Lentil Meatballs with Lemony Pesto

High protein lentils stand in for meat in these vegetarian meatballs. Served with a lemony basil pesto.

Even before I started blogging, I rarely cooked the same dish twice. When people find this out, they're are always astonished, but I'm more shocked that people can eat the same thing day after day. I remember reading the average person has only ten dinner dishes they alternate. How boring! Life is too short to eat the same thing twice. There are too many cuisines to try, spices to mix and new ingredients to experiment with!

I hardly ever repeat the same recipe, but there are a few dishes I frequently experiment with different variations of. Eggplant parmesan, for example, is a summer time staple. I've tried it every which way, from grilled to vegan to classically deep fried. Frittatas frequently make an appearance on our dinner table at least twice a month. Statistically speaking, with all that frittata-ing, I'm sure I've used the same ingredients at some point.

Lentil meatballs are my newest culinary obsession. Ever since I made these vegetable and lentil meatballs last fall, I've been enamored with using lentils as substitute for ground beef. I turned them into a tangy sloppy Joe filling, made enchiladas, and at least three different types of meatballs.

I might describe my original lentil and vegetable meatball as the fall/winter version, with it's rich, umami flavor from caramelized vegetables, tomato paste and plenty of parmesan. These could be the spring/summer version, with a light, almost fluffy texture and herbaceous flavor. The pesto sauce is thinned with plenty of lemon juice, brightening the flavor even more.

I served these over a bed of whole grain pasta and blanched chard, which I made by cooking 8 ounces of whole gran spaghetti in salted water and adding a bag of chopped chard a couple minutes before the pasta was done cooking. You could also serve them over spaghetti squash or a bed of sauteed greens. To make a vegan version, use chia seed eggs and try using a little nutritional yeast or homemade vegan parmesan, which is made from a mixture of cashews and nutritional yeast. If you try it, please let me know how it turns out in the comments.

I adapted this recipe (ever so slightly) from The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook, one of my favorites. Filled with mouth-watering photography, Sarah Forte highlights whole foods with her simple recipes. If I had to suggest a must-have cookbook for anyone first starting on a whole foods, plant based diet, this would probably be it.

On a side note, congratulations to Lynn K. for winning the doTERRA oils giveaway! I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

P.S. Today is the first day I'm officially self-employed! My last day at work was this past Friday - woah! Again, many thanks to you all for the encouragement. I have some exciting stuff in the works that I can't wait to share with you all!

Lentil Meatballs with Lemony Pesto

Serves 4

Adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook

Ingredients

Meatballs:

  • 1 cup lentils, preferably French le puy lentils
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup crumbled firm tofu
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2/3 cup breadcrumbs (I used whole wheat panko)

Lemon Pesto Sauce:

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

Instructions

  1. Place the lentils in a pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, uncovered, until lentils are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool
  2. Once cool enough to handle, place in a large bowl and mash lightly with a potato masher. It should be half mashed, half whole lentils. Add eggs, olive oil, tofu, Parmesan, garlic, fennel, parsley, thyme, salt, pepper and breadcrumbs. Stir to combine and set aside for 15 minutes so the flavors blend.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a large baking sheet with olive oil using a misto.
  4. Meanwhile, place garlic, walnuts and lemon in a blender and blend until smooth. Add lemon juice, basil, olive oil and Parmesan. Blend until smooth. If you like a thinner consistency, add a couple tablespoons of water.
  5. Form 1-inch "meatballs" using the lentil mixture. If it's too wet and not holding together, add a couple extra tablespoons of breadcrumbs. If it's too dry, add a couple tablespoons of water. Place each meatball evenly on the baking sheet. Once you've made all the breadcrumbs, spray lightly with olive oil. Bake in the oven until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes, turning halfway.
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