Vegetarian Italian Meatballs
I think this is the part where the Italian family I married into kicks me out. I know you’re not supposed to mess with their meatballs, but non-meat eaters should be able to enjoy them too, dammit.
Now I’ll be honest – when I woke up this morning with the plan to make these lentil cheatballs, I procrastinated like mad. I usually gingerly dive into my projects, but it’s known that lentil meatballs (much like black bean burgers) can be finicky. They are notorious for falling apart and that’s a sure slap in the face when trying to convince meat eaters that non-meat eaters can still enjoy burgers and meatballs and life.
BUT… I think these photos speak for themselves on how they turned out.
“Yeah, okay Dana. Those look all nice and fancy from the outside – but what do they look like on the inside?”
Oh! I’m glad you asked…
They are beautiful on the inside, too.
‘Cause that’s how I roll.
Okay, now I’ll explain a few important things.
I adapted this recipe from the ever-so-credible Dana from Minimalist Baker. Her version is vegan and gluten free – so I changed things up by adding an egg and using bread crumbs.
So yeah, my version is not vegan nor GF.
In her post, she mentions pulsing her mixture in a food processor. I did a total forehead slap here because I rely on my high-power blender for everything because it’s amazing and to hell with food processors because they are clunky and annoying BUT – if there was ever a good reason to have a food processor – it’s for things like this; things that need to only be pulsed, not pureed.
So – jokes on me.
I used my blendermonster anyway – but very carefully. If you’re going to use a blender, you can totally achieve a texture that will work, but you’ll want to pulse it low and slow, occasionally stirring with a silicone spatula (when not pulsing) to make sure things are getting mixed thoroughly. You’ll notice that my mixture still includes some full lentils. This is absolutely fine, but you want more mush than lentils. Keep that in mind.
Once the mixture is all mixed up, empty the contents into a large bowl and add the egg and bread crumbs; mix with clean bare hands just like you would when making homemade meatballs.
Details on handling the balls (ha) and rolling them are in the directions below.
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Get the Recipe:
Vegetarian Italian Meatballs
- 3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 shallot, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, approx. 1.5 tablespoon, minced
- 1.5 cups cooked and cooled green lentils, for extra flavor, cook them in vegetable stock
- 1.5 tablespoons of dried Italian seasoning, dried basil/oregano
- 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 5 tablespoons grated pecorino romano, + more for coating, parmesan, or asiago cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- Cracked black pepper to taste
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons Italian bread crumbs, + more for coating
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Heat a large skillet (I prefer cast iron for this) over medium heat.
- Once the skillet is hot, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, the shallots, and the garlic.
- Sauté until just slightly golden brown, approx. 2.5 minutes, careful not to brown/burn. Remove from heat and set aside.
- To a blender or food processor, add the cooked lentils, 1 teaspoon of olive oil, sautéed garlic and shallots, Italian seasonings, fresh parsley, tomato paste, grated cheese, kosher salt, and cracked black pepper.
- Pulse, mixing until combined, but be sure not to puree. Keeping some full lentils in the mix is fine, but most of it should be a mushier consistency.
- Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.
- Add egg and 3 tablespoons of Italian bread crumbs. Blend well with your clean bare hands.
- The texture should be dough-y. If it's too wet, add more bread crumbs.
- Use a tablespoon or cookie dough scoop to scoop out rounded amounts of the mixture and carefully form into balls. The mixture is pretty easy to mold, but it's fragile. It's best to rest the ball in the palm of one hand, and use two fingers from your other hand to carefully and gently form into a ball. If you find cracks, dampen your fingers with a little water to help bind and reform. Repeat until all of the balls are formed. I got 10 out of my mix.
- Spread some grated cheese and extra bread crumbs onto a plate and carefully roll the balls through to coat.
- Heat your skillet over medium heat once again, and once hot, add olive oil.
- Carefully place the balls onto the hot skilled and brown, for approx. 4-5 minutes, or until golden brown. Ensure to shake the pan or use a silicone spoon/tongs to roll the balls around so they brown evenly on all sides.
- Once done cooking, transfer to the prepared baking sheet and set aside until all of your balls are ready.
- Once all balls are browned and set on the baking sheet, transfer to oven and bake for 15 minutes.
- Remove from oven and let them cool slightly. They will firm as they cool.
- Serve them up on their own with marinara sauce, a plate of pasta, or a as a meatball sub! Treat them as you would treat Italian meatballs.