Let’s get one thing straight: cooking like Trader Joe’s doesn’t help you save time. The chopping, boiling, and whisking necessary to create it at home may seem like more than you wish to take on if you’re used to dashing into TJ’s and purchasing their premade Spicy Lentil Wrap (with Spicy Tahini Sauce!). But it’s a noble goal to strive for.
I don’t believe I can go back to eating store-bought wraps after trying this homemade version. Wraps are actually rather simple to put up, and most of the work can be done in advance.
I seldom eat ready-made food, but the Spicy Lentil Wrap from Trader Joe’s has become a staple of my weekend hiking trip lunches. I feel bad about treating myself to a prepackaged, plastic-wrapped lunch. I forget all my worries as I devour the tahini-sauced vegan wrap stuffed with bulgur and lentils. It has a nice kick and heat, plus it’s rather healthy for a packaged dish. Is there a way I could replicate the flavour at home?
The filling is based on an Armenian dish called lentil kufta, which is often served in a meatball shape. I experimented with numerous classic recipes to come up with a filling that includes cumin, red pepper, and onions and is based on the nutty flavour of red lentils. Crunchy shredded cabbage and beautiful red pepper paste are folded up with a sheet of lavash (I use whole wheat).
Again, I turned to various Armenian cookbooks for guidance while I prepared the paste. In contrast to the traditional method, which needs days of sun drying, this form of red pepper paste only calls for cooking red peppers and cayenne on the stove. (The sweet and somewhat spicy sauce is fantastic with eggs, soup, and other sandwiches, so you may want to prepare extra.) Pepper paste, available in many Middle Eastern grocery stores, is another option.
Last but not least, the tahini sauce; I find that my version, which is more lemony and less salty than TJ’s, is preferable. It adds a lot of flavour and excitement to the wrap when used as a dipping sauce.
My significant other, who suggested making this dish, agreed after a blind taste test that mine was far superior to the store-bought one. I assumed they would be comparable, but when compared, the handmade wrap had more livelier flavours and textures. It’s well worth the additional work!
TO MAKE RED PEPPER PASTE (approximately 3/4 CUP):
- Core and finely chop six medium-sized red bell peppers.
- A pinch of red pepper flakes
- Half a teaspoon of table salt
- When storing in the fridge, cover with olive oil.
AS A FILLING FOR LENTILS:
- 12 cups of washed red lentils
- 14 cups of the finest bulgur (#1)
- 4 teaspoons of butter
- 1 medium-sized onion, cut finely
- Ground cumin, 2 tablespoons
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 finely diced scallion
- Flat-leaf parsley, chopped; 2 tbsp
- 12 teaspoons of fine sea salt
TO MAKE TAHINI DIP (ABOUT 3/4 CUP):
- An eighth of a cup of tahini
- Lemon juice, 2 tablespoons
- 2 tsp. of chopped fresh parsley
- 14 teaspoons of garlic powder
- a pinch of dried red pepper
- A pinch of kosher salt
HOW TO PUT THE WRAPS TOGETHER:
- Sheets of lavash, either white or whole wheat, measuring around 9 by 12 inches
- Cabbage for 2 servings
- Bell peppers, cayenne pepper, and salt can be pureed in a food processor to form the red pepper paste. Reduce the purée to a paste by simmering it over low heat while stirring regularly. Up to 2 hours may be needed for this. Wait till it’s cool to use it. Refrigerate the paste after packing it into a jar and covering it with olive oil.
- In a small saucepan set over medium heat, combine lentils and 2 cups of water to make the lentil filling. Get it boiling, then cover and simmer. Lentils need around 20 minutes of simmering time to become tender. Remove from heat and mix in the bulgur. Allow it sit for 30 minutes, or until water is absorbed and bulgur is tender.
- In the meantime, bring a pan of olive oil to a medium heat. Toss in the onions and cook until they’re tender and transparent, stirring often. Cook for a further minute after adding the cumin and red pepper flakes.
- To the lentil-bulgur mixture, add the onions, scallions, parsley, and salt and toss to incorporate. Don’t use it to create wraps until it’s cooled down. (You can put the filling through a food processor for a smoother texture similar to the Trader Joe’s version, but I enjoy it as is.) If you don’t plan on using all of the filling at once, you may store it in the freezer.
- Put all the ingredients for the tahini dipping sauce into a small bowl and stir in 2/3 cup of warm water with a fork until smooth and blended. Add extra warm water, a little at a time, while stirring, until the mixture reaches the required consistency.
- Wraps are assembled by placing a lavash sheet so that the shorter end is facing you. Red pepper paste equaling about 1 1/2 teaspoons should be spread throughout the bottom third of the page. Cabbage goes on top of the lentil-bulgur combination. Roll the wrap from the bottom up, and then use the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of red pepper paste to seal the top. To complete the remaining wraps, repeat step.
- Serve with tahini sauce on the side, then split each wrap in half.
NOTES FOR COOKS
If you don’t have time to make your own red pepper paste, use a mild harissa instead.