The perfect vegetarian dinner party meal did not exist until I finally perfected this recipe. My lentil meatballs taste so much like the real thing, meat eaters will not notice--trust me on this! You can make this recipe for vegetarian meatballs in advance and store them in the fridge until you're ready to fry them.
I have completely tricked meat eaters with these meatballs--an entire table of them, actually! The first time I made these, they were such a hit that I typed up the recipe and hung it on my fridge. No one believed me that they didn't contain beef!
If you're going to try to pass lentils as meat, you have to do a few easy things to them. First, you have to season them very well. We're using an Italian seasoning blend and plenty of Parmesan cheese for this recipe. Second, you have to fry them. The frying of the lentil meatballs gives them a crust similar to real meatballs, and it really helps 'sell' them as meat. It's not the same if you bake them, but I guess you can.
- Lentils. One 15-ounce can of already cooked lentils. Drain the lentils before using them, but there's no need to rinse them.
- Eggs. Two large eggs, beaten separately in a bowl before adding them to the food processor.
- Ricotta Cheese. We need half a cup of whole milk ricotta cheese. Part-skim ricotta just doesn't have the same flavor or fat that we need here.
- Parmesan Cheese. One-third of a cup of grated Parmesan cheese. You'll probably want some extra Parmesan for serving at the table.
- Italian Seasoning. We need one and a half teaspoons of an Italian seasoning blend. This is a store-bought blend that usually contains basil, oregano, rosemary, marjoram and thyme. The amounts in the blend will vary; buy one that smells super fragrant. As you add it to the bowl, crush the herbs in your fingertips to bring out the oils.
- Panko Breadcrumbs. I really prefer Panko breadncrumbs rather than regular bread crumbs here. This is because Panko has a much coarser texture and soaks up more liquid than the powdery, canned Italian-style bread crumbs.
- Oil. I like to fry my lentil meatballs in canola oil, but you can use any neutral oil: vegetable oil, avocado oil, or grapeseed oil.
- For Serving: your favorite pasta sauce and pasta! For the photos here, I used a jar of Marinara sauce and spaghetti noodles.
How to Make Lentil Meatballs
Place the drained (but not rinsed) lentils in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse it a few times to break it up a bit.
Add the beaten eggs, ricotta cheese, grated Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to the food processor bowl.
Pulse this mixture a few times to combine, but don't try to make it overly smooth. Some chunks of lentils are totally fine here!
Pour the lentil mixture into a clean bowl, and then stir in the breadcrumbs. Once it is thoroughly combined, cover the bowl and place it in the fridge for at least 4 hours. You can refrigerate it up to 24 hours in advance, if you need to.
Remove the bowl from the fridge and use a small cookie scoop that holds roughly 2 tablespoons of batter to make the meatballs. You should get 17-18 meatballs from this recipe.
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a nonstick skillet. When the oil is shimmering hot, add 6-7 meatballs to the pan. Fry on the first side for about 5-6 minutes, and then flip and cook the second side until golden brown. Let the meatballs cool on a wire rack while you cook the rest of them. Serve with your favorite pasta and sauce.
If you don't want to serve these with pasta, you can place them in a casserole dish after frying and spoon tomato sauce around them and bake until the tomato sauce is bubbling. A sprinkle of mozzarella cheese and more Parmesan on top is good, too!
Other Vegetarian Pasta Dinners
- 1 15-ounce can of lentils, drained but not rinsed
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- ½ cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 ½ teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- ½ cup canola oil for frying
- For serving: your favorite pasta and pasta sauce
- Place the drained lentils in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse it few times to break it up.
- Add the eggs, ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Pulse again a few times to combine.
- Scrape the mixture into a bowl, and then stir in the bread crumbs. Refrigerate this mixture for at least 4 hours, or even overnight.
- When ready to cook, use a cookie scoop to make 17-18 small meatballs made out of about 2 tablespoons of batter. They will be about 1.5 inches in diameter. Roughly shape the balls in your hands.
- Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large 10-12” nonstick frying pan. When it shimmers, begin adding the lentil meatballs to the pan, evenly spaced. Fry on one side until dark golden brown, about 5-6 minutes. Flip, and fry on the second side until dark golden brown, about 5 minutes.
- Serve the meatballs with tomato pasta sauce and spaghetti noodles, OR arrange them in a dish with tomato pasta sauce and bake for a bite to warm the sauce through. Top with fresh basil and more Parmesan cheese.
Ricotta Cheese: I recommend whole milk ricotta cheese over part-skim ricotta, because skim just doesn't have the same flavor or fat that we need here.
Panko Breadcrumbs: I really prefer Panko breadncrumbs rather than regular bread crumbs here. This is because Panko has a much coarser texture and soaks up more liquid than the powdery, canned Italian-style bread crumbs.
Oil: I like to fry in canola oil, but you can use any neutral oil: vegetable oil, avocado oil, or grapeseed oil.
For Serving: your favorite pasta sauce and pasta! For the photos here, I used a jar of Marinara sauce and spaghetti noodles. You can also arrange the fried meatballs in a casserole dish with tomato sauce and bake.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 441Total Fat: 26gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 20gCholesterol: 78mgSodium: 722mgCarbohydrates: 37gFiber: 7gSugar: 4gProtein: 16g