Red Lentil Kofte (Vospov Kofte) is a vegan Middle Eastern dish made of red lentils, bulgur, and sauteed onion. It’s not only easy to make, but so fresh and delicious especially when topped with colorful chopped salad.
(This recipe was originally published in February 2010, but was updated with new photos and content in 2020).
This completely vegan and absolutely delicious Armenian recipe is not only easy to make, but approachable for those unfamiliar with Middle Eastern cuisine. This recipe uses red lentils, which are a bit different than green or brown lentils.
Red lentils become completely mushy when you cook them, but that’s the point for this dish. You actually don’t want them to retain their shape.
The whole mixture combines with olive oil, onions, fine bulgur wheat and seasonings to form heavenly morsels. Some people use melted butter for these traditional koftes, but we prefer the flavor and lightness of the olive oil instead.
You won’t miss the meat at all in these vegetarian koftes. And to top it all off, you serve red lentil kofte with a fresh veggie salad. You can serve it on the side, although I prefer to mash my koftes on my plate with a fork, and top with the salad instead. This way the flavor of the salad and the acid from the dressing soaks into the vospov kofte mixture. It tastes out of this world!
Another reason red lentil kofte is so great is that it’s a super easy lunch the next day. You don’t need to reheat the leftovers. You can eat them right out of the refrigerator.
If you’re packing a lunch, this saves you from having to think about reheating it. Just put the salad in a separate small container, and then dump it over the leftover kofte when you’re ready to eat.
How to make Red Lentil Kofte
Start out by making the salad. Dice up some green Italian pepper, cucumber, and tomatoes into ¼-inch pieces. Combine these fresh veggies with scallions, fresh parsley, lemon juice, and seasonings.
Sumac is an optional spice, but I highly recommend it. It has a tart, lemony flavor, and a bright purple color. It’s a very authentic addition to many Middle Eastern recipes.
Next, prepare the mixture from which you’ll form your koftes. In a large pot combine the red lentils with water and bring to a boil (PHOTO 1). Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are tender. This mixture will be very liquidy. Season with a bit of salt (PHOTO 2).
Meanwhile, heat up extra-virgin olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. You may be tempted to reduce the amount of oil in the kofte recipe. DON'T DO IT! Your koftes will turn out dry. Add chopped onions, and cook until the onions are soft and translucent (PHOTOS 3-4).
To the pot of liquidy lentils, add the bulgur and give it a stir (PHOTO 5). Then add the cooked onions (PHOTO 6).
Mix until thoroughly combined, cover, and let the mixture rest until the bulgur has absorbed the excess liquid. It should be completely tender when you give it a taste (PHOTOS 7-8).
Give it a good stir, and then add some chopped scallions, along with more salt and pepper (PHOTOS 9-10). Set aside until the mixture is cool enough to handle.
Now you’re ready to shape your koftes! You can do this by hand or with a large ice cream scoop with a trigger. Shaping by hand is most traditional, but the ice cream scoop method is a great shortcut! It yields perfectly uniform mounds.
To shape the kofte by hand, set up a bowl with warm water beside the pot, dip your hands in the water and grab a small handful of lentil mixture. Form it into a ball and then lightly begin to make a fist with your hand to make it a bit more oblong (but not completely flat) and leave finger imprints on one side. Place on a serving dish, dip your hands in warm water and repeat the process to form more koftes.
Garnish the red lentil koftes with a sprinkle of paprika, more of the chopped scallions and parsley, and serve with the salad on the side.
You may eat the salad in a bowl on the side with a spoon, or press a few vospov koftes flat on a plate and spoon salad over the top. That’s how I like to do it!
Please scroll to the bottom of the post for the full recipe (in a printable recipe card) including ingredient amounts and detailed instructions.
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Red Lentil Kofte (Vospov Kofte)
- 2 medium tomatoes (or 4 plum tomatoes) ¼-inch diced (about 1 ½ cups)
- 1 cucumber peeled and ¼-inch diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 green Italian pepper (Cubanelle) ¼-inch diced (about ¾ cup)
- 4 scallions thinly sliced
- ⅓ cup finely chopped parsley
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon sumac (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup red lentils picked over for stones and rinsed
- 3 cups water
- 4 teaspoons kosher salt
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ cups finely chopped onion
- 1 cup grade #1 fine bulgur (cracked wheat)
- 3 scallions thinly sliced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Paprika (optional for garnish)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
- For the salad, mix together all the ingredients and set aside until ready to serve. The salad should be very juicy.
- In a large pot combine the lentils and the water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer partially covered for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the lentils are very tender. The mixture will still have a lot of liquid. Season with 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the onion. Cook until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes, and remove from heat.
- To the pot of lentils, add the bulgur and give it a stir. Then add the cooked onions. Mix, cover, and set aside for about 20 to 25 minutes or more until the bulgur wheat has absorbed the excess liquid and is nice and tender. If the mixture still has a crunch, cover it and let it continue to absorb until it is completely soft.
- When the mixture is finally the right texture, use a wooden spoon to knead the mixture. Mix in half the scallions, reserving the rest for garnish. Add 2 ½ teaspoons of kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly, then taste and adjust seasoning further if necessary. Set the mixture aside until it's cool enough to handle and shape.
- To shape the kofte, set up a bowl with warm water beside the pot, dip your hands in the water and grab a small handful of lentil mixture. Form it into a ball and then lightly begin to make a fist with your hand to make it a bit more oblong (but not completely flat) and leave finger imprints on one side. Place on a serving dish, dip your hands in warm water and repeat the process until all of the lentil mixture has been used to form koftes.
- Alternatively, use an ice cream scoop with a trigger to portion and shape the koftes, arranging the scoops in a single layer on a serving dish.
- Garnish by dusting with paprika (optional), and then top with the remaining scallions and the parsley, and serve with the salad as an accompaniment.
- You may be tempted to reduce the amount of oil in the kofte recipe. DON'T DO IT! Your koftes will turn out dry. We have tried this recipe with different amounts, and whenever we reduce the oil the texture is just not the same.
- The vospov koftes should be warm or room temperature when eating, although you can also eat leftovers cold from the fridge. This makes it a great leftover for lunch, as you don't need to reheat it at all!
- To shape the koftes into mounds, I use this large ice cream scoop with a trigger.
- We often double this recipe. In fact, the photos in this post are of a double recipe shaped in 2 different ways.
- This recipe uses kosher salt (aka cooking salt, kitchen salt, coarse salt outside of the US). If you are using table salt, definitely scale down the salt as that is a saltier type of salt! The type of salt will make a big difference in how salty your food tastes, so keep that in mind.
*All nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary with brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes and more.*