Lentil Meatballs with Indian Fenugreek Sauce

August 31, 2015
24 Ratings
Photo by Alpha Smoot
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

Vegan and gluten-free, these flavorful meatballs are served in a savory fenugreek coconut sauce. —feastingathome

Test Kitchen Notes

WHO: Feastingathome is a caterer with a Community Pick already under her belt.
WHAT: Hearty vegan and gluten-free "meatballs" doused in a creamy turmeric-hued sauce made of coconut milk.
HOW: Form "meatballs" from lentils, quinoa, and tofu while you simmer together a cozy sauce of coconut milk and spices. Bake the meatballs and then nestle them in the same pan as the sauce.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Simple enough for a weeknight dinner but hearty enough to pack for lunch, this warming recipe knocks all "rabbit food" accusations of veganism out of the park. The "meatballs" fell apart a little in the sauce (especially on the second day), but we didn't mind a bit. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • Lentil Meatballs
  • 1 cup small caviar lentils (uncooked)
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 cup quinoa (uncooked)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
  • 6 ounces firm tofu
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Coconut Fenugreek Sauce
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric, grated (or 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves
  • 1 13.5-ounce can coconut milk (not light)
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper
  1. 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 25 minutes. Drain well.
  2. Over high heat, 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.
  3. Make the sauce: In a skillet or medium pot, sauté the garlic and ginger in olive oil over medium heat until just golden, stirring often to prevent burning. Add turmeric (fresh or dried) 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, fenugreek leaves, lime juice, brown sugar, salt, cayenne, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat until ready to serve.
  4. Make the meatballs: Preheat oven to 400° F. In a food processor, pulse the quinoa and half the lentils until the texture is that of coarse sand. Place in a large bowl and add the remaining lentils, chopped cilantro, salt, and granulated garlic to the bowl and mix well. In the same food processor, combine tofu and 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil. (The tofu will bind the mixture and the oil will keep it from drying out.) Pulse the tofu and oil until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. Scoop it into the lentil mixture and combine well. Prepare a parchment-lined baking sheet. With your hands, knead the lentil mixture briefly until it’s thoroughly mixed and the salt and spices are evenly distributed. Form small ping-pong-sized balls. Place on baking sheet and place in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
  5. Warm the sauce and arrange the warm lentil meatballs in it. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately.
Contest Entries

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • spicyorganic
  • AntoniaJames
  • Rebtile
  • gingerroot
  • msmely

68 Reviews

coolasfolk April 7, 2023
As everyone has said, this sauce is SO GOOD! I also double it and now just typically serve it with beans I've already cooked (such as Christmas Limas, chickpeas, etc.). We didn't love the meatballs - it was a bit of work for things that just fell apart in the end, but I'm glad we tried it. And again, have an easy sauce recipe that's now my go-to.
spicyorganic February 4, 2023
This Lentil Meatball recipe with Indian Fenugreek Sauce sounds amazing! I love how it combines the classic flavors of meatballs with an exotic twist of Indian spices. To enhance the taste even further, I would suggest using organic granulated garlic from the Spicy Organic brand. This high-quality garlic will add a bold, savory flavor to the dish, elevating it to the next level. Thanks for sharing!
cricket23 February 4, 2023
spicyorganic February 4, 2023
I don't think it's that bad!
spicyorganic February 4, 2023
Well, let's talk about something more pleasant!
Cynthia May 1, 2021
Love this recipe and am making it for the 3rd timeI Has anyone made the sauce and meatball mixture a day ahead; cooking meatballs just before dinner and reheating sauce? Love to do as much prep as I can before having a family dinner at my home. Gives me more time with my people.
Jess February 28, 2021
Totally agree on the comments to double the sauce recipe if only because I want to swim in it, it's so delicious. I used a full can of tomatoes which did help with the amount and the thickness. I added chaat masala at the same time as the tumeric and fried whole cumin and carom seeds in the oil before adding the aromatics. I didn't have tofu so I cooked the lentils and quinoa until just about done, then added a little Just Egg and the oil to bind. The oven dried them out enough that they mostly held their shape. Really enjoyed making this!
cricket23 January 9, 2021
While this was indeed tasty, a caveat: "Simple enough for a weeknight dinner" is misleading. It's a PROJECT. I spent almost two hours start to finish, including rolling 50 "ping-pong-sized" balls, making 1.5x sauce (as advised by reviewers), and washing the three pans, two lids, food processor, mixing bowl, and baking sheet! For me it was good, but not eight pots and pans good. I appreciate the recipe, just want people to know what they're in for.
AntoniaJames November 4, 2020
The flavors in this generally are pleasant, but the lentil balls looked a lot like little cow patties, when baked (they did not hold their shape), and then fell apart in the sauce, despite our efforts to handle them as gently as humanly possible. We found the sauce too rich, even using reduced fat coconut milk, and too sweet as well, though the latter was corrected with the juice of a second lime.

