Lentil Meatballs


I’d like to find the equivalent of a steakhouse for vegetarian food. Instead of waxing rhapsodic about the restaurant’s aging room, servers would talk euphorically of gardens, soil, and the latest rainbow of produce pulled fresh from the earth. The “side dish” category would be completely rethought. Veggie- and legume-based dishes like these easy Lentil Meatballs would move from menu page 3 to the front-page nightly special.

Easy Vegetarian Lentil Meatballs - Simple, healthy, and protein packed! Made with cooked lentils, carrots, and lots of Italian spices, then oven baked. Perfect for filling meatless meals, and they taste great leftover too! {gluten free} Recipe at wellplated.com | @wellplated

Although I’m not a vegan or vegetarian, I have a deep love and appreciation for vegetables. It’s easy for me to prepare them at home—you’ll find a big pan of simply roasted mushrooms, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts in our oven almost every night of the week—but when I go out, I’m often disappointed by how much of an afterthought the vegetables seem. Even when restaurants do have a decent selection of vegetables, they are usually deep fried, slathered in cream, or similarly disguised via butter and cheese.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that deep-fried Brussels sprouts or garlicky, buttery mushrooms are not delicious, but I am saying that vegetarian and vegan recipes can hold their own as the principle of a plate. Case in point: today’s Lentil Meatballs.

Baked Lentil Meatballs – Simple, healthy, delicious! A filling vegetarian recipe that’s perfect for meatless meals Recipe at wellplated.com | @wellplated

I’ve long been a lover of legumes, which, if we want to get scientific, include (per Wikipedia) “a plant or its fruit or seed in the family Leguminosae.” You might know them better as ingredients that include, among others, chickpeas, peanuts, and today’s superstar, lentils.

Lentils are fiber and protein powerhouses. While not technically a vegetable, they are an excellent resource in vegetarian and vegan cooking, because the lentils make vegetarian dishes extra hearty and satisfying, no meat required. They are also easy to make, budget friendly, and can be adapted to a wide range of cuisines and styles.

Today’s Lentil Meatballs are exactly the sort of dish I’d envision in my star vegetarian restaurant. They pack so much flavor and are so filling that your thought won’t be “Where’s the meat?” but rather “Can I have a second helping?”

Lentil Meatballs – a protein-packed vegetarian recipe! Recipe at wellplated.com | @wellplated

To give the Lentil Meatballs lots of flavor, I cooked them in Simple Truth Vegetable Broth, which I purchased at Pick ‘n Save, my local Wisconsin grocery store. Simple Truth is Pick ‘n Save’s new line of minimally processed, affordable products, and I’ve enjoyed partnering with the store to create new recipes that highlight them, these Lentil Meatballs included. In addition to the broth, I grabbed the rest of the recipe ingredients on this list, including the colorful rainbow of produce you’ll find both inside (and underneath!) the Lentil Meatballs.

Once the lentils are cooked, making these easy Lentil Meatballs is a simple matter of blending and baking. Everything goes into the food processor, then once the vegetarian meatballs are shaped, all that remains is to bake. Pan frying might be more traditional for meatballs, but I found the hands-off baking method to be just as effective, healthier, and so much easier too.

Easy Vegetarian Lentil Meatballs. A simple, healthy baked meatball recipe that’s perfect for meatless dinners. Recipe at wellplated.com | @wellplated

I elected to serve these Lentil Meatballs on a bed of spiralized zucchini and sweet potatoes (I use this spiralizer attachment, which fits easily on my stand mixer), but they’d be just as tasty over a bed of traditional pasta noodles.

Easy Vegetarian Lentil Meatballs. Try them with pasta noodles, inside a sub for a sandwich, or with spiralized veggie noodles too! Recipe calls for carrots, but you can also use mushroom or any other vegetable you love. Recipe at wellplated.com | @wellplated

If you aren’t ready to go all-veg in your noodle selection, a blend of half zucchini noodles, half pasta noodles is quite scrumptious too. That’s how Ben and my two younger sisters—none of whom are vegan and all of whom sampled and heartily approved of the Lentil Meatball recipe—enjoyed them. We topped them with a simple tomato sauce and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

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Lentil Meatballs

Easy baked Vegetarian Lentil Meatballs—Simple, healthy, gluten free, and protein packed! Perfect for a simple, filling meatless meal.

