Author: Sweet Green Kitchen’s Jen Jones
Adapted from: Sara Forte’s “The Sprouted Kitchen”
Meat free, gluten free, but full on flavor! These tasty lentil meatballs are the perfect prescription for any vegetarian missing that classic childhood favorite “spaghetti and meatballs”. But these little bites are so yummy even meat eaters won’t miss the meat. These are in regular rotation at chez Jones.
1 can black lentils – about 2 cups (*see recipe note below)
¾ cup ricotta cheese (I use part skim)
¼ cup freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese (Locatelli is the best)
2 cloves garlic – crushed
1 shallot – finely chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 ½ teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
Lemon zest – from about ½ – 1 whole lemon
1 Tablespoon olive oil (I use extra virgin always)
1 cup cooked quinoa (use leftover or cook ¼ cup dry with ½ cup water in advance)
Drain and rinse the lentils and place in a medium size bowl. Mash the lentils with the back of a fork or potato masher, but don’t completely pulverize, you want to still have some intact lentils. Add to the lentils all remaining ingredients except the quinoa. Mix well to combine and then add in the quinoa and mix through.
To help keep the mix from falling apart, place in the refrigerator to chill for about 15 minutes. You could also mix this up in the morning and then have it all ready to go at dinner time or even mix it all up the night before.
While chilling…Preheat oven to 400 F. And if you plan to serve with spaghetti, start boiling your water and/or prepping the rest of your meal.
After your mix has chilled, line a rimmed baking pan with parchment paper or brush the pan with olive oil if you don’t have any parchment on hand.
Remove the bowl from the refrigerator and start forming balls, about 1 inch in diameter. I use my smallest spring loaded ice cream scoop to form the balls, place them on the pan and then press any loose ends together with my fingers once they’re all on the pan. This recipe makes about 28-32 balls. These don’t need a lot of space on the pan, so I pack them in pretty tight but don’t let them touch.
Bake for 15 minutes at 400 F, until the bottoms begin to brown and then carefully turn and bake another 10 minutes.
Serve atop spaghetti with your favorite tomato sauce, I like them with a spicy tomato sauce, but marinara is tasty too. Or if you’d like to skip the pasta, they’re also great atop sautéed greens, like swiss chard. You could even squish them between some Italian bread with tomato sauce for a yummy vegetarian meatball sub. A little extra grated Romano cheese over the top completes it. Enjoy!
Recipe notes: don’t be dismayed if you feel like this makes too many, cooled leftovers freeze great for a quick meal in the future, just defrost and reheat. You could also serve these as party hors d’oeuvres with a little pesto dipping sauce.
*Also a note about lentils, I use black lentils also known as French lentils here, they are a bit firmer and hold up better than brown or green lentils when mashed and I like that slightly al dente bite they lend to these meatballs. If you can’t find them canned, you could easily cook up a batch of dried, lentils are the one bean that cooks up quickly without any need for overnight soaking.