Lentil "Meat" balls in Quick Tomato Sauce (Daring Cooks June '12 Challenge: Meatballs)

"On top of spaghetti
All covered with cheese
I lost my poor meatball..."

For all the people who are going to be stuck with that song running through their head the rest of the day... You are welcome.

This post is going to be more recipe than content today... because writing about meatballs is making me hungry... for meatballs.

I just can't deal.

Meatballs (good ones) are one of my top 20 favorite foods.

If you want to be my friend, bring me a meatball sub - with just the right amount of sauce, a substantial amount of melted cheese - cripsy from the broiler and a nice hearty roll. Seriously - I will love you forever. (Yes, I am that easy.)

I was excited to see Ruth & Shelley hosting this month - they may be sisters, but they both take each of the Daring Cooks challenges in totally different and often creative directions. So, in honor of one of this month's hosts, Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood who keeps a vegetarian household, I decided to take it in a slightly less traditional method.

Yep, I took the meat out of my meatballs. 

Jennifer Perillo's Homemade with Love contains a recipe for lentil "meat" balls that I have kind of fallen in love with and have spent some time playing with. The original recipe is lovely as is, but I can never leave well enough alone. Instead of pureeing all of the lentils, I left some whole for texture. I used cottage cheese instead of ricotta and played around with the cheeses. Instead of plain breadcrumbs, I made breadcrumbs out of the remnants of a pesto loaf that was hanging in the freezer.

For the sauce, I used my standard (quick) top of the stove tomato sauce.

Now, on to the good stuff!

Quick Stove-top Tomato Sauce

1-2 Tbs olive oil (for the pan)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 ounce can San Marzano whole tomatoes, crushed
2 Tbs tomato paste
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Chopped herbs (I grab a handful of whatever is in the refrigerator and literally throw in a handful - basil, oregano, parsley)
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tsp sugar (if you like your sauce slightly sweet)

In a large skillet or saute pan (I like to use this 3.5 QT braiser) heat up the olive oil. When heated, add the onion and saute until tender and just beginning to pick up color. Add the garlic and saute for another minute.

Stir in the crushed tomatoes (and their juices), tomato paste, vinegar and herbs. Bring to a gentle simmer and simmer for ~30 minutes to bring the flavors together. Toward the end of cooking stir in salt, pepper, sugar. Adjust seasonings to preference.

*You can keep the sauce on a gentle simmer while you prepare the meatballs.

Lentil "Meat"balls
Adapted from "Homemade with Love" by Jennifer Perillo

2 cups cooked Lentils du Puy (French Green lentils)
2 large eggs - lightly beaten together
2/3 cup breadcrumbs (keep some extra breadcrumbs on hand in case your mixture is too moist to hold its shape)
1/4 cup ricotta or cottage cheese
1/4 grated firm cheese (I have used both Pecorino Romano and Parmesan)
2 Tsp fresh finely chopped parsley
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
Neutral oil (grape seed, canola), for frying
Tomato sauce for simmering the "meat" balls

In a food processor or blender, puree ~1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups of the cooked lentils.

Combine the pureed lentils, the reserved whole lentils and the remaining ingredients (Except for the cooking oil) in a large bowl and using a wooden spoon, mix together well. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the mixture for 2-8 hours.

About 1 1/2 hours before you want to eat, remove the lentil mixture from the refrigerator and gently shape into slightly flattened balls (~1 1/2 inches is recommended, but I have made them larger and smaller with success).

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over a medium flame. Once the oil is ready, place 4-5 lentil balls in the pan and cook on each side until golden brown. Removed the cooked lentil balls and place on a plate covered with paper towels (to absorb excess oil) while working with the next batch of lentil balls. Repeat until all of them have been fried in oil.

Once all of the lentil balls have been cooked, gently transfer them to the pan with the simmering sauce. Simmer for another 45 minutes to one hours.

Serve over pasta, eat them on their own, or make a "meat" ball sandwich out of them...

Peace out!

This post participates in The Daring Cooks. The June Daring Cooks’ challenge sure kept us rolling – meatballs, that is! Shelley from C Mom Cook and Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to try meatballs from around the world and to create our own meatball meal celebrating a culture or cuisine of our own choice.


  1. Lentil meat balls or lentil balls? Either way, sounds delicious, a glorified version of falafel?

  2. A super twist on the traditional meatballs. These sound so darn good Cher, just the thing for me! And now I want to get that book more than before. I´m so trying this recipe.

  3. I'm vegetarian and can't wait to make it - they sound gooood! I also love french lentils, they tend to be pricey here so I may try regular brown lentils I have anyway on my shelf. Thanks for recipe!..FYI as always, it's very entertaining to read your posts, I cought myself smiling all the time when I do this :)

  4. I am in love with all the vegetarian meatballs I am seeing today.
    I am pinning these lentil "meatballs" to try as soon as possible

  5. Ruth will be so proud when she reads this :) And I am super glad that the challenge was near and dear to your heart, and that it inspired you to try a "meatless" meatball! I am so glad that you enjoyed and that you were able to cook along with us this month!

  6. Cher, you are awesome. I am so glad that you enjoyed this challenge, and I am super flattered that you, a true meatball lover, made a vegetarian version. Which, by the way, I would like to be invited to try next time you make them!! Thank you so much for playing with us this month!!

  7. Vegetarian meatballs for the win :D
    This looks super delicious!


  8. They look wonderful! Great job.

  9. I adore lentils and know these meatballs must be terrific!

  10. Lentil meatballs are my favorites (I love them more than "meat" balls). I found a bag in the back of the freezer the other day, and I was ridiculously happy about dinner that night.

  11. I really don't think I have ever met a meatball i didn't love and since I certainly love lentils too I know I would like these. Buying more lentils dp has been on my list for awhile now. Was thinking salad but now I'm thinking meatballs...who knew?

  12. Lentil meatballs? I never would have thought of that. Sounds very healthy and delicious.

  13. I will have to let my niece know about this recipe. She's become a semi-vegetarian (doesn't buy meat, but will eat it if offered) perhaps because she just graduated with a double major in biology and animal science, or maybe because she was a poor college student, like most. I wonder if this would work with canned beans that aren't too mushy (like chickpeas)?


Post a Comment

Hi - Thanks for stopping by. I'd love to hear from you!

Due to the high number of weirdo SPAM comments I have been receiving, I have turned comment moderation back on for the time being... Comments may show a slight delay.