the perfect vegetarian ‘meatball’

I never wanted to make vegetarian meatballs until I saw the Sprouted Kitchen’s post a few weeks ago. I guess it really had nothing to do with the ingredients or the idea, it was the beautiful photography alone that sparked my interest.

A few days later I ended up at the Meatball Shop for the third time ever, so I decided to try their vegetarian meatballs. They had much of the same ingredients as SK’s recipe – lentils, parm, etc, but they also had mushrooms. Perfect, I thought. Mushrooms will add the perfect meatiness that is needed for a vegetarian ‘meat’-anything. Eh, not so much. They weren’t particularly flavorful. All I tasted was lentil and the texture was dry. It really felt like I was just eating a ball of lentils, period. My mind was made up – I had to make the perfect vegetarian meatball!

I doubled SK’s recipe, added sauteed portobellos and went down on the lentils, afraid that I’d end up with the Meatball Shop’s dry, lentil ball. The result – the perfect vegetarian meatballs! They were ‘meaty’, flavorful, moist, tender and reminiscent of an Italian meatball due to the crushed fennel seeds. The flavors were so balanced that you don’t know exactly what’s in it – lentils weren’t overpowering and the mushrooms and parm did exactly what they’re supposed to do, add savoriness. I followed SK’s lead by making 1-inch bite-size balls and ended up with about 75 morsels of pure umami. I served them over polenta with a chunky cashew pesto but I am looking forward to eating them over spaghetti with my favorite tomato sauce.

vegetarian ‘meatballs’

yield: 75 ‘meatballs’

ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced, divided
  • 4 portobello caps, coarsely chopped, divided
  • 3 cups cooked lentils
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1-1/2 cups ricotta
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cracked pepper
  • 1-1/3 cups whole wheat bread crumbs
  • Olive oil for brushing

directions

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add 1 of the minced garlic cloves, cook and stir until fragrant. Add two of the chopped mushrooms, season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender. Remove to a bowl and repeat with remaining butter, another garlic clove and remaining mushrooms.
  2. In a food processor, puree cooked lentils until smooth. It’s okay if a few lentils remain whole. Remove to a large mixing bowl.
  3. In same food processor, puree cooked mushrooms. Remove to a strainer with small holes. Press with a wooden spoon to remove excess liquid. Allow to drain until needed.
  4. To lentils, add eggs, ricotta, parmesan, parsley, fennel seeds, salt, pepper, remaining 2 garlic cloves and pureed mushrooms; mix well. Add breadcrumbs and continue mixing until fully incorporated. Allow mixture to to sit for 20 minutes.
  5.  Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and brush with olive oil to avoid sticking. Roll spoonfuls of the mixture between your palms to form 1-inch balls. Arrange on baking sheet in rows.
  6. Cook first batch while you roll remaining mixture into balls. Bake in oven until cooked, about 15 minutes, or until tops are golden, about 20 minutes. I wanted to be sure they were tender and moist, so I took them out after 15 minutes. Repeat with remaining balls.
  7. Serve over polenta with pesto or tomato sauce.
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