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Lentil Veggie “Meatballs”

Greenletes / Recipes / Lentil Veggie “Meatballs”

These high protein lentil vegetarian meatballs taste just like the real thing. You won’t even miss the meat in this plant-based “meatball”.

I grew up in an Italian American family, so I’m not stranger to meatballs. My family has their own secret recipe for meatballs, and I have my own version of vegetarian meatballs made with lentils. But I’m giving away the recipe today!

We ate meatballs at most holidays get-togethers, like Christmas and Easter. And I’ve seen my parents whip up a batch of meatballs many many times. The recipe calls for delicious ingredients, like Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, Mediterranean spices and the finest olive oil.

Lentil Veggie Meatball

When I became a vegetarian about a decade ago, I missed eating meatballs. But I also knew I could create my own version with a “meaty” plant-based protein– lentils. I’m sharing my secrets with you, so that all my vegetarian friends can enjoy these lentil veggie meatballs at home!

Different types of lentils

There are a few kind of lentils you may see in the store. It’s worth understanding the difference, so you make sure you get the right kind for this recipe (and others).

Brown lentils

Brown lentils are the kind you’ll see most often and the ones used in this recipe. They hold their shape when cooked and have a meaty texture, making them a great substitute for ground meat.

They cook in about 30 minutes and have a nice bite and earthy flavor. When cooked all the way through, they tend to split and fall apart. These are the type of lentils that are commonly found in lentil soups and vegetarian tacos.

A half cup of uncooked brown lentils brings 24g protein, 80mg calcium, 26g fiber, and 4mg iron, according to the USDA

Lentil Veggie Meatballs

Red lentils

Red lentils are usually red or orange in the dry state. These lentils are thinner and have a much softer consistency when cooked. They are used for curry dishes, like daal, or pureed soups.

Red lentils cook very quickly, in about 15 to 20 minutes. A half cup of uncooked red lentils provides 22g protein, 10g fiber, 40mg calcium, 6mg iron, and 600mg potassium, according to the USDA. 

Black lentils

Although I love the taste of black lentils, I have a hard time finding them in the stores. These are sometimes called ‘beluga lentils’. They are smaller than brown lentils, but look somewhat similar.

Black lentils have a nice bite and don’t fall apart like other lentil varieties. They are great in salads and grain bowls. Black lentils cook in about 25 minutes– make sure you don’t overcook them or they will split.

A half cup of uncooked black lentils provides 26g protein, 18g fiber, 100mg calcium, 8mg iron, and 960mg potassium, according to the USDA. They also have antioxidants, specifically anthonyacin, which is usually found in dark colored foods like blueberries.

Do you need a food processor?

No, you don’t need a food processor for this recipe. One of my favorite things about making meatballs is getting in there with your hands and forming the balls.

For this vegetarian version, you will do just that. All of the ingredients go in a big bowl and are stirred together. You don’t need to process the lentils because they have a nice texture that helps give the meatballs their shape.

The egg and breadcrumb work as binding agents, so there’s no need to put the entire mixture into a food processor.

How do I prevent veggie meatballs from falling apart? 

We all get frustrated when homemade meatballs fall apart and don’t hold their shape! Luckily, I have some tricks up my sleeve to make sure that doesn’t happen with these vegetarian meatballs. In my recipe, I’ve used bread crumbs and egg to act as binders for the mixture. 

It’s important to use the correct amount of breadcrumbs and eggs – too much breadcrumbs and it will fall apart, too little and the same thing will happen. I’ve found that these quantities in the recipe below are just right in making sure the meatballs hold their shape perfectly! 

This recipe does use egg as a binder, but if you would like to replace the egg, try using 1 tablespoon flaxseed or chia seeds in 2.5 tablespoons of boiling water to make a flax or chia egg. A flax or chia egg is a great egg substitute in vegan cooking! 

Ingredients for these Vegetarian Meatballs

To make this, you’ll need:

  • 1 cup brown lentils dry
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 carrot peeled, minced
  • 1/2 white onion diced
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 3/4 cup Italian style bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon fresh basil chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt

How to make Vegetarian Meatballs

Here’s how to make them:

  1. Cook brown lentils according to package instructions.
  2. Combine the cooked lentils, veggies, spices, eggs, bread crumbs and parmesan cheese in a large bowl and mix well.
  3. Use your hands to form golf-ball sized meatballs. Lay them out on an olive oil covered baking sheet and pop them in the oven.
  4. Cook the meatballs on one side for about 10 minutes and then turn them over, so they cook for another 10 minutes on the other side. The outside of the ball should have a delicious golden brown crust.
Lentil Veggie Meatballs

Personally, I like to eat one or two straight out of the oven without sauce. But you do you!

Can I modify this recipe?

