lentil-ricotta “meatballs”

Ever have the feeling your best wasn’t good enough…even when you know you gave it all you had? When can you feel good about just letting go?

That was the feeling I walked away with today. I’ve been a caretaker most of my life. I saw things kids should never see. I felt things kids should never feel. I’ve put up barriers to protect myself, but every now and then they come crashing down. These are good walls. Trust me. I’ve been through therapy. I’ve had my say and confronted the people who caused me pain. The walls are there because sometimes after you surrender to the situation, you need to shore yourself up to let the healing begin.

And through it all, I smile. It’s is not a fool’s smile, though. A co-worker once asked me many years ago how I stay so upbeat—I’m legendary for my chipper personality contrary to the blue mood I’m in at the moment. I still believe what I told him back then. There are two ways to wake up in the morning. In a good mood or a bad one. It seems a no-brainer which choice to make. If I don’t hold out hope that each day has some good in it, why bother wake at all?

I know my life is so rich. I am aware of that every morning I go into my girls’ room and gently wake them. The way the Virginia pops up in her crib, all sleepy-eyed and joyfully squeals “Mama” is better than a steaming cup of coffee. The smell of Isabella’s morning breath. Well, call me crazy, but I’ve loved it ever since she was a baby.

So what does this all have to do with lentil ricotta “meatballs” you’re wondering? Well, nothing…and everything. See, if I hadn’t take a risk and tried the unthinkable then they wouldn’t exist. The idea blossomed out of thrift. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know my feelings about buying clean meat. The stuff free of antibiotics, added hormones and pasture-raised, the way cattle was meant to live. Well, that comes at a price of about $8 a pound here in New York City. And while I’m okay with that price and really believe it is fair, it means we don’t eat meat every day. In fact, we only eat it once or twice a week as a main protein. More often, it’s stretched out in dishes like a bolognese. 

A few weeks ago I set out to do the unthinkable. I challenged myself to make a meat-free meatball that could match, if not rival, the tender, moist memory ingrained in my tastebuds from my regular beef and pork recipe. Well, this one is a keeper my friends. Look at the pictures if you need proof. It looks like a meatball. It smells like a meatball. Most importantly, it tastes like a meatball…and it’s made with lentils.

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I started out with a big pot of lentils on Monday for the Week of Eating In Challenge. Some went into lentil burgers. Yes, I know, I promised that recipe, and it is coming soon. I do have to tend to work, much as I’d rather be here all day long. Some more of the lentils are set aside to make these again. When I first set out on my mission, the goal was not to make a vegetarian version. It was to make a less expensive one with the same great taste. Organic lentils cost $1.39 a pound in bulk at my local healthfood store. You do the math. Now go buy some lentils. Prepare them using this recipe and let me know what you think. See you next week, and hopefully with some renewed strength.

Lentil-Ricotta “Meatballs”

makes about 18

Every step of the way I kept getting pleasantly surprised while making these. The real moment of truth was when I simmered them in some marinara sauce. I was worried they would fall apart, but they stood up to a good soaking to my sheer delight. I also recently discovered DeCecco organic kamut spaghetti. It’s a whole grain pasta but doesn’t have that earthy taste I dislike, so I highly recommend seeking it out—unless of course you make your pasta from scratch.

2 cups cooked lentils, pureed

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2/3 cup plain breadcrumbs

1/2 cup fresh ricotta

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 1/2 teaspoon chopped parsley

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Canola oil for frying

Marinara sauce, optional

Add all ingredients to a deep bowl. Mix very well, using hands or a wooden spoon. Cover and refrigerate for two hours or overnight.

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When ready to cook, shape mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls. Heat about 1/2-inch of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium flame. Add shaped “meatballs” and cook until browned all around, turning only once. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and let excess drain off. Add to simmering marinara sauce if serving immediately, or store in a tightly covered container up to three days.

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Note: If you’re pressed for time or simply don’t have prepared lentils you can use canned and I won’t judge. Heck, we’ve all been there. I will caution, though, that you’ll need to boost the flavor. While this isn’t a tested tip, my guess is using seasoned breadcrumbs will help do the job. My Parmesan skillet croutons make excellent seasoned breadcrumbs—just give them a whirl in your food processor or mini-chopper.

