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Baked vegetarian and vegan meatless meatballs made with lentils and mushrooms are packed with traditional Italian flavors and perfect on top of zucchini noodles. 

Vegetarian lentil meatballs with marinara sauce on top of zucchini noodles in an Italian ceramic dish.

Since I posted it last September, my Vegan Lentil Meatloaf has been hugely popular. It continues to get the nicest reviews! A few readers mentioned that the recipe would make nice vegan meatballs, and I had to agree! I made these vegan lentil meatballs much the same was as I did the lentil loaf.

Vegan lentil meatballs are best served on a non-starchy “pasta” base like zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash. Now that my zucchini are coming in zoodles are the obvious choice. My kids, however, still prefer traditional pasta. I think these vegan meatballs would even be delicious as a meatless meatball sub sandwich with melty cheese. These vegan meatballs don’t taste quite like meat, but they are tasty. The only meatless meatballs I’ve found that really do taste like meat are soy based and very processed. Compared to traditional meatballs, these vegan meatless meatballs are much higher in fiber and lower in fat. Lentils and walnuts create a vegetarian meatball that’s a great source of plant-based protein.

How to Make Vegan Meatballs

Onions, mushrooms, and garlic get sauteed in a cast iron skillet for vegan lentil meatballs

Vegan lentil meatballs start just the same way as my vegan lentil loaf recipe. Saute onions, garlic, and mushrooms until softened. I also like to add red bell pepper here but didn’t have any on photo shoot day. You’ll see it in the video!

Lentils, mushrooms, walnuts, Italian spices, tomato paste, and bread crumbs in a food processor to make vegan lentil meatballs.

The softened vegetables go right into the food processor along with cooked lentils, bread crumbs (I like Ian’s gluten-free), oats, flax meal, spices, walnuts, and tomato paste. If you have a nut allergy, you can omit the walnuts, but the balls will be a little softer. I love the texture the walnuts add. If you don’t happen to have breadcrumbs, you could also use more oats.

How to Cook Lentils

There are different types of lentils and the variety you use here makes a big difference. I like red lentils for dishes like dal and soups, as they break down and become very soft. For this recipe though, we want heartier brown or green French lentils. You can cook them yourself following the package directions and then drain and cool them. Always be sure to rinse and pick over your dried lentils for little stones and debris. If you like shortcuts, grab a package of the vacuum packed steamed lentils from Trader Joe’s and you’re good to go.

Vegan meatball mixture blended in a food processor before making balls and baking in the oven.

Quick tip: don’t over-process this lentil meatball mixture! We want some some texture here or these meatless meatballs will be too soft. In the picture here I’ve probably already gone a little too far with the processing.

Cooking Lentil Meatballs

Vegan lentil meatballs on a baking sheet ready to be baked in the oven.

I like to bake these lentil balls in the oven rather than fry them in a pan. Baking is easier and adds less oil, but we still want these to be nicely browned. To achieve this, I used coat a baking pan liberally with olive oil and then brush the tops of the lentil balls. Recently though, I learned a trick from my friend Ginny of Vegan in the Freezer. Bake the veggie balls in a muffin tin and they’ll be perfectly browned!

Vegan lentil meatballs in marinara sauce in a red le creuset cast iron skillet with fresh basil.

When the lentil balls are almost finished baking, I heat up a jar of marinara sauce. Or you can try my homemade marinara made from fresh tomatoes! Though they are shown here in a pan of sauce, after more testing, I now recommend you keep these lentil meatballs away from sauce until the last minute. That way the browned crust says nice and firm.

How to Make Zucchini Noodles aka “Zoodles”

A bowl of freshly spiralized zucchini noodles is perfect for serving with vegetarian lentil meatballs.

I use a spiralizer to make noodles out of my fresh zucchini. Zucchini noodles can be eaten raw or cooked. I like them best al dente. Heat a little olive oil in a pan over medium heat and saute for just a couple of minutes so that the zucchini noodles are have just softened a bit but aren’t mushy. When I’m not using marinara I like to add a little garlic and salt to the pan to flavor the noodles.

A plate of vegan meatless meatballs with marinara sauce on zucchini noodles.

Isn’t that a great bowl of plants? I have so much fun learning alternative ways of cooking with whole foods.

A plate of Italian vegan lentil meatballs with marinara sauce and zucchini noodles. These delicious meatless meatballs are vegan and gluten free.

Other Ways to Use Vegan Meatballs

The inside of a vegan lentil meatball. These delicious vegan meatballs are made with lentils, mushrooms, and walnuts.

More Lentil Recipes

Baked vegetarian and vegan "meatballs" made with lentils and mushrooms are packed with traditional Italian flavors. These meatless meatballs are perfect on top of zucchini noodles.


Vegan Lentil Meatballs

These hearty meatless meatballs are made with lentils, walnuts, and veggies. Packed with Italian flavor, these vegetarian/vegan meatballs are delicious over zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash, or your favorite marinara pasta.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cup chopped crimini mushrooms
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked brown or green lentils
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs (gluten free if needed)
  • 1/4 cup old fashioned oats (certified gluten free if needed)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon flax meal
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • marinara sauce for serving

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Saute the onion until softened. Add the mushrooms and bell pepper and saute until softened. Add the garlic and saute another minute longer. Remove from heat.
  3. Place the lentils, onion-mushroom mixture, breadcrumbs, oats, walnuts, flax meal, seasoning, fennel, salt, pepper, and tomato paste into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture just comes together when pressed but is still a bit chunky. Roll the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls. Coat a muffin tin with cooking spray and place the “meatballs” into the wells. Coat balls with the spray and bake until browned and firm, about 30 minutes, flipping halfway through and coating again with cooking spray. Let cool 10 minutes.
  4. Serve with warm marinara sauce and pasta or zucchini noodles.

Notes:

To preserve the nice browned “crust” on these meatballs I like to keep them dry and add them on top of the sauce just before eating.

Make ahead: These lentil meatballs can be made early and reheated on the stovetop or in the oven until warm. Store leftovers in the refrigerator without sauce.

Nutrition information is approximate and calculated by a third party app. I am not a nutritionist and cannot guarantee accuracy. If your health depends on nutrition information, please calculate again.

Nutrition Information

Yield: about 12 balls, Serving Size: 1 meatball

  • Amount Per Serving:
  • Calories: 163
  • Total Fat: 5g
  • Carbohydrates: 21g
  • Fiber: 9g
  • Protein: 9g