My favorite childhood dish was the marinated meatballs in flavored tomato sauce that my grandmother was waiting for me with, when I was returning home from school. I remember having them hot, bathed in that amazing sauce and always responding with “marinated meatballs” when asked about the dish I wanted for the next day.
Then my grandmother went away and as an adult I tried to reproduce her dish, but never got close. And then I quit eating meat and totally forgot about the meatballs. This was just until a couple of years ago, when I got myself craving for the comforting dish of my childhood and started the experiments, this time using veggies, legumes and spices.
And no, these vegan lentil meatballs are nothing like my grandma’s, but they definitely fit better in my actual diet and in what the adult me would call “comfort food”.
You can pretty much use any legume as a base for vegan meatballs, as they are all starchy and keep the ball together. However, I think lentils are the best choice because :
- 1. they’re incredibly easy to prepare from scratch (think chickpeas – soak overnight, boil, process)
- 2. they have a mild flavor that perfectly pairs with the Oriental spices that I tend to add to every dish
- 3. they come with an excellent nutritional load
Think fibers, lots of minerals, B vitamins and protein. I lately value a lot the fiber-rich ingredients. My boyfriend takes a medicine that affects the cholesterol levels so we decided to focus our diet on eating soluble fiber rich foods, especially oats, legumes and fresh fruits. And with a 56 percent of fiber, the humble lentils are definitely among our favorites!
Higher consumption of fiber-rich foods also prevents you from developing cardiovascular diseases. Lentils are not only rich in fiber, but also contribute to a healthy cardiovascular system given their high concentrations of magnesium and folate.
Folate (vitamin B9) alongside vitamin B6, also found in lentils, helps with the metabolism of homocysteine, an amino-acid that accumulates and damages the artery walls, while magnesium relaxes the veins and arteries and improves the flow of oxygen and nutrients in our bodies while also reducing free radical injuries to a poor functioning heart.
To make sure you get the benefits from the all nutrients in lentils, cook them according to the package instructions. This way you’ll avoid the nutrient leak into the excess cooking water, that you will actually throw away.
Bathing the lentil meatballs into a spiced sauce will turn them into a real comfort food, while serving them with rice will provide you all the amino-acids your body needs to build complete proteins. Baking the balls into the oven is easier for digestion, while frying them into coconut oil will make them crispier and more appealing for other family members ;).
If you enjoy this recipe and love vegetarian meatballs, patties and burgers as much as I do, make sure not to miss out my Gluten-Free Vegetarian Meatballs, the Monster Vegan Burger by Jamie Oliver, or The Ultimate Veggie Burger with Beets and Quinoa.
- For the meatballs
- 2 cups cooked lentils
- ½ cup walnuts
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
- 1 tsp cumin
- ¼ tsp coriander seeds
- 1 large bunch fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp whole wheat breadcrumbs (replace with ground flax for a gluten-free variation)
- 1 tsp coconut oil
- ½ tsp sea salt
- For the sauce
- 2 cups diced tomatoes
- 1 cup pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cubed (or 3-4 tbsp pumpkin puree)
- ½ cup vegetable broth or purified water
- ½ cup full fat coconut milk
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 medium onion
- 2 tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
- ½ tsp red chilli flakes
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp coconut sugar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- To serve: cooked brown rice or quinoa, lime wedges
- To garnish: coconut milk or yogurt, fresh parsley
- Preheat the oven to 175 C/346 F.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In the food processor add the walnuts and pulse to obtain a crumble.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse four or five times to obtain a mixture with some crumbles for texture (don't over-process to avoid a mushy mixture).
- Shape the mixture into little balls using your hands or a scoop and line them onto the baking sheet. You will get 10 - 12 balls.
- Drizzle with coconut oil and bake for 30 minutes.
- Prepare the tomato sauce meanwhile.
- Add the onion and butternut cubes into a large cast iron skillet together with a tablespoon water and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.
- Add the tomato sauce, broth/water, coconut milk, spices and sugar, mix and bring to boil over medium heat.
- Simmer for 10 minutes, then season with salt and pepper and use a hand blender to turn the sauce into a creamy liquid.
- Remove the lentil balls from the oven and add them one by one into the sauce pan.
- Garnish with coconut milk and fresh parsley, and serve with brown rice and lime wedges.