I had to order the fenugreek leaves online, as one cannot source that ingredient conveniently in this area. I'm glad I did, as it's something I'm looking forward to using in other dishes in the future. ;o)
BaliThai October 19, 2020
Wonderful! I also took the advice to double the sauce. I used green lentils because that is what I had, and two eggs and ¼ cup breadcrumbs because we were out of tofu, and we are not vegan. Next time, we may shape the lentil balls more like small patties for quicker cooking (it was a hot day with the oven going). :-) But this was a keeper!
Poniesss403 May 14, 2020
Terrific recipe! Will definitely make again. I agree with others to double the sauce next time. In the age of Covid, I made this without cilantro, granulated garlic, and fenugreek (I know) and it was still delicious! My only critique is that I don't get the value-add of using Puy lentils since the benefit of them is they stay firm and in this case we pulse them in the food processor (well, half of them). In the future I will save a few bucks and use regular lentils.
Barbara October 20, 2019
This recipe is wonderful. Yes, double the sauce next time. I found that when I reheated the lentil balls the next day - they were firmer and didn't fall apart. I wonder if it work if a small amount of chickpea flour and egg replacer were added. However, it is great as it is. What do you think would be good vegetables to serve with this dish that wouldn't compete on flavour?
Rebtile October 3, 2019
This recipe as great! And perfect as is!
But I also never tire of experimenting with it: sometimes I'll make the balls with brown rice and cumin seeds instead of quinoa; when I'm feeling fancy, I'll blanch the tomatoes and make my own coconut milk; add caramelized onions or diced squash or garam masala to the sauce. So versatile!
Danna October 17, 2018
This is one of my all time favorite recipes. Sometimes I make the "meatballs" and sometimes I just use the sauce over quinoa or rice with whatever veggies I have on hand or a sweet potato. Just delicious!
gingerroot July 24, 2018
These meatballs are delicious - satisfied all the food preferences in my family (including only one vegan). I love the tofu-olive oil binder - will use that technique in the future.
Pamela C. June 19, 2018
I went to an Indian Market looking for black lentils. The store owner sold me a bag of Matpi beans and, told me that I should soak them overnight. Are these The same as black lentils?
Nell T. April 24, 2019
Black caviar lentils (also known as beluga lentils) aren't Indian and don't need to be soaked. You should be able to find them at well-stocked grocery store or anywhere that sells bulk dry goods.
msmely April 16, 2018
I really enjoyed this recipe, made it a couple of times. Ensure to salt your quinoa water and lentil water adequately. I used chicken broth because I'm not vegan and that added a nice quality to the dish. I would have eaten the crushed lentil quinoa mix by itself. The fennel seeds were a great pop of flavor. I've made it both with and without cilantro; without I didn't miss it, with it I loved it and fed it to a cilantro-hater who had no idea. I made it with a potato masher the first time, with hand kneading, and it worked really well. Chopped finer with the food processor I kind of wished it was chunkier! It required a lot of work but it worked really well.

The sauce is its whole thing on its own. One attempt I added an onion to the garlic and ginger and used a whole can of tomato paste, and it turned out kind of butter chicken-y and unctuously rich. The second time I followed the recipe closer but added a zing of chili flakes. I found myself preferring having a bit more sauce! The dried fenugreek leaves are also known as kasoori methi, I've mostly only had experience with the MDH brand. It's something else and one of my favourite spices. With not much else going on in the sauce the kasoori methi makes the dish. I could see myself making just the meatlessballs with different sauces....
bluejayway September 1, 2017
The sauce is much to sweet and lacking complexity. The lentil balls taste awesome but their dry, crumbly texture leaves a lot to be desired. All in all, not great and will not be making again. I should have known better than to choose something Indian-inspired in place of real Indian food.
bluejayway September 1, 2017
meet Y. February 23, 2017
Could I use a different grain other than quinoa?
eboyd February 23, 2017
I don't see cilantro in the ingredient list... How much did y'all use? I can't wait to make this!
msmely January 11, 2020
I stirred in a handful at the end/sprinkled it on top.
AntoniaJames January 24, 2017
I need to make these without using any soy ingredients. Your thoughts on workarounds? That is the only restriction. Thanks so much. ;o)
greenmysterydog February 23, 2017
Boiled potatoes, paneer (indian cottage cheese) can be used as binder.
Traditionally Indian koftas (veggie balls) are made using these ingredients are binders
msmely January 11, 2020
If you're not vegan, you could do egg as binder for a similar protein content.
reahpeah January 23, 2017
Loved the sauce. I guess the lentils and quinoa were a little overcooked/saturated as the meatballs for me were very soft. Tasty dish!
Laura M. January 15, 2017
This was delicious. Worried however that the meatballs wouldn't have enough flavor I added fresh garlic (rather than the powder called for), ground cumin, ground ginger, and a pinch of cayenne to the lentil mixture. In addition I sautéed whole cumin seeds in the olive oil prior to Blending with the tofu. Very tasty.