Dinner Tonight: Lentil Meatballs with Indian Fenugreek Sauce

March  8, 2016

This Indian-leaning vegan meal meets all the criteria of a great weeknight dinner option: it's nutritious, tastes very good, relies on many pantry staples, and is ready in an hour or less. But there's another element that makes it worthy of your Tuesday dinner table—it comes with a bit of cultural history. Fenugreek, the dish's starring spice, is well-known in the Middle East for its medicinal properties. The grandmothers of Jordan, Palestine, and neighboring countries insist all new mothers load up on fenugreek seeds or leaves, as the herb allegedly keeps women "plump and fertile". Indeed, fenugreek's Arabic translation (helbeh) means "to be fruitful and multiply."

I am at the point in my life where talk of "multiplying" unsettles me, unless referring to "multiple" meatballs with "multiple" spoonfuls buckets of this vibrant, creamy sauce—medicinal benefits or not.

Grocery List: (Organized by area of the market)

  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • Small nub of ginger
  • Turmeric (either fresh or ground works)
  • 1 large tomato (or, if out of season, 2 whole canned plum tomatoes)
  • A lime
  • 1 cup small caviar lentils
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • Fennel seeds
  • Granulated garlic
  • 1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves
  • A 13.5-ounce can coconut milk (not light)
  • 6 ounces firm tofu

We're assuming you already have six cloves of garlic, olive oil, brown sugar, and cayenne. If not, add those to the list!

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The Game Plan:

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Top Comment:
“Ingredient list says fenugreek seed and recipe says fenugreek leaves.... Could you clarify?”
— amelia

About an hour before dinner, bring lentils, fennel seeds, and 3 cups of water to a boil over high heat in a small pot. Cover, turn heat to low, and simmer for 25 minutes. Preheat your oven to 400° F, and prepare a parchment-lined baking sheet—that's for cooking the meatballs later on.

Once you've got the lentils simmering, bring quinoa and 1 cup of water to boil in a small pot. Cover, turn heat to low, simmer 15 minutes, turn heat off, and leave covered.

While the lentils and quinoa are cooking, make the sauce: Mince six cloves of garlic, and grate 1 tablespoon of ginger, and 1 teaspoon of turmeric. (Or just measure out 1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric.) Dice your tomato(es). In a skillet, sauté the garlic and ginger in olive oil over medium heat until just golden,then add your turmeric and sauté 1 more minute. Add diced tomato and sauté until most of the juices evaporate, about 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in coconut milk, 1 tablespoon fenugreek leaves, a squeeze of lime juice, a teaspoon of brown sugar, salt, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat until ready to serve.

By this time, your grains have likely cooked through, so you can start making the meatballs: In a food processor, pulse the quinoa and half the lentils until the texture is like coarse sand. Place in a large bowl and add the remaining lentils, 1/3 cup chopped cilantro, salt, and 1 teaspoon granulated garlic to the bowl and mix well. In the same food processor, combine tofu and 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil. Pulse the tofu and oil until smooth, then scoop it into the lentil mixture and combine well. With your hands, knead the lentil mixture briefly until it’s thoroughly mixed, then form small ping-pong-sized balls. Place on your prepared baking sheet bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Right before sitting down, warm the sauce and arrange the warm lentil meatballs in it. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately.

See the full recipe here.

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The Food52 Vegan Cookbook is here! With this book from Gena Hamshaw, anyone can learn how to eat more plants (and along the way, how to cook with and love cashew cheese, tofu, and nutritional yeast).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Inès Marilhet
    Inès Marilhet
  • Cosmic Jane
    Cosmic Jane
  • amelia
  • Amathis
  • Annabelle
Annie Crabill

Written by: Annie Crabill


Inès M. March 11, 2016
Can we replace the tofu by something else?
Cosmic J. March 8, 2016
The Vegan Cookbook is no longer available! Is this a mistake??
Annie C. March 8, 2016
Hi Cosmic Jane,

Looks like that's an old link. The cookbook is definitely still available, sorry for any confusion! https://food52.com/shop/products/2842-food52-vegan-cookbook-signed-copy
amelia March 8, 2016
Ingredient list says fenugreek seed and recipe says fenugreek leaves.... Could you clarify?
Annie C. March 8, 2016
Hi Amelia -

Thanks for pointing that out! It's supposed to be leaves - the recipe has been updated to reflect that!
Amathis March 8, 2016
How much tofu?
Annie C. March 8, 2016
Hi Angeline -

Thanks for noting that! I've updated the ingredient list; it's 6 ounces of tofu. For a more detailed version of the recipe, you can check over here: https://food52.com/recipes/38024-lentil-meatballs-with-indian-fenugreek-sauce
Annabelle March 8, 2016
Would French lentils work here?