Lentil Veggie Balls

These hearty and flavorful vegetarian meatballs are made with lentils, sauteed vegetables. Serve over pasta, or over sauteed greens with pesto. 

I had a minor panic attack the other day when I saw the headline "Tom Hanks reveals serious health condition" flash across the screen.

My heart sank.  Is it a neuroblastoma?  Or could it be Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease?  Please!  Just don't let it be ebola virus!

Maybe I'm being a bit dramatic, but I just love Tom Hanks.  I mean, is there anyone who doesn't?  Could there be a single, souless human being who didn't cry tears of joy as Jenny and Forrest embraced on the National Mall?  Is it possible for your heart not to break into a million pieces when Andy rejects Woody for fancy schmancy new toy Buzz Lightyear?  If you didn't at least crack a smile at the end of You've Got Mail, then I don't want to know you.  Seriously.  Click that little X at the top right corner of the screen and go away.

I was partially relieved to know Tom Hanks wasn't battling a rare, unpronounceable, deadly disease, but rather all too common, but still deadly, type 2 diabetes.  During an interview on The Tonight Show, David Letterman remarked he was looking trimmer these days.  Hanks responded that he was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and was trying to lose weight.  He then said his doctor told him that if he got down to his high school weight, then he wouldn't be diabetic.  His response: "Well, I'm just going to be a type 2 diabetic then."

Initially, I was pretty ticked at his nonchalant response.  But then I kept reading and learned he was only 96 lbs in high school, so I gave him a pass for being a freakishly skinny kid.  But what he said next made me so mad I wanted to buy a plane ticket to LA just to smack him across the head.

"We've all got to die from something."

To me, this phrase is like nails on a chalkboard.  Technically, it is true.  No matter how healthy your lifestyle, you will eventually die.  Sometimes despite making all the right health choices, someone will die before their time.  But I constantly hear this phrase used to justify unhealthy behaviors.  "Why should I stop eating fast food?  I've got to die from something."  Or they say, "What's the point in changing my diet?  I've got to die someday and I'd rather die happy with a big steak on my plate!"

As someone who has spent the past five years working in a hospital setting, witnessing how preventable and treatable chronic diseases destroy lives on a daily basis, this phrase infuriates me.  No, kale and quinoa won't grant you immortality.  But making healthy choices about what food goes into your mouth allows you to live life to the fullest!

We're lucky to live in an age where modern medicine has extended our average lifespan to almost 80 years.  But what's the point of living so long if you're not actually living?  Can you travel if you need to be hooked up to a dialysis machine three days a week for four hours?  Probably not.  Could you play outside with your grandkids if you're so winded from heart disease that you can't even make it up a flight of stairs?  Nope.  Will you be happy with that giant steak on your plate if you're so nauseous from radiation that you can't even bear the smell of it?  I doubt it.

The other week I saw a man in the hallway with a physical therapist, learning how to walk with an assistive device after losing his leg, presumably to diabetes.  Even though I only met him once about two years ago, I'll never forget his face, mostly because he was really mean to me.  Immediately after introducing myself, he told me my job was pointless.  He did that really annoying thing and judged my diet then chided me about my weight.  That quote about dying happy with a big steak in hand?  That was his.  You might think "told ya so," flashed across my mind.  Normally it may have, but one look at his face, flushed red with embarassment after he recognized me, and I knew he learned the error in his thinking the hard way.

So what does today's recipe have to do with Tom Hanks?  Absolutely nothing.  I suppose you could draw a face on the veggie balls and call them Wilson.  Then you could scream in agony, "Wilsooooonnnn!!  I'm sorry Wilson!!!" after you devour the last bite!

Veggie Balls

Makes: 20-26 balls

Adapted from The Meatball Shop, a must eat when you're in NYC. As you may have guessed, they specialize in meatballs, but the owner says this veggie ball is his favorite. I served these over spinach sauteed with onion and garlic and a basic basil pesto. You could also make a quick spicy tomato sauce or a vegetarian mushroom gravy, which is what I'm planning on doing the next time I make this dish. And there will be a next time.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups lentils, any type you like
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 8 ounces white mushrooms, chopped
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Instructions

  1. Place the lentils and 2 quarts of water in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 25 minutes until tender. Make sure you don't cook them to mush. Drain and cool.
  2. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a medium skillet. Saute onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme and salt on medium-high heat until tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook about 10 minutes, until all the liquid from the mushrooms is reabsorbed.
  3. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside to cool to room temperature, or place in the freezer if you're short on time. Once cool, add the lentils. Add the eggs, parmesan, bread crumbs, parsley, walnuts and pepper and mix by hand until thoroughly combined.
  4. The recipe suggests cooling the mixture in the refrigerator for 25 minutes - I skipped this step and it turned out fine.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a large rimmed baking sheet. Form the lentil-vegetable mixture into 1 1/2-2 inch balls. Place on the baking sheet at least 1 inch apart.
  6. Roast for 35 minutes until firm, flipping halfway.