Ever since I was a kid, I was pretty picky with the meats I would eat. Ground beef was always “meh” in my books at best (leading a strict diet of burger buns and soda at summer barbecues). Meatballs were good because they were loaded up with sauce and surrounded by pasta, but I probably wouldn’t have favoured them on their own. Making vegetarian meatballs is, in my mind anyway, way more tasty (and healthy, if you’re into that kind of thing).
One thing I love about this recipe (among the many reasons there are to love it) is that it doesn’t use soy. I’m not against soy in any sense, but I know that eating it all the time isn’t supposed to be great for you and it can get boring. Any long term vegetarian will know the feel of going to a restaurant and having a bland tofu substitute while their friends eat amazing looking seafood and steak. This is a recipe I’d like to think of as less of a substitution, and more as a first choice.
This recipe is from Sprouted Kitchen, a blog that one of my friends recently showed me and I am in awe every time I look at the photographs. The same friend made these meatballs for a Christmas party and they were devoured and actively sought after. Since then I’ve been meaning to make them, but I’m just getting around to it now and I wanted to give them a go to see how I can make them my own.
Not only do these pack protein and iron like crazy, they also have tons of flavour and hold their shape well in pasta dishes, sandwiches, or just as an appetizer. If you’re looking to make these gluten-free, you can sub in some rolled oats and gluten-free breadcrumbs.
Makes 18 small meatballs
For the mealballs:
- 2 cups cooked lentils
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/4 cup fresh parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp. whole fennel seed, crushed
- 2 tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped
- Pinch of dried thyme
- 1 tsp. sea salt and black pepper
- 2/3 cup breadcrumbs (I used panko)
For the lemon pesto sauce:
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 cup pinenuts
- Zest and juice of one lemon
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 – 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp. parmesan, grated
- 2 tbsp. water, to thin
In the bowl of a food processor, pulverize the lentils into mush. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add in the beaten eggs, ricotta, parmesan, garlic, fennel seed, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper and stir to mix well. Stir in the breadcrumbs and let the mix sit for 20 minutes. This will allow the mixture to set and the flavours to develop. Rinse out the food processor as you will need it for the sauce.
For the lemon pesto sauce, put the garlic, nuts, lemon zest and juice and salt in a food processor and run until smooth. Add in the basil leaves and olive oil until it has a smooth, sauce-like consistency. Add in small amounts of water, oil or lemon juice to thin as desired. Stir in the parmesan and set aside. The sauce will keep covered in the fridge for about a week.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Check the lentil mix by rolling a 1-inch round ball between your palms—if it holds together, it’s ready. If it seems pretty wet, sticks to your hands and falls apart, stir in another tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs until the ball stays together.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll the mix into small balls and line them up on a baking sheet (they don’t need lots of space between, they won’t spread). If you like a bit more of a crust, brush them with olive oil.
Bake on the middle rack for 15-20 minutes until the tops are golden brown, gently turning the balls over halfway through baking. Remove to cool slightly before serving. Serve hot with lemon pesto sauce thickly drizzled overtop. Keep any leftovers in the fridge for up to 5 days and stick them into sandwiches, pastas, soups and salads.