You know what’s hot right now? Meatballs. You may be thinking, what are you talking about…those things have been around forever. But I’m telling you, meatballs are making a huge comeback. Take, for example, the Meatball Shoppe in NYC. A dry erase menu of design-your-own-meatballs allows you to mix and match balls, sauces, and sides. And the simple perfection of this place has caused it to have a constant 2-hour wait (annoying). As much as I love it there, I’m impatient…so I decided to try making their famous vegetarian “meat” balls myself.
These meatless balls were made mainly of cooked lentils mixed with sauteed veggies (onion, carrot, mushroom, spinach, garlic), fresh herbs, tomato paste, bread crumbs, walnuts, parmesan cheese, and eggs. Although they were pretty easy to make, be warned that the mixture really needs to cool completely before forming the balls (something my friend and I didn’t realize when we started this process at 8:30 pm).
And since we were mixing it up with the meatballs, we thought, why settle for ordinary pasta. Shreds of zucchini, lightly sauteed, are a great stand in for pasta if you’re watching your carbs and trying to increase your veggie intake. I really loved these meatballs–incredibly flavorful with a good texture and very filling (although I’m not sure they would really fool a true meat eater). So, if you’re ready to just on the trendy meatball bandwagon, this is an awesome way to do it.
Nutritional Highlights: This meal is amazinggg for you. The “meat”balls are filled with high protein lentils, walnuts, and eggs and have lots of carrot, mushroom, onion, and spinach so you’re getting your vegetables without even realizing it. They are also an amazing source of fiber which is great for so many reasons (protects your colon from cancer, reduces blood cholesterol levels, and, um, you know what else). Served over zucchini strands rather than pasta keeps your carbs down, and since lentils will give you the carbohydrate fuel you need, it’s ok to skip the pasta. Tomato sauce is high in vitamin C which is a natural antioxidant, protecting you against all those free radicals in your body. Plus, swapping out red meat for vegetarian options once in a while is a great way to improve our health in many ways.
Meatball Shoppe’s Vegetarian Meatballs
- 2 cups lentils
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, minced (I omitted because I didn’t have it)
- 2 teaspoons salt (I used less, but obviously didn’t measure)
- 1 clove garlic (would up to 2 next time)
- 4 sprigs thyme, picked, about 1 tbsp
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 pound button mushrooms, chopped
- 1/2 bunch parsley, chopped (we used basil instead cuz I like it better!)
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
- optional: we added about a cup of chopped baby spinach to the veggie saute…you can add almost any vegetables you like/need to get rid of!
1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Cook lentils according to directions and drain any excess liquid by straining through a colander. Set aside to cool.
3. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat and add the carrots, onion, celery, garlic, thyme, and salt, stirring often for about 10 minutes. When veggies are tender and beginning to brown, add the tomato paste and continue to cook for three minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking, stirring frequently for 15 more minutes. Remove vegetables from the pan and allow to cool.
4. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a mixing bowl with the cooked vegetables and lentils and mix throughly. Place the mixture in the fridge or freezer until it is completely cooled.
5. Drizzle olive oil onto a baking dish (or use nonstick spray), making sure the entire sheet is coated to prevent stickage. Roll the mixture into golfball sized meatballs and place onto the baking dish.
6. Roast until firm and cooked through (about 30 minutes). Allow meatballs to cool for 5 minutes before removing.
I served over zucchini shreds (using a mandolin would be best but I just cut it really thin) that I sauteed in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper for about 3 minutes just to slightly soften. Top with your meatless balls, your favorite pasta sauce, and some parmesan cheese and enjoy!!