Normally, I would say yes. But for this recipe, I recommend sticking to the ingredients. The few things you can leave out or change the amounts are the carrots, onion and garlic. They really give the meatball their flavor, but you can add more or less, depending on what you have on hand.

Can I make this recipe vegan? 

You can easily make this into a vegan recipe – simply substitute the egg with a chia or flax seed egg and replace the parmesan with either vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast! If you’re using nutritional yeast instead of parmesan, I would recommend adding half the amount used in the original recipe. 

Serving Suggestions

You can absolutely eat these meatballs straight out of the oven, but they would be equally as delicious if you wanted to serve them with:

  • Marinara sauce
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • Pesto Sauce
  • White or whole wheat pasta
  • Gluten-free pasta alternatives like chickpea pasta or brown rice pasta
Lentil Veggie Meatball
5 from 1 vote
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Lentil Veggie “Meatballs”

These vegetarian meatballs are made with brown lentils, vegetables, spices, breadcrumbs, egg and parmesan cheese

Course Main Course
Servings 6 servings
Calories 191 kcal
Author Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

Ingredients

  • 1 cup brown lentils dry
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 carrot peeled, minced
  • 1/2 white onion diced
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 3/4 cup Italian style bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon fresh basil chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Combine lentils and 2 cups of water in sauce pan. Bring to a boil.  Once boiling, lower heat, cover, and simmer for 30-35 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.

  3. Once the lentils are cooked, set them aside to cool.

  4. Place cooked lentils, carrots, onions, garlic, Parmesan, bread crumbs, eggs, parsley, oregano, basil, and salt in a large bowl. Mix well with a large spoon or spatula

  5. Roll lentil mixture into balls (a little bigger than a golf ball). Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray or cover it with olive oil (either will work). Place meatballs on baking sheet, a few inches apart. Drizzle each meatball with olive oil.

  6. Place balls in the oven, and cook on one side for 10-12 minutes. Then, turn each ball and cook for another 10-12 minutes.  Each side should be golden brown with a delicious crust.

Recipe Notes

*These “meatballs” can be frozen with or without sauce.  Just pop them in the microwave when ready to eat!

Nutrition Facts
Lentil Veggie "Meatballs"
Amount Per Serving (2 meatballs)
Calories 191 Calories from Fat 36
% Daily Value*
Fat 4g6%
Saturated Fat 2g13%
Cholesterol 67mg22%
Sodium 709mg31%
Potassium 354mg10%
Carbohydrates 26g9%
Fiber 6g25%
Sugar 3g3%
Protein 13g26%
Vitamin A 1865IU37%
Vitamin C 3mg4%
Calcium 120mg12%
Iron 3mg17%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

13 Comments

  1. alsothecrumbsplease

    Cool, I’m looking for a long time for a really good vegetarian meatball recipe. Happy that I found it.

    Reply
    • Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

      Let me know how you like it. I make these at Christmas, instead of traditional meatballs.

      Reply
  2. Lisa Hartjes

    Does it matter what kind of lentil you use? I’m not that familiar with them.

    Reply
    • Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

      You want to use green or brown. The red lentils would be a bit too soft.

      Reply
      • Lisa Hartjes

        Thanks!

        Reply
  3. Lilyana Kerwitz

    5 stars
    just wondering, whats the serving size?

    Reply
  4. Shabnam Dhalla

    Can we use can lentils rather than dry ones

    Reply
    • Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

      Yes, but use 2 1/2 cups of canned lentils instead of the 1 cup of dry. Also, they make be canned with salt, so rinse them under running water to remove the excess salt. Let me know how they come out!

      Reply
      • Michelle

        Hi there! I tried this recipe today with canned lentils – they were fantastic! Hubby & baby loved them (although my toddler refused to try them – but in your defense he doesn’t like meatballs or meat patties either so it was a gamble)! Hubby even said, as you mentioned, that they tasted just like the real thing.

        My only tip for anyone using the canned lentils is either let them dry out a bit in the colander after rinsing them or add an extra egg (which I did) as mine were so wet they were falling apart. I didn’t try adding more crumbs simply as I had run out, but next time will try this as well.

        I got 24 ‘meat’balls out of this recipe.

        Reply
        • Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

          Thank you so much for the detailed review! I’m so glad the canned lentils worked for you. That makes sense that you need to dry them out a bit more. An extra egg or more breadcrumbs is the perfect solution!

          Reply
  5. Ana

    Can you suggest how to make these meatballs in a vegan way?

    Reply
    • Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

      You can easily make this into a vegan recipe – simply substitute the egg with a chia or flax seed egg and replace the parmesan with either vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast! To make a chia egg, combine 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and let it sit for 5 minutes until it becomes a gel. Do the same thing with flax meal and water to make a flax egg. If you’re using nutritional yeast instead of parmesan, I would recommend adding half the amount used in the original recipe.

      Reply

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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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