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Vospov kofte, Armenian bulgur-lentil patties, make a light vegan meal

(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)
Vospov Kofte
Total time:1 hour 45 mins
Servings:6 to 7 (makes about 28 patties)
Total time:1 hour 45 mins
Servings:6 to 7 (makes about 28 patties)

Vegan recipes and products are a dime a dozen these days. Cookbook author, culinary advocate and restaurateur Aline Kamakian knows that. But when we put our heads together to brainstorm ideas for showcasing one of her Armenian recipes, vospov kofte was the first thing she suggested.

These lentil-and-bulgur patties are a traditional Armenian specialty. They’re popular year-round, but especially during Armenian Lent (which ended this week), when all animal products are verboten. They also happen to perfectly dovetail with the current interest in plant-based foods.

“I grew up on this,” Kamakian tells me from her home base in Lebanon, where part of her family ended up after the mass killings and deportations that began in 1915 during the conflict between the Armenians and the Ottomans. (In 2021, President Biden became the first U.S. president to recognize the events as genocide.) Vospov kofte is “easy to eat. It’s very healthy. It’s vegan. Now the trend is vegan, and we grew up on these simple dishes.”

Kamakian is right in praising the dish’s simplicity. While you need to invest time in cooking the lentils and prepping the ingredients — a food processor can make quick work of all the chopping, so long as you don’t overdo it and puree everything — nothing is too complicated to do.

After cooking for an hour, the completely broken-down red lentils are kneaded together with fine bulgur (see below) and a mix of browned and raw onion. Then the mixture is formed into finger-long patties. They have a gentle kick from a little allspice and a mild heat that’s more fruity than spicy thanks to Aleppo pepper. The pepper lends the vospov kofte a lovely orange-red hue that makes for a sunny presentation on a large platter.

A guide to lentils: How to choose and use the tiny protein-packed powerhouses

Kamakian notes that Armenian cuisine, which she says shares much with Mediterranean food, is full of contrasts — creamy and crispy, cold and hot, cooked and raw — and that’s what you get in this dish. The two onion preparations in the patties pit sharp and crunchy against sweet and soft, with warming spice popping out against the mellow flavors of the lentils and bulgur. Add a bright and crunchy garnish of scallions, peppers and parsley and a simple sauce of tomatoes, onions and olive oil, and you get a symphony of everything.

It’s light and refreshing but filling, too. I ate mine on my patio on a few unusually warm March days, and I highly recommend it as ideal outside finger food, perfect for a picnic or small gathering of friends and family. Serve it as an appetizer or light main.

The patties can be eaten warm after shaping, at room temperature or even cool from the fridge, as I did for several days when I had leftovers.

Recipe notes: The finished patties, garnish and sauce can be refrigerated, separately, for up to 3 days. Let the sauce come to room temperature before serving.

Fine bulgur (often labeled #1) can be found at Mediterranean and Middle Eastern markets, as well as online. If you can’t find fine, place about 7 tablespoons of coarse bulgur in a spice grinder, food processor or blender and grind for a few minutes until about half of it is more finely ground (thanks to Andrew Janjigian’s recipe in Cook’s Illustrated for this tip).

We strongly recommend using the Aleppo pepper called for here, as it lends the right flavor and color. It is available at similar international markets and spice shops, as well as online.

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Ingredients

For the patties

  • 1 cup (7 ounces) red lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup sunflower oil (may substitute other neutral vegetable oil)
  • 1 1/2 medium white or yellow onions (12 ounces), finely chopped and divided
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (see headnote)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup (2 3/4 ounces) fine bulgur (see headnote)

For the sauce

  • 3 large tomatoes (1 3/4 pounds), finely chopped
  • 1 medium white or yellow onion (8 ounces), finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
  • Pinch freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

For the garnish

  • 3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper (4 ounces), finely chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper (4 ounces), finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Step 1

Make the patties: In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the lentils with the water and bring to a boil. Skim the foam off the top, reduce the heat to low to maintain a bare simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Stir in the 1 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils have completely broken down and the water has been fully absorbed, another 30 minutes. The lentils should still be moist.


Step 2

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Drop a piece of onion into the oil — if it immediately sizzles, it’s ready. Add two-thirds of the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the edges just start to brown, up to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the remaining onion, the Aleppo pepper, black pepper and allspice, and let cool.


Step 3

When the lentils are finished, transfer them to a large bowl, add the bulgur and stir until thoroughly combined. Cover the bowl with a plate and let rest for 15 minutes. Give the mixture another stir and let it cool further, uncovered, until it’s barely warm, an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the onion mixture and season to taste with additional salt and black pepper.


Step 4

Moisten your hands and shape the lentil mixture into 3-inch-long, finger-shaped patties with tapered edges. Each portion will be roughly 1 1/2 tablespoons, or about 1 ounce each. As you shape them, make a fist around the patties so that the mixture starts to squeeze in between your fingers, leaving ridges along one side. Once shaped, transfer the patties to a large platter.


Step 5

Make the sauce: In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, onion and olive oil. Stir in the salt and pepper, adjusting the seasoning to taste.


Step 6

Make the garnish: In a small bowl, combine the scallions, red and green bell peppers, and parsley. Sprinkle over the patties and serve, with the sauce on the side.


Nutrition Information

Per serving (4 patties, 1/2 cup sauce, 1/4 cup garnish), based on 7

Calories: 391; Total Fat: 22 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 690 mg; Carbohydrates: 40 g; Dietary Fiber: 14 g; Sugar: 8 g; Protein: 11 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.


Adapted from cookbook author Aline Kamakian.

Tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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