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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 to make Vegetarian Meatballs
Making these lentils is fairly easy. First, cook the brown lentils according to the package instructions. Next, combine the cooked lentils, veggies, spices, eggs, bread crumbs and parmesan cheese in a large bowl and mix well.
Now comes the fun part! 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.
Cook the meatballs 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.
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.
And don’t forget to add your favorite type of sauce! Top these meatballs with a marinara sauce, some grated parmesan cheese, a pesto sauce, or just eat them straight out of the oven!
Lentil Veggie “Meatballs”
These vegetarian meatballs are made with brown lentils, vegetables, spices, breadcrumbs, egg and parmesan cheese
- 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
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
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.
Once the lentils are cooked, set them aside to cool.
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
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.
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.
*These “meatballs” can be frozen with or without sauce. Just pop them in the microwave when ready to eat!