Vegetarian Chi Kofte is a delicious, lentil and tomato dish that can be eaten by fork or scooped into a grape leaf and eaten with your hands. Growing up, I remember when the cousins got together for a casual lunch, our moms and grandmas would frequently prepare a simple raw lamb and bulgur dish we pronounced as "Gheyma" but which actually might be spelled "Kheyma" and is probably more commonly known as "Chi Kofte."
Eventually, as time went on, we began to question the wisdom of eating raw meat, and for better or worse, we eventually stopped the tradition of eating it altogether.
Great memories of eating this dish have remained with me over the years, but I jokingly lamented that this dish would never find its way on my blog, since I felt I could never bring myself to preparing and eating it.
That was before I was inspired by a recipe by Andrew Janjigian featured in Cooking Illustrated called vospov (red lentil) kofte. Even though the recipe was quite a bit different from our family's, the idea of replacing the meat with red lentils—doctored up with olive oil and butter for added meatiness—intrigued me, and I had to apply the same technique to our own family recipe. The result was amazingly similar and satisfying to the original. So, I hope my cousins will give this version a try and see for themselves how good it can be and simple to make!
(Many people still continue to enjoy regular Chi Kofte—which some might describe as the Armenian equivalent of steak tartare. If desiring the same, you would substitute 1 pound of raw lamb instead of the lentils, for this recipe. I would just caution you to select a trusted source of meat and understand the risks.)
What Ingredients Do I Need for Vegetarian Chi Kofte?
- Red lentils (I prefer split or petite red lentils, since they are more reliably tender.)
- Medium ground bulgur (#2 coarseness): Traditionally, my family used #3 coarseness, but I found the #2 was the perfect size for softening up quickly, while providing a little extra meat-like texture.
- Diced or crushed tomatoes (14.5 oz): You could also use whole tomatoes if you make sure to break them up.
- Tomato paste: I recommend saving the rest of your can of tomato paste in an ice cube tray for a future use.
- Extra-virgin olive oil and butter: The butter adds a nice savory component, but you could substitute all olive oil if you prefer a vegan dish. Use 2-4 tablespoons of each (or 4-8 tablespoons total) depending on how rich you would like it. The meat version of this recipe used an 80-85% lean ground lamb, so use the higher amount of olive oil and butter to more closely mimic the original recipe.
- Seasonings: Salt, black pepper, allspice, sugar
- Diced bell pepper: Our family always used green bell pepper, and that is my favorite. However, I had a red bell pepper that needed to get used up during the creation of this recipe, and it is equally as good. Feel free to use any bell pepper you prefer.
- Grape leaves: This is an easy meal....so no need to carefully wrap the chi kofte into the grape leaves. Just tuck a little dollop into each leaf and enjoy!
How Do You Make Vegetarian Chi Kofte?
Combine lentils with 3 cups of water, olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally, to break down the lentils.
Meanwhile, chop bell pepper into very fine pieces. Then, in a bowl combine the following ingredients: bulgur, chopped bell pepper, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, melted butter, the remaining ¾ teaspoon salt, pepper, allspice and sugar. When lentils are soft and mushy, pour the mixture over the rest of the ingredients in the bowl and stir together well.
Chill the Vegetarian Chi Kofte for about two hours and then serve alongside a plate of grape leaves. Place a spoonful of the kofte and wrap loosely in a grape leaf to eat. (This is a simple, informal meal—no need to wrap the grape leaves neatly like we do for sarma.)
Vegetarian Chi Kofte
- 3 cups of water
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1 cup of medium ground bulgur #2 coarseness
- 1 can diced or crushed tomatoes 14.5 oz
- 4 tablespoons of tomato paste
- ¼ cup finely diced bell pepper any color
- 2-4 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2-4 tablespoons of melted butter or use all olive oil, if wanting to prepare this vegan
- 1 ¾ teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoons allspice
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- Grape leaves for serving
- Combine lentils with 3 cups of water, olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally, to break down the lentils.
- Meanwhile, chop bell pepper into very fine pieces.
- In a bowl combine the following ingredients: bulgur, chopped bell pepper, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, melted butter, remaining salt, pepper, allspice and sugar. When lentils are soft and mushy, pour the mixture over the rest of the ingredients in the bowl and stir together well.
- Chill the Vegetarian Chi Kofte for at least two hours and then serve alongside a plate of grape leaves. Place a spoonful of the kofte and wrap loosely in a grape leaf to eat.