sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the warmed pomegranate molasses and red pepper paste until well combined. Taste and add more red pepper paste or salt and pepper if desired.

To assemble the lettuce cups: When the lentil mixture has cooled, form it into walnut-sized balls or stubby cigar shapes, or don’t shape the lentil mixture if you’d rather not. Place one or two lentil balls or a dollop of lentil mixture in the center of a lettuce leaf, drizzle with sauce, and roll up the lettuce or pinch it closed like a taco to eat.

Eat immediately or refrigerate the lentil mixture for up to 3 days.

Reprinted from The Kitchn Cookbook by Sara Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand. Copyright © 2014. Property of Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.