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Comments

  • Lazygiraffe: Great recipe! We’ve been trying to cut out meat lately and also buying more from the good local butchers than the supermarket.
    Are those green lentils you are using?

  • Erin Patterson: Sounds like you need a big hug. Been thinking of you a ton lately!

  • MrsWheelbarrow: Wow. Brilliant brilliant recipe. I can’t wait to give these a whirl.

  • Jenmenke: Been looking forward to these. I almost guarantee I’ll be making them for meatless Monday soon! Thanks! (and everyone gets the blues. I’m chipper too, and wrote a similar post called “Jennie’s Got the Blues”. Yes! The same name! So, I can tell you with authority: You’ll feel better soon. :)

  • maggie: Oh, dear. Hope things are better soon. These meatballs look like the perfect comfort food and I’m so impressed that you made them with lentils! Healthier and cheaper and I’m sure delicious.
    Please know you are loved, Jennie.

  • iamchanelle: WOW!
    thank you so much for sharing this – i am always looking for filling, protein rich foods that my meat-eating family and i [the lone vegetarian] can enjoy together.
    those look beautiful.
    also, what a lovely post. joy is contagious. :)

  • Nicole Pelton: These look great…I’ve been cooking up a big rice cooker of brown rice, lentils and dried chickpeas…I’m the only one who eats it. I bet everyone would like these, though. I remember my mom spending an afternoon with several boxes of soy burger mix concocting a burger which tasted like a mcdonald’s hamburger, so our friends’ and their parents would stop complaining about what they were served at our house :) She laughed at herself years later for that.

  • Joy: We sounds so much alike. I’m the one who’s always so upbeat that people mistakenly think I don’t have any problems. Not quite. I’m also a caretaker…mother hen. I hope that whatever you’re going through will work itself out soon. I think we all sometimes need to be reminded that we can give our all, but there are just some things that are beyond our control. Big hugs to you.
    This lentil-ricotta meatball recipe sounds divine! I tried something similar from Donna Hay magazine and it was a disaster. Yours sound better from the get-go. I’ll have to try it. I’ve been eating less and less meat these days. Like you, I like to eat clean meat, but it’s not without a pretty price tag.

  • kim/hormone-colored days: Ha, and I came over to your blog looking for cake. This sounds really good. Would baking or boiling them work?
    And {hugs}! You are typically so bright and sunny. We all have our down moments and days (weeks…months?) I hope things are looking up.

  • Joan Nova: This is my first visit to Jennie’s Kitchen and I’m wow-ed by the lentil meatballs. I love pasta and I love incorporating veggies and beans into the dishes. This is one I will definitely try. Faux (but better for you) spaghetti and meatballs.

  • your biggest fan always: and thats why you’ve always been The sunshine of my Life from the day you were born! lov u

  • Eliana: A meatless meatball? I have got to give these a try because they look outstanding. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe.

  • Gaby: o.m.g you are a genius. I am totally with you on the $$$ of meat… I am all about healthy meat too but its just too expensive to buy it everyday! But lentils… they are cheap and can feed an army! I have never even thought of making lentil meatballs but now I know exactly what to make next time I run out of meat and just have my pot of lentils on hand!! I usually make lentil burgers, which are great, but the lentil meatballs with the addition of pasta and a red sauce sounds phenomenal!
    And good for you for putting your mind to creating something and coming up with these!

  • Nancy@TheSensitivePantry: Being Italian American I never thought I’d drool over meatballs made out of lentils…yet, I am. these look really, really, really delicious.

  • kamran siddiqi: Jennie, these meatballs look absolutely delicious! I’ll have to give this recipe a try.

  • Naomi: Oh wow these look fantastic. Don’t pay attention to Ms. Brescia, her claim is ridiculous.
    You’re clearly a talented cook who is happy to give credit where credit is due. While it’s likely that someone somewhere in the world has come up with a similar idea before I highly doubt that you stole this recipe.

  • Anne: I think your recipe is genius. I can hardly wait to give it a try. I choose to focus on what matters….our love of food and sharing. Keep up the great work.

  • Hannah: Jennie, I’m so sorry you are dealing with this troll, even worse than I am. Know that he IS a troll, and NOT Louise Brescia OR serious eats at all.

