There is a book by Diana Wynne Jones, The Dark Lord of Derkholm, in which a character makes what her family refers to as "godlike snacks". I find this a haunting description. Godlike snacks! What could be more enticing? I have yet to make anything that goes quite that far, but I do not think the gods would scorn these lentil treats, especially if they were very hungry.
Kibbeh (or kibbe, or kufta, or köfte, or a number of other variations) is canonically a sort of meatball that transcends meatball-hood. The most classic version is made with ground lamb that has been mixed with moistened bulgur, wrapped around a filling of cooked meat and seasonings. But it can be made with fish or beef or veal or spinach or potatoes or lentils or any number of other things in place of the lamb; or with other grains in place of the bulgur. Stuffing, too, is optional.
The classic shape approximates a football, but spheres and ovals are fine, too. In tray köfte the ingredients are spread in layers in a pan, the tamale pie of the kibbeh world. Kibbeh can be baked or fried, doused with sauce or dry, served hot or cold. Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean lists fifty varieties. One is a vegetarian version that I have been cooking, with a few small changes, every week.
They are delicious cold, straight out of the fridge, which I understand is their native habitat as well, and they're easy to form, being mere ovals with no filling. We snack on them happily with before-dinner drinks or to take the edge off in the late morning, early afternoon, or before bed.
Two notes on ingredients: I've cut down the amount of water called for in the original recipe because the variety of red lentils we've been buying seem to cook extra quickly, which means that less of the water has a chance to cook off or be absorbed, making the final mixture too wet. You can add more water as necessary while your lentils cook, so why not start on the conservative side and add as needed? Second, we weren't able to find fine-grain bulgur, so I bought ordinary coarseish bulgur and give it a quick whirl in the second coffee grinder I keep for spices. This same technique will come up when I talk about the stuffed grape leaves I've been making of late.
1. Put 1 cup hulled red lentils (red dal) in a saucepan with 2 1/2 cups of salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat and skim off the foam that collects on the surface. Turn the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are yellow and very mushy, 20-30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, put 1/2 cup of fine-grain bulgur (see above) in a sizeable bowl.
3. Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons of tomato paste (I like to buy the kind that comes in a metal tube) and the same amount of hot red pepper paste (there is a Hungarian brand of "paprika mix" in a jar that I've been using). Turn the heat back up to high and bring this mixture to a boil. Once it's boiling, turn off the heat and pour it over the bulgar. Stir well and set aside for half an hour.
4. Meanwhile, chop one large onion quite fine and saute it in two tablespoons of olive oil. When it begins to get golden brown, add two minced cloves of garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cumin, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Cook about two minutes more.
5. Once the bulgur and lentils have sat for their full half hour, add the contents of the skillet, oil and all. Mix very well, kneading everything together. Add 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh tarragon, a pinch of dried red pepper, and a little lemon juice. Mix again and adjust for salt.
6. Preheat the oven to 350. Use wet hands to pick up what Paula Wolfert calls "plum-size pieces fo the mixture". She seems to have in mind the very small plums sometimes called sugar plums or prune plums. Think something about 3/4 the size of a golf ball. Shape each piece into an oval and arrange these on a baking sheet, preferably one lined with parchment. You only need to leave a tiny bit of space between them. Better cooks than I would make smoother, more beautiful, and more consistent ovals, but mine still taste just fine.
7. Bake for 10-15 minutes. They shouldn't get brown, just form a bit of a firmer crust. Let them cool on the sheet, then transfer to a plate. Make sure they are completely cool, then cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. I think these would be excellent with a yogurt sauce of the type made with just yogurt, garlic, and salt. But we never get quite to the point of testing this theory, as we wind up eating them all out of hand.