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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