  • Janet: What an amazing recipe!! I would not have thought lentils to meatballs… Simply wonderful!
    Your blog, your recipes, and simply your whole site is fantastic. I will definitely back for more.

  • chris: I am off to make this with the leftover Ricotta that I made for the manicotti. My husband raved about the manicotti and says it is his new favorite meal. The crepes will take a bit of practice though. I am excited for my kids to eat more lentils!

  • Michelle @ Taste As You Go: I’m also trying to be more mindful of the meat I’m cooking with and putting into my body but also can’t afford to buy it very often at NYC prices. Thanks for sharing such a thoughtfully crafted recipe, Jennie. The “meatballs” look delicious!

  • TasteStopping: I am here to support you, and so happy to do that. In the meantime, you’ve shared a marvelous recipe and a little of your personal story (which isn’t always easy). I applaud you on all levels, and hope that the nastiness that has ensued will one day cause you to laugh instead of cringe (as it is clearly waged by a lunatic). You are a great writer, a wonderful cook and I must admit the picture you paint of your mornings with your girls speaks the loudest to me. Keep up the delicious work and forget the Chiffonades of the world.
    Best,
    Casey

  • Divina: These meatballs are so awesome. I must try this soon. I’ve never seen this kind of meatballs in other website. I was thinking the other day to make one but this is truly your original work.

  • Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction: These look amazing… Love your recipe! I was actually contemplating making some homemade pasta tomorrow, and I’m thinking these would be the perfect compliment! I have been trying to make a lot more meatless meals during the week, and these “meatballs” are perfect!

  • Maria: Awesome! I never thought about making veggie meatballs. you are a genius!

  • Melissa: I’ll definitely have to give these a try. Meatball subs… Swedish mock meatballs… how about as a wedding soup replacement?
    What I was really curious about though, was what is in your title picture? Some sort of muesli?

  • Amy Mills: This ORIGINAL recipe looks fabulous… can’t wait to try it! You do a terrific job on this blog, Jennifer, and I am a huge fan!

  • Jen: In case you wanted to make this even thriftier…you can make homemade ricotta!! You get about 4 cups from a gallon. So it might be better to just buy ricotta if it’s too expensive to buy a gallon of organic whole milk for that. But you really just need milk, vinegar(or lemon too i think) and a little salt. Thanks for the info!!:)

  • Heidi: I am crazy for protein-rich lentils, and the combination with the moist ricotta is what’s going to put this recipe in my “must make NOW” file. What a fantastic, uniquely original recipe!

  • Jennifer Hess: These look great – what a creative, healthy, thrifty, and most importantly delicious sounding recipe!

  • Nurit – 1 family. friendly. food.: Most of us put on a happy face when we go out to the world, but everyone has a story. I also feel like my children pull me out of it, whatever it is. For them, when i forget to do this for me, I strive to be a hppier and heathier person. I must give them a better life.
    As for meat, we have the same strategy at home. The price, $8 when you divide it by 4 people comes to $2/person, is much less then what people pay for junk/bad food (In money and health).
    The recipe sounds brilliant. I’ll give it a try this week!

  • Cherine: These look fantastic!!

  • Jennie: I’m glad everyone is enjoying this recipe. For those curious, I made these today and baked them with delicious success. Just coat a nonstick baking sheet with olive oil, and bake in a 450ºF for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once. Now I’m off to make my Sunday sauce.

  • Stepho: I linked to this recipe via foodgawker.com, and the mix is resting in my fridge as we speak! I cooked and tasted a small meatball for seasoning, and it was wonderful. What a great idea!
    Oh, and not sure if you can easily get to Trader Joe’s, but they have a WONDERFUL prepared lentil product. Steamed black lentils, ready to eat hot or cold (without much salt added, which the canned varieties sometime have). They taste great and the price is right. I used them for this recipe and they worked wonderfully. http://traderjoeslist.blogspot.com/2009/09/lentils-ready-to-eat-warm-or-cold.html

  • MichellePC: These look divine! I tried tofu “meatballs” for the first time over Christmas, and I was shocked at how similar they tasted and looked like regular meatballs! I love lentils, so I will definitely give these a try.

