If black bean burgers are already a staple in your dinner repertoire, these lentil cakes will serve well as a fancy upgrade. Owing to my love of lentils, a small harvest of spinach from our garden, and a surplus of homemade yogurt, these cakes made a fine dinner – albeit a heavy one. Perhaps more appropriately, these would make an excellent appetizer.
Though any lentil (green, brown, red) can be used for this recipe, I choose red lentils for their excellent color, mild flavor, and shorter cooking time (they need not be soaked beforehand). If your local supermarket doesn’t carry them, pay a visit to the nearest Indian or Middle Eastern market. There, you will find red lentils and several other ingredients you never knew you needed.
For the Cakes
2 cups red lentils
3 and 1/2 cups veggie broth or water
1/4 – 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (optional)
1 white or yellow onion, diced
1 head of garlic, minced
2 teaspoon whole cumin seed
1 teaspoon whole coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorn
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
A generous amount of high smoke-point oil, such as grapeseed
2 tablespoon olive oil or ghee
Salt to taste
For the Sauce
1 cup raw spinach, packed well
1 tablespoon tahini
1/4 cup plain yogurt
Juice from half a lemon
In a sauce pan over medium heat, heat one tablespoon of the oil or ghee. Add the lentils and stir until all are coated in the oil. Add the veggie broth or water and bring to just a boil, before turning the heat to low. Cover the pot and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 15 minutes. When they are tender, remove the cover and continue cooking the lentils, stirring frequently, to rid the pan of any excess water. The lentils should naturally become mushy during this phase, similar to mashed potatoes. If not, use the back of a wooden spoon to create a “mashed” texture.
Using a mortar and pestle, coarsely grind the cumin, coriander, and peppercorn.
In another sauce pan, heat the remaining oil or ghee over medium heat and toss in the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is translucent, and then add in the spices. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add this mixture to the mushy lentils, stir well, and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, make the spinach-yogurt sauce by combining all of the sauce ingredients in a small food processor or blender. Pulse until a smooth consistency is achieved, and set aside.
Once the lentil mixture has cooled, add in the chopped cilantro, and mix well.
Take a heaping spoonful of the mixture and attempt to make a patty. If this proves impossible (the mixture sticks to your hands so much that you cannot shape it at all), try adding flour, a few tablespoons at a time. You don’t want the cakes to be dough-like, only for the mixture to be workable enough to form thin patties, about three inches in diameter. If you are gluten-free, and the mixture is too sticky to work with, use two spoons dipped in olive oil to aid you in getting the cakes into the pan. Cook them as instructed below, yet use the spoons to flatten them into patties.
Once you have formed your patties, pour the high smoke point oil into the pan, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Heat the oil over medium-high heat and cook the patties for two minutes on each side, or until golden brown and crispy. Remove the cakes from the pan, setting them on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil.
Immediately plate the cakes, topping them with the spinach-yogurt sauce and extra cilantro.