23 February 2017
It was on this day back in 1944 that the Chechen and Ingush people of the North Caucusus had one of the darkest moments in their troubled history. Accused by the Soviets of siding with the Nazi forces, the entire population was herded onto cattle trucks and deported by force to Central Asia.
The mission was codenamed ‘Operation Lentil’ – after chechevitsa, the Russian word for lentil, which shares its first two syllables with Chechen. By way of commemoration of this tragedy that befell the Chechen and Ingush communities, who refer to the deportations as Aardakh, the exodus, this time around we’ll be sharing a recipe for the Turkish dish mercimek köftesi – a versatile red lentil patty.
These spicy, lentil patties are easy to prepare and are delicious when rolled up in flatbread, like lavash, with fresh cole slaw and a green salad. We used ajika sauce from Georgia on the other side of the Caucasus mountains, a fiery blend of red chili peppers and tomatoes, to flavour the patties – but if you can’t find this locally, then a mix of tomato paste with chili flakes will do nicely.
Ingredients (Makes around 20-24 lentil patties)
100 g red lentils (one cup)
150 g fine bulgur wheat (1.5 cups)
500 ml water
6-8 teaspoons of ajika sauce (see above)
5 spring (green) onions – chopped
A handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
One teaspoon of cumin seeds
One teaspoon red chili flakes
25 ml olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Wash the lentils until the water goes clear and then place in a pan with the water. Bring to the boil and simmer over a low heat for 20 minutes or so. The lentils should be going mushy and there should be about 1 cm of water covering the lentils – add more water if necessary.
Add the washed bulgur wheat to the cooked lentils and the ajika sauce and blend well. Allow to stand for 30 minutes or so and then add the olive oil, lemon juice, spring onions, parsley, cumin, red chili flakes and black pepper and mix well.
Allow to stand for a few hours to let the flavours combine and then mould a walnut-sized piece of the mix in the palm of your hand and use your fingers to form a sausage-shape (see picture above).
Serve rolled in flatbread or stuffed into a pita with a cole slaw made from shredded cabbage, grated carrot, pomegranate seeds, spring onion and capers and a salad of lettuce, sun dried tomatoes, pear and spring onion.