Persian-Style Vegetarian Lentil Fritters with Minty Yoghurt & Cucumbers
I couldn’t believe how scrumptious my green lentils fritters turned out when I made them for the first time. Critics No1 & 2 didn’t even realise they weren’t made with meat until I told them. Huge success at creating a vegetarian version of an old-time family favourite, kotlet. I was so pleased.
The fritterss were supposed to be a vegetarian version of my mum’s kotlet (shallow-fried minced beef and potato fritters) because the week had been declared a vegetarian one by Critic No.1. I was craving kotlet so badly it was all I could think about making that night. My adventurous side got the better of me and I decided to substitute green lentils for the meat to accommodate both of us.
My mum’s kotlet always came with shallow-fried, sometimes crinkle cut chips (fries). Heaven-on-earth! The best part was being given one right out of the pan, sizzling hot and so fragrant with all the spices that she put into the mix. You can skip the pita and serve them with fries only if you wish.
We call these fritters kotlet in Persian (Farsi), most probably from Polish or Russian kotlet/kotleta both of which are minced-meat croquettes. Like many other foods adopted from other cuisines kotlet/kotleta went through a transformation in Persian kitchens of late 19th/ early 20th centuries and became Persianised.
My vegetarian kotlet were different from my mum’s in another way too. I put lots of fresh herbs (chives, dill and garlic greens) in the mix like they do in the Caspian Sea regions of Iran. You can use any herb mix as you wish as long as the herbs are finely chopped. A mixture of parsley, mint and coriander is very nice.
I always make a big batch. I promise you, you won’t get tired of having the leftovers because they are even better cold. I also love to serve kotlet (whether vegetarian or non-vegetarian) cold as finger food. Make them a bit smaller in size if serving as finger-food and if you wish to make a smaller batch just divide everything in half. Dividing a raw egg is a bit tricky. Beat the egg lightly to divide it more easily.
To serve 6-8 persons you will need the following ingredients.
- 250g green lentils
- 350g potatoes (maris piper or baking potato), grated
- 3 eggs
- 30g dill, finely chopped
- 40g Persian chives/chives/ garlic greens or a mixture of these
- 1 small onion, grated
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tbsp flour
- Extra virgin rapeseed oil/ grape seed oil or other high smoking point oil for shallow frying
- Small loaves of pita to serve
- Persian pickles or gherkins to serve
- Fresh herbs to serve (mint/tarragon/coriander/parsley or a mix)
For the Minty Yoghurt and cucumber sauce:
- 250ml plain yoghurt (Greek is best)
- 2 small or 1/2 large cucumber, chopped
- 1 tsp dried mint
- salt and pepper to taste
- Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the lentils are very well cooked and all the water has been absorbed. This can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 40 minutes depending on the size of the burner and altitude.
- Meanwhile chop the herbs very finely and grate the onion. Squeeze the grated onion to extract all the juices and discard the juice.
- Drain the lentils and put in a bowl. Use a potato masher to mash the lentils. You don’t want to mash them to a pulp. A few whole ones give the fritters a nice crunchy texture.
- Add all the spices, grated potatoes, grated onion, herbs, flour and the eggs to the lentils and mix very well by hand.
- Put a non-stick coated frying pan on medium heat. Pour enough oil to cover the base by about 3-4 millimetres. Heat until very hot. Test by dropping a small amount of the mixture in the oil. It must sizzle right away.
- Dip two spoons in oil and use to drop scoop-sized balls of the mixture into the oil. Form into ovals or rounds with the spoons and neaten the shapes. Fry each patty until golden brown on one side. If the mixture doesn’t hold its shape add a wee bit of flour to help thicken the mix.
- Carefully turn each patty with a spatula or fish-slice and cook the other side. Transfer to a platter lined with absorbent paper. Add more oil during cooking if needed but very gradually in a thin stream so that the oil temperature doesn’t drop.
To make the yoghurt sauce:
Mix all the ingredients.
To assemble the pita pockets:
Cut the pitas in halves with kitchen scissors or a sharp knife. Wrap them in foil and heat in the oven for a few minutes or quickly toast on both sides on a hot grill. Open each pita half to tuck in a patty, a few sprigs of herbs (mint/tarragon/coriander/parsley or a mix) and as much pickles as you like. Serve with the yoghurt cucumber sauce. Enjoy!