Vegan Lentil Meatballs
Baked vegetarian and vegan meatless meatballs made with lentils and mushrooms are packed with traditional Italian flavors and perfect on top of zucchini noodles.
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
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!
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
I have a whole post about how to cook lentils here! 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.
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
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!
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”
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.
Isn’t that a great bowl of plants? I have so much fun learning alternative ways of cooking with whole foods.
Other Ways to Use Vegan Meatballs
- Baked Spaghetti Squash and Meatballs
- Inside pita pockets with melty cheese for meatball sandwiches.
More Lentil Recipes
- Lentil Bolognese
- Easy Red Lentil Dal
- Vegan Lentil Meatloaf
- Instant Pot Lentil Soup
- Lemony Lentil Soup
- Mexican Lentil Soup
- Summer Squash and Lentil Soup
- Lentil Salad with Cucumbers and Tomatoes
- 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
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- 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.
- 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.
- Serve with warm marinara sauce and pasta or zucchini noodles.
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: 12 Serving Size: 1 meatball
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 99 Total Fat: 5g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 4g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 243mg Carbohydrates: 10g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 2g Protein: 4g