These vegan lentil meatballs are easy to make, packed with flavor and loaded with plant-based protein. Serve them with pasta, on a salad or in a wrap for a delicious meatless meal.
The inspiration for these lentil meatballs came from my popular lentil loaf recipe. I’ve been asked multiple times if the loaf could be turned into meatballs so I thought it was time to finally test it out.
And I’m excited to share that the mixture turned out awesome as lentil meatballs! They hold together well, are super flavorful and the texture is quite similar to traditional meatballs. I bet even the meat-eaters in your life will love this recipe!
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
Packed with flavor and texture similar to regular meatballs… but they’re vegan!
Can be served so many different ways for a meatless meal! Add them to spaghetti, make a wrap or serve them with your favorite sauce as an appetizer.
They don’t crumble and hold together well without any usual binders like breadcrumbs or eggs!
Health Benefits of Lentils
Lentils are an excellent source of fiber and plant-based protein. They vary in nutrients depending on what type of lentil you use, but most of them all contain high traces of magnesium, zinc, iron and folate. Lentils are also low in calories and contain polyphenols, which means they’re packed with antioxidants that may lead to preventing heart disease. Who knew lentils were so amazing?!
lentils – the star of the show here! I found that the best lentils to use are brown or green for this recipe. Both varieties are denser than other lentils and are able to hold a “meatball” form the best. Red lentils are too soft, which will result in mushy meatballs.
water – for cooking the lentils of course!
bay leaf – we’re adding this to the water when cooking the lentils to enhance the flavors.
vegetables – onion, garlic, celery and carrot add delicious flavor and texture! You’ll sauté the veggies before adding them to the rest of the ingredients.
olive oil – to sauté the vegetables and infuse all the flavors together. I used olive oil but avocado oil would also be a great option.
walnuts – we’re toasting the nuts before combining them with the rest of the ingredients. They add a delightful nutty and crunchy texture. You could also use pecans instead of walnuts. For a nut-free option use roasted sunflower seeds or more lentils.
rolled oats – this will help bind the ingredients together and keep them structured like a meatball. If you don’t have oats on hand you can use breadcrumbs instead.
tamari – soy sauce, liquid aminos or coconut aminos can be subbed for the tamari. I just prefer to use tamari to keep this recipe gluten-free.
tomato paste – adds a robust flavor to these vegan meatballs.
ground flaxseed – another binding agent that keeps everything together. It’s also rich in fiber and healthy fats!
nutritional yeast – adds a nice unique savory flavor. Look for it in the natural foods section or with the condiments at your local grocery store. Of course you can also order nutritional yeast online.
maple syrup – a touch of sweetness really makes these lentil meatballs come together! Remember to use 100% pure maple syrup, not the processed syrups sold for pancakes. The first ingredient on those syrups is corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup… no thanks!
apple cider vinegar – the acidic vinegar will help balance all the flavors.
seasonings and spices– dried thyme, dried oregano, dried basil, cayenne pepper, black pepper and salt. You can also use an Italian seasoning blend instead of the various dried herbs and red pepper flakes instead of the cayenne if that’s what you have on hand.
How to Make Lentil Meatballs
Cook lentils: Rinse your lentils then add to a pot of water with a bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered until all the liquid is absorbed and lentils are tender. This should take about 15-20 minutes. When finished cooking, remove from heat, discard the bay leaf and set the lentils aside to cool.
Toast walnuts: Preheat your oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. While lentils are cooking toast the walnuts by spreading them onto a baking sheet and placing them in the oven for about 8-10 minutes, until fragrant. Remove and let cool. You can keep the oven on as you’ll be using it later.
Sauté vegetables: Heat oil over medium heat in a medium skillet and cook all the vegetables together until softened and fragrant. After 5-10 minutes remove from heat and let them cool.
Combine ingredients: Add your cooked lentils (reserve ½ cup for later), veggies, walnuts, oats, tamari, tomato paste, ground flaxseed, nutritional yeast, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar and all the herbs and spices to a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is combined and the texture is to your liking. It should be fully incorporated to the point that everything can stick together, but you don’t want it to be completely pulverized. Add your reserved lentils to the mixture and stir once more until combined.
