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 very first thing she suggested.
These lentil and bulgur patties are a traditional Armenian speciality. They’re popular year-round, but especially during Armenian Lent, 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 of 1915 during the conflict between the Armenians and the Ottoman empire (in 2021, President Joe Biden became the first US president to recognise the massacre as a 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 (many Armenians passed through or remained in Aleppo, Syria, after fleeing the Ottomans). The pepper lends the vospov kofte a lovely orange-red hue that makes for a sunny presentation on a large platter.
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 flavours of the lentils and bulgur. Add a bright and crunchy garnish of spring onions, 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 appetiser 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.
Total time: 1 hour 45 mins
Serves: 6 to 7 servings (makes about 28 patties)
This traditional Armenian dish of lentil and bulgur patties makes for a filling and thrifty vegan meal. There’s a lot of chopping here, so pull out the food processor to speed things up (just be careful not to puree the ingredients).
If you can’t find fine bulgur, 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.
Storage notes: The finished patties, garnish and sauce can be refrigerated, separately, for up to 3 days. Let come to room temperature before serving.
Where to buy: Fine bulgur (often labeled #1) can be found at Mediterranean and Middle Eastern markets, as well as online. We strongly recommend using the Aleppo pepper called for here, as it lends the right flavor and colour. It is available at similar international markets and spice shops, as well as online.
For the patties:
200g red lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 tsp fine salt, plus more to taste
120ml sunflower oil (may substitute other neutral vegetable oil)
1½ medium white or yellow onions (340g), finely chopped and divided
1 tsp Aleppo pepper (see headnote)
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
¼ tsp ground allspice
650ml fine bulgur (see headnote)
For the sauce:
3 large tomatoes, finely chopped
1 medium white or yellow onion, finely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fine salt, plus more to taste
Pinch freshly black pepper, plus more to taste
For the garnish:
3 spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
½ red bell pepper, finely chopped
½ green bell pepper, finely chopped
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
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.
Meanwhile, in a medium frying pan 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.
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.
Moisten your hands and shape the lentil mixture into 7½cm-long, finger-shaped patties with tapered edges. Each portion will be roughly 1½ tablespoons, or about 30g 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.
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.
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, based on 7 | Calories: 391; total fat: 22g; saturated fat: 3g; cholesterol: 0mg; sodium: 690mg; carbohydrates: 40g; dietary fibre: 14g; sugar: 8g; protein: 11g.
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
© The Washington Post