Lentil

Can't Believe They're Vegan Meatballs

November  3, 2021
3.5 Stars
Photo by MJ Kroeger Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson Food Stylist: Yossy Arefi
Author Notes

There’s no time I don’t want a meatball. Whether served with pasta or atop a sub roll, you simply can’t say "I’ll pass" to a meatball. Unless, of course, you’re vegan. At first blush, vegan meatballs are an oxymoron, but as we all know by now, meatless options aren't as impossible as they may seem. These vegan meatballs have a similar flavor profile to classic Italian meatballs (garlic, oregano, fennel), but, thanks to lentils, require no ground beef, veal, or pork. Nutritional yeast also tackles the salty-cheesiness you might crave in an Italian-style meatball (but if you’re a vegetarian and you want to swap in grated Parmesan, be my guest). To ensure that vegan meatballs stick together during their journey from the skillet to the oven to the plate, they’re bound with chia “egg,” which is a term in the vegan community for chia seeds soaked in water until they gel, forming a distinctly eggy texture that also adds a ton of fiber to the finished product. But don’t be nervous: Like chicken eggs in meatball mix, they’re totally flavorless in the finished product.

When it comes to serving vegan meatballs, you can go classic Italian-American, covered in marinara with a plate of spaghetti or crusty bread, but the beauty of these meatballs is that they’re ready for anything: You could serve them on top of a thick swipe of tahini sauce or romesco, with a vegan pesto or another fresh herby sauce, even with rice or another cooked grain and pickled vegetables. —Rebecca Firkser

  • Prep time 50 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • makes about 20 meatballs
Ingredients
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups dried brown or green (not French/Le Puy) lentils, rinsed, drained, and picked through
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1 medium red or yellow onion, peeled and quartered
  • 3/4 cup panko
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
  • Marinara sauce, for serving (optional)
  • Cooked pasta or toasted bread, for serving (optional)
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add a few big pinches of salt and stir in the lentils. Cook until tender but not mush, about 15 minutes, then drain well. While the lentils are boiling, combine the chia seeds with 5 tablespoons of water in a small bowl and let sit for at least 5 minutes—it will become gelatinous. Transfer the cooked lentils to the bowl of a food processor along with the garlic and pulse until finely chopped and starting to mush but not completely puréed. Scrape into a large bowl.
  2. Place the onion in the food processor and pulse until finely chopped (but not puéeed!), then transfer to the bowl with the lentils. (You should have ¾ to 1 cup, or 6 to 8 ounces—if you have more, save it for another use.) Stir in the chia mixture, panko, nutritional yeast, oregano, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes (if using), a big pinch of salt, and lots of black pepper. Pick up a handful of the mixture and squeeze it in your hands—it should hold together without trouble.
  3. Form the mixture into 1½-inch balls with your hands and place on a sheet pan. Transfer the pan to the refrigerator and chill for 20 minutes.
  4. Heat the oven to 400°F. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium or large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Sear half of the meatballs on all sides (be careful turning them—they’re more delicate than a regular meatball!), 6 to 9 minutes total, adding another splash of oil to the pan if it starts getting dry, then return the meatballs to the sheet pan. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil to the pan and repeat with the second batch. Bake the meatballs for 15 minutes, until warmed through and dried out a bit. Serve with marinara sauce, pasta, bread, or your preferred meatball accoutrements.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Chocolatebabka
    Chocolatebabka
  • hmcgall
    hmcgall
  • KD Britt
    KD Britt
Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. These days, you can keep your eye out for her monthly budget recipe column, Nickel & Dine. Rebecca tests all recipes with Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.

4 Reviews

Chocolatebabka November 14, 2021
I enjoyed these and found them very filling. The flavor, especially the fennel and onion, really came through after pan frying and baking (I was a little skeptical when I tasted the raw mixture). I ate these with a quick tomato sauce on a ciabatta roll and will try them with spaghetti. Almost want to make them into the sausage rolls posted this week too. Used an egg because I don’t like chia seeds and it held together with no issues. Planning to freeze the rest and warm up in the toaster oven, so I only baked the remainder for 10 min.
 
hmcgall November 10, 2021
KD B. - yes they added it yesterday after I commented
 
KD B. November 10, 2021
hmcgall - #2 of instructions... Stir in the chia mixture, panko, nutritional yeast, oregano, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes (if using), a big pinch of salt, and lots of black pepper.
Hope this helps!
 
hmcgall November 9, 2021
This recipe does not have instruction for using the panko called for in the instructions