Lentil Meatballs with Indian Fenugreek Sauce

August 31, 2015

Test Kitchen-Approved

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

Food52 Review: 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

Serves: 4 to 6
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 45 min


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
In This Recipe


  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.

More Great Recipes:
Meatball|Indian|Cilantro|Fennel|Lentil|Lime Juice|Milk/Cream|Tofu|Turmeric|Bean|Fall|Winter

Reviews (52) Questions (2)

52 Reviews

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?
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!
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
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.
gandalf January 3, 2017
When cooked, what volume do the caviar lentils produce, i.e., how many cups of cooked caviar lentils derive from the 1 cup of uncooked caviar lentils?
Author Comment
feastingathome January 3, 2017
About 2 ¾ cooked :)
gandalf January 4, 2017
Thank you for your prompt response!
eternalgradstudent December 16, 2016
I'm planning to make this over the weekend, but wanted to confirm that the meatballs are made with uncooked lentils and quinoa.
eternalgradstudent December 16, 2016
Never mind! Reading comprehension failure!
Author Comment
feastingathome December 8, 2016
Yes, Stephanie, they would! Depending on their size, they may take a bit longer to cook though.
Stephanie December 8, 2016
Would green lentils work as well? This recipe looks delicious!
Akhil S. November 22, 2016
Super curious about the tofu in this recipe! It looks like you've used it as a binding agent to keep it all together, but does the "type" of tofu used make an impact? I am a big fan of the softer tofus, and I feel like I would enjoy biting into the meatball, but not sure how it would hold up.

Thank you for the inspiration :)
Author Comment
feastingathome November 22, 2016
Yes, I did use Tofu as the binder. I think most tofu would work, although I'm not sure about silken tofu. I don't think that would have the same effect.
Patricia C. November 14, 2016
Sooo delicious!! We are new to vegetarian cooking - this was definitely a great recipe for someone who thought they would die without meat! Followed recipe to the letter because I'm inexperienced cooking with these ingredients and it turn out perfectly!! Thanks!
Author Comment
feastingathome November 22, 2016
Thanks Patricia! Glad it worked out and your enjoyed it.
sdschutz93 March 23, 2016
I made this last night but had to substitute half of the lentils for yellow split peas (I ran out of lentils). The meatballs and the sauce were SO good! I had lots of leftovers, so I stored the balls and the sauce separately. For those asking if they could serve it with rice, I had it with some zucchini noodles and thought it added a nice touch!
Author Comment
feastingathome December 8, 2016
Im so glad you improvised and that it worked out!
em-i-lis March 8, 2016
My goodness, this looks divine! I can't wait to try!
Maya M. January 7, 2016
This dish was AMAZING. The sauce was especially so. So much so that we had more lentil balls than sauce! So another night we had the leftovers as "meatballs" with spaghetti and an Indian spiced tomato sauce (Marcella Hazan's recipe with sauteed fresh tumeric, curry leaf, and fenugreek). Can't recommend this recipe enough! Next time I'll make double so we have lots of leftovers!
hailey December 1, 2015
Any reason why the recipe recommends non-light coconut milk? Light coconut milk is all I have in the pantry at the moment, and I'd love to make this tonight! :)
Author Comment
feastingathome December 1, 2015
Great question Hailey. So when I used lite coconut milk the sauce didn't have enough richness to my taste. I don't think its a huge deal, by all means don't let it stop you...give it a shot!