  • Debi (Table Talk): Definitely going to give these a try. Great play on traditional metballs!

  • Fuji Mama: These are ABSOLUTELY GENIUS!!! You continually inspire me. MUCH LOVE to you!!

  • Kirsty: So yummy! Mine are simmering in the sauce right now. I forgot to put in the ricotta and they are still great. Thanks!

  • kat: is there anyway these meatballs can be baked instead of fried? i’m hoping to try the recipe soon as they look amazing, but would rather bake – can you give me any suggestions on temp and time if you think it could work?

  • Jennie: Kat, funny you should ask. I made them this past weekend and decided to bake them. hey came out great, and are obviously an even healthier alternative. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Place “meatballs” single layer and bake in a preheated 425ºF for about 15 minutes, turning once halfway through. You can also use a nonstick pan coated with cooking spray.

  • Christine: Hi – I made these and love the flavor, but I did run into a little problem. I cooked them exactly as you said, and they looked the same when they were done frying, but they were still goopy and raw in the center. I baked them for 20 or so minutes in a 350 oven the next day and it finished them off, but I’m wondering if you can think of a reason why they came out differently. Maybe my ricotta had more moisture? I’m wanting to make these again but don’t know what to try to alter

  • Jennie: Christine – Did you use fresh ricotta or a store-bought variety, like Polly-O, Sorrento, etc? I ask because those commercial varieties are much moister and will release more liquid into the mixture.
    Next time you make these if you notice your ricotta looks too loose or watery, try setting in a strainer lined with cheesecloth (over a bowl) to drain away any excess water.

  • Ethyl: Stumbled across this recipe on foodgawker, and tried them out on Sunday with a pot o’ red sauce and riggies — this was the first time ever my results looked like the pictures in a recipe, and they tasted GREAT! Thanks!

  • Debbie: Made these yesterday and what a HIT! Delicious flavor, crunchy on the outside…my son didn’t want to stop eating them, but i told him they were for dinner tonight. Truly a good flavor.
    Jenny, when will you post your oatmeal cookies?! (i know i’m being a pest about this :)

  • moonduster (Becky): Dh and I eat a lot of vegetarian dishes. Those “meatballs” look delicious!

  • Esti (primetimeparent): We’ve got the lentils, next stop is getting the cheeses and marinara sauce. I am so happy for this recipe, as we have cut out a lot of red meat. I also love that you include the #glutenfree option as well!

  • Liz: I mixed these yesterday, cooked them this morning and almost all of them are currently simmering in some marinara.

    I used YOUR ricotta recipe and I’ve made ricotta lots but this was over the top the best, creamiest – EXCELLENT!

    I did add maybe 1/8 cup of masa harina to the mix as I’ve found a bit of masa really helps hold things like veg fitters/latkes, etc. together and I happen to like the taste of masa (Mexican made with Mex non-gmo corn).

    I also made mine “mini” – personal preference and less oil/splattering but will try your oven baked suggestion next round.

    A winner of a recipe here and in the book. I have the Kindle version so can add notes easily and it is portable when I travel but I’m going to buy a hardcover also and share with a friend after I look at it :) !

  • Luz: Made them yesterday and they were delicious. Taste a bit like falafel which is a good thing also. I thought of baking them as I am not a fan of frying but was not sure and decided to follow your recipe to a T. I will bake them next time now that I see the suggested temperature and time.

  • Salma: Nigella has an interesting take on meatballs that I think might also offer some cool texture here– she uses a fine to medium grade semolina instead of breadcrumbs. I’ve tried it, and it adds a nice texture, and as she says, almost a sweetness to the meatballs. I suppose I should try your way first, but thought I’d mention it here… quick cook oats may work too for a gluten free option. what say?

  • Cindy: Hi, these look amazing and I’m going to be trying them this weekend. And thanks for adding instructions for baking over frying. Curious though, if you think they would freeze well, either before or after baking. I would love to make a huge batch to have on hand.

  • Jennifer Perillo: Hi Cindy,

    They freeze excellently; I do it all the time after cooking them. Just store them in an air-tight ziptop bag and thaw overnight in the fridge.

    JP

  • Isla: These look great. I might even try them on my (non vegetarian husband). Thanks for the recipe

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