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Vegetarian Lentil Meatballs in Lemon Pesto

Vegetarian Lentil Meatballs in Lemon Pesto

It’s a great creative challenge to devise a healthier version of a comfort-food dish you’ve loved forever. Take meatballs, for example. They’re something I think everyone has a soft spot for but, of course, they’re not exactly good for you. I love the idea of replacing meat with legumes, which is an especially excellent substitute in this case. Made with ricotta, garlic, fennel seed and thyme, among other bright herbs and ingredients, these vegetarian lentil meatballs are delicious, especially when dipped in the accompanying lemon pesto sauce. And it’s not only me—my kids love them, too. Enjoy! XXJKE


Photos & Styling: Sarah Elliott

Vegetarian Lentil Meatballs in Lemon Pesto 0
Vegetarian Lentil Meatballs in Lemon Pesto
Vegetarian Lentil Meatballs in Lemon Pesto
Vegetarian Lentil Meatballs in Lemon Pesto 3
Vegetarian Lentil Meatballs in Lemon Pesto
Vegetarian Lentil Meatballs in Lemon Pesto 5

Vegetarian Lentil Meatballs in Lemon Pesto Recipe

  • Servings: 4 people
  • Units:
  • Course: Mains

Ingredients for the Vegetarian Meatballs:

  • 2 cup 473 ml cooked lentils
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup 177 ml ricotta
  • 1/4 cup 59 ml fresh grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 large clove garlic minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed crushed
  • 2 tablespoons parsley finely chopped
  • 1 pinch fresh thyme or dried
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2/3 cup breadcrumbs fresh or panko, preferably

Ingredients for the Lemon Pesto Sauce:

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup 59 ml pinenuts
  • 1 zest and juice lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup 237 ml basil leaves
  • 1/4-1/3 cup 59 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons water to thin

In a food processor, pulverize the lentils into mush. Put them in a large mixing bowl.

Add the beaten eggs, ricotta, parmesan, garlic, fennel seed, parlsey, thyme, salt and pepper and stir to mix well. Stir in the breadcrumbs and let the mix sit for 20 minutes.

For the pesto sauce, put the garlic, nuts, lemon zest and juice and salt in a food processor or blender and run until smooth. Add in the basil leaves and olive oil until you get a smooth, sauce-like consistency. Add water, oil or lemon juice to thin as desired. Stir in the parmesan and set aside. The sauce will keep covered in the fridge for about a week.

Preheat the oven to 400'. Check the lentil mix by rolling a 1'' round ball between your palms, it should hold together fairly well. If it seems pretty wet and it falling apart, stir in another Tbsp. or two of breadcrumbs until the ball with stay together.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll the mix into balls and line them up on a baking sheet (they don't need lots of space between, they won't spread). If you like a bit more of a crust, brush them with olive oil.

Bake on the middle rack for 15-20 minutes until the tops are golden brown, gently turning the balls over halfway through baking. Remove to cool slightly.

Serve with your favorite noodles, on a bed of sauteed greens, or simply on their own with a nice drizzle of the pesto sauce.