Yield: 18 (1 1/2 inch) meatballs, 6 servings

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 55 minutes

Ingredients:

For the meatballs:

  • 3/4 cup dried green, brown, or French lentils (I used green French lentils)
  • 1 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth, plus additional as needed
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced yellow onion (about 1/2 medium onion)
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats or quick-cooking oats (do not use instant or steel cut)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 large egg

FOR SERVING:

  • Prepared whole wheat pasta noodles, zucchini noodles, or sweet potato noodles
  • Good-quality red pasta sauce (store bought or homemade) or pesto

Directions:

  1. Rinse the lentils: Measure the lentils into a colander or strainer. Pick over and remove any shriveled lentils or small pieces of rock or other debris. Rinse well under cool water. Drain.
  2. Cook the lentils: Add the rinsed lentils to a medium saucepan with the vegetable broth. Bring to a rapid simmer over medium high, then reduce the heat to a very low simmer. There should be a few small bubbles, and the lentils should be barely moving. Let gently simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Keep an eye on them to ensure they do not dry out—you want the lentils to always be just barely covered with liquid. If the lentils are not yet tender but the liquid has been has been absorbed, add more water and continue to cook. Drain off any excess liquid and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Once hot, add the onion and cook until onion is translucent and lightly brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the carrots and cook for another 2 minutes, then stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 additional minute.
  4. Place the oats and parsley in the bottom of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, then pulse a few times to begin breaking up the oats. Add the cooked lentils, onion mixture, tomato paste, oregano, salt, and pepper. Pulse a few times to start combining the mixture, then crack in the egg. Pulse a few more times until the mixture is combined but the lentils still have some texture. Set aside and let rest for 10 minutes or refrigerate overnight.
  5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, then coat the paper with nonstick spray. Roll the lentil mixture into balls that are roughly 1 1/2 inches across, about the size of a golf ball. Arrange them in a single layer on the baking sheet and mist the tops with nonstick spray. Cook for 10 minutes, then turn, mist again with nonstick spray, and continue baking 8 to 10 additional minutes, until the meatballs are browned and lightly crisp. Serve warm with pasta or vegetable noodles and your desired sauce.
  • To make this recipe vegan, you can use a flax egg in place of the egg called for in the recipe.
  • Make-ahead options: Unshaped lentil “batter” or shaped, unbaked lentil balls can be stored in the refrigerator 1 day in advance. Bake (or shape and bake) as directed. You can also freeze the shaped balls unbaked or baked for 2 months, then thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Either cook as directed (if unbaked) or rewarm gently in the microwave (if baked).
  • Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat gently in the microwave.
All images and text ©/Well Plated.

Nutrition Information

Serving Size: 3 meatballs, without noodles or other toppings

  • Amount Per Serving:
  • Calories: 112 Calories
  • Total Fat: 3g
  • Saturated Fat: 1g
  • Cholesterol: 31mg
  • Sodium: 160mg
  • Carbohydrates: 19g
  • Fiber: 6g
  • Sugar: 2g
  • Protein: 7g

I am sharing this post in partnership with Pick ‘n Save. As always, all opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands and companies that make it possible for me to continue to create quality content for you!

About Erin Clarke

I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food taste incredible. Wearer of plaid, lover of bourbon, and firmly convinced that sweets and veggies both deserve a place at the table. MORE ABOUT ERIN...

33 comments

  1. Erin, this is brilliant!

    Since going vegetarian, I have been relying on either soy mince based meatballs from brands such as Quorn, or falafel balls in the place of meatballs. Whilst I consistently use lentils in my cooking, I never thought of using their versatility in a meatball!!

    I can’t wait to try these, thank you!
    Lo
    http://www.themixtures.com

    • Thank you so much, Lo! I love the versatility of lentils too…I hope this recipe is a winner for you! I’d love to hear how it goes.

  2. What is the texture of these like? I have kids who live meatballs, but are a bit picky on texture. Trying to get them to eat more veggies :)

    • Great question, Les! I’d say they are moist (but certainly not mushy!) on the inside and lightly crisp on the outside, similar to a veggie burger. I hope you enjoy the recipe!

  3. Do you think that red/pink lentils would work as well? I also am not vegan in any way but do like to try different things. My husband is the worlds best guinea pig…always willing to try new things. The theory is that you can always add hot sauce! I do think that I would serve them over pasta though – just a personal choice.

    • Hi Chris, I think red or pink lentils would be fine if that’s the kind you like and you have them on hand! It’s so wonderful that both of you are willing to try new things…I hope you enjoy the recipe!

  4. Since we are in Passover week, lentils are kitniyot and therefore forbidden. I would be interested in a non-legume recipe for meatballs, this week.

    • I hope you’re able to enjoy this recipe another week, Arthur! I’m guessing you’ll be able to find some legume-free recipes for meatballs if you do an online search.

  5. Very nicely done Erin! Your vegan homies will be proud (:

  6. I love these photos! So bright and vivid! I would have never used lentils in this way, but I am LOVING IT

  7. Excited to try this on my veggie-hating-meat-lov’n toddler! I take great pleasure in disguised veggies that happily disappear during meal times! Thank you for this recipe! 

  8. These sound so good! I bet my kids would never miss the meat! 

  9. GORGEOUS photos and recipe!! LOVE Pick ‘n Save!

  10. Saralee Czajkowski Reply

    Hi Erin!!

    We were having ham and various things NON Vegan for dinner, and then my daughter invited a Vegan friend!! Well Plated to the rescue!

    I not only made these, and substituted chia seeds in warm water for the egg, I also made the crockpot potato wedges using Olive Oil, and then coconut butter instead of real butter. Even my Omnivore family and friends raved about these! Thanks again!

    Rating: 5
    • WOOHOO Saralee! I’m so excited to hear everything worked out perfectly for your dinner. Thanks so much for your kind words and for taking the time to leave this fabulous review!

  11. could you also flatten the balls into patties, and eat as a veggie burger? New at this trying new healthy.
    wonders

    • Hi Sue, I haven’t tried forming this into patties, but I think that could work! You’ll want to keep an eye on baking time depending on what size you make your patties—they could take more or less time than called for here. If you give it a try, I’d love to hear how it turns out.

  12. Halfway through making these I thought that they would end up not worth the effort but I’m happy to report that I was dead wrong! They’re really really good. I still have some left over in the fridge but I don’t think they’ll last long. Thanks for the recipe.

  13. Could these be frozen? Sound delicious! Looking forward to making.

    • Great question, Sel. I have not tried this, but I think that it would be fine. You could freeze unbaked or baked for 2 months, then thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Either cook as directed (if unbaked) or rewarm gently in the microwave (if baked). I’ve updated the recipe notes with these instructions too. I hope you love them!

  14. These are truly awesome!!! They have awesome flavor, and I love that they’re not all bread crumbs, like most recipes!! I did the flax egg, and it perfect!  Thank you!

    • Woohoo, Cynthia! I’m so excited to hear that you love these. Thank you so much for giving the recipe a try and taking the time to leave this wonderful review!

  15. I have tried other lentil meatball recipes before but this one is my favourite because it’s fast and easy, all healthy ingredients and tastes so good. Thank you! 

    Rating: 5
    • I’m happy to hear you enjoyed these, Sandeep! Thanks so much for taking the time to leave this review!

  16. If I wanted to make these using some leftover lentils, what would the measurement be for cooked lentils?
    Thanks

    • Hi Jeanien, 3/4 cup of uncooked lentils would be approximately 2 1/4 cups cooked. I hope you enjoy the meatballs!

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