Bake: Scoop about 1 ½ Tablespoon of the mixture at a time and form into meatballs. Place them on a prepared baking sheet. Bake the lentil meatballs for 10 minutes, flip and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Serve immediately over spaghetti or as desired!
What Variety of Lentils Are Best to Use
I recommend only using brown or green lentils. These are the most common lentils you’ll find at a grocery store and they’re much denser than other varieties. Red lentils are rather fragile and won’t work well for this recipe as they’ll result in mushier and softer meatballs. Black lentils are really small and you’ll need a lot more of them. And all the other varieties of lentils are not commonly found at most grocery stores.
I used dry lentils for this recipe and cooked them myself, but pre-cooked lentils will work just fine and make the process a lot quicker.
How to Serve Lentil Meatballs
Over pasta –spaghetti and meatballs are a classic dish! Serve these vegan meatballs on a bed of noodles with marinara sauce and fresh basil and you’ll have yourself a delicious vegan dinner!
In a wrap – add these lentil meatballs to your favorite wrap (lettuce, collard green, whole wheat, spinach or a normal white flour tortilla) with fresh greens and your favorite sauce and you’ll have a delicious lunch or light dinner!
On a salad – I have so many tasty salad recipes that would be delicious topped with these lentil meatballs.
On a grain bowl – swap the falafels in this falafel bowl with these lentil meatballs or add them to this buddha bowl.
As an appetizer – serve these lentil meatballs with toothpicks and your favorite dipping sauce for an appetizer. Some sauce ideas: BBQ sauce, hummus dressing, tzatziki sauce or chick-fil-a sauce. Another appetizer idea is to add these meatballs to a vegan charcuterie boardas a meat substitute alongside your favorite vegan cheeses, fruits and crackers.
Time Saving Tips
Use pre-cooked lentilsfor a shortcut! This will save you time and energy. I’ve seen steamed lentils at different grocery stores in the produce section. Stores like Kroger carry Melissa’s steamed lentils and Trader Joe’s has their own brand of steamed lentils. If you decide to go this route, I would measure out about 1 1/2 cups and skip step 2 within the recipe below.
Prep components in advance. You can toast the walnuts, cook the lentils and sauté the veggies up to 2 days in advance. When you’re ready to make the meatballs, just combine all the ingredients in your food processor, roll into balls and bake!
Storing & Reheating
Refrigerator: Let meatballs cool completely then store leftovers in an airtight sealed container for up to 5 days.
Freezer: Let meatballs cool completely then store in a freezer-safe container for up to 1 month.
Reheating: If meatballs have been frozen, thaw them in the fridge overnight. When ready to enjoy, reheat in the microwave for 1-2 minutes or bake in a 350°F oven for 10-15 minutes, until warm throughout.
Preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Prepare lentils by rinsing them and adding to a pot with water and a bay leaf. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat down and simmer covered until all the liquid is absorbed and lentils are tender (about 15-20 minutes). Remove from heat, discard the bay leaf and set the lentils aside to cool. This step can be done in advance.
In the meantime toast walnuts by spreading them onto a baking sheet and toasting in the oven for about 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
While walnuts are toasting and lentils are cooking heat oil over medium heat in a medium sauté pan and cook onions, garlic, carrots and celery until they’ve softened and become fragrant. About 5-10 minutes. Once cooked remove from stovetop to cool.
Add lentils (reserve ½ cup for later), cooked veggies, toasted walnuts, oats, tamari, tomato paste, ground flaxseed, nutritional yeast, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, thyme, oregano, basil, cayenne pepper, ground pepper and sea salt to the food processor. Pulse until mixture is just combined and the texture is to your liking. You want the mixture to be combined enough to stick together, but you don’t want it to be completely pulverized.
Stir in the reserved lentils
Scoop 1 ½ Tablespoon at a time and shape into a meatball and place on a prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes, flip and bake another 10 minutes.
Serve meatballs immediately over spaghetti noodles and sauce, in a wrap, on a salad or as an appetizer with your favorite dipping sauce.
Store leftovers in a sealed container for up to 5 days in the fridge or freeze for up to 1 month.