When one makes the move to a more plant-based diet, there are always things you are going to miss. Last year, my husband and I played around with a full vegetarian diet, but then we missed seafood too much. By adding the occasional seafood meal into our diets, we became pescatarians, rather than vegetarians. We now find that we are most comfortable by keeping a flexible attitude, especially when dining out, and occasionally do (once a month) eat meat or poultry. I recently came across the term flexitarian, which means being a vegetarian with the occasional inclusion of meats. This seems to fit us best as we do keep a vegetarian diet 99% of the time at home. When traveling or dining out, it is hard not to enjoy a piece of tasty Bistecca Fiorentina in Florence, or golden brown, crispy Fritto Misto when we are by the sea.
The one area where I have struggled on my vegetarian quest is finding a good veggie burger, vegetarian “meatloaf”, or meatballs. When it comes to meatballs, I just cannot seem to find recipes using grains or beans that end up moist but still hold together when cooked in sauce. I do have a great Bread and Cheese “Meatball” recipe that works perfectly, but I wanted a recipe with more protein since we are not eating meat at home. I came across a recipe for lentil and ricotta cheese meatballs from the blog In Jennie’s Kitchen that was exactly what I was looking for. These “meatballs” really resemble the turkey or chicken variety and retain their moisture perfe
ctly. Also, most important to me, is that they can be simmered in tomato sauce, and hold their shape perfectly. I used our beige Umbrian lentils for this recipe, but I think any variety of lentils would work. When pureeing them in the food processor, if you do not puree the mixture to the point it is completely smooth, the “meatballs” really do resemble meat. Even my husband who grew up on his Mother’s meatballs was surprised just how good these lentil “meatballs” tasted! Though I normally prefer to cook my lentils “al dente”, in this recipe, I find it best if they are completely cooked, though not to the point of being mushy. I used my Quick All Purpose Tomato Sauce to simmer my lentil balls after frying them which gave the dish a fresh flavor. I served my “meatballs” on their own as a main course with slices of crusty Italian bread and sautéed greens, but they would also be delicious served alongside pasta topped with the tomato sauce. These “meatballs” can be stored in the refrigerator and reheated in the sauce for up to three days.
Deborah Mele 2015
- 2 Cups Cooked Lentils
- 2 Large Eggs, Lightly Beaten
- 3/4 Cup Ricotta Cheese
- 1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1 Clove Garlic, Minced
- 3 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Fresh Parsley Leaves
- 1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
- Salt & Pepper To Taste
- 2/3 Cup Fresh Breadcrumbs
- Oil For Frying
- Quick Tomato Sauce
- Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
- Place the lentils, eggs, cheese, garlic, parsley, lemon, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse just until mixed but not completely smooth.
- Place the mixture in a bowl and stir in the breadcrumbs, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes.
- Shape the mixture into golf ball sized balls.
- In a large skillet, heat about 1/2 inch of oil over medium heat, then brown the “meatballs” on all sides.
- Transfer to a paper lined tray and prepare the sauce.
- Place the “meatballs” into the warm sauce, and cook over low heat until warmed through, about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Serve with cooked pasta, or on a platter topped with grated Pecorino